While many of you have asked me to write about “gaydar” (and I will!), recently I’ve been thinking about how much our diets affect our daily well-being, and so I want to think more about the diet in relation to our daily lifestyle, i.e., our ethics, in today’s column.
Our diet, as the term we give to the daily habits pertaining to the energy we consume in order to enable and sustain our life, is an integral part of our ethics (for the bible of Foucault (specifically, volume 3 of The History of Sexuality) tells me so). In The Yoga of Discipline, Siddha Master Swami (Gurumayi) Chidvilasananda discusses the “discipline of eating” at length, explaining how “disciplined eating does not refer only to what you eat. It also refers to when you eat, how you combine your foods, and choosing the foods that are good for your body.” Contemplating the purpose, substance, and one’s interaction with or assimilation of food helps one to progress along one’s spiritual path (towards “enlightenment”).
What we consume as and for energy literally makes us — makes our physical self as well as, I think, strongly impacting our psychological self.
And, if an ethics describes the comprehensive and, ideally, harmonious set of principles, habits, and techné that a person lives by on a daily basis, then does a correlation exist between one’s sexuality (sexual lifestyle) and her diet (dietary lifestyle)?
The question of how sexuality influences dietary lifestyle is nothing new. One’s understanding of her sexuality in relation to how it influences her diet has been well rehearsed in relation to the vegan lifestyle. I came to know the correlation between a homo-lifestyle (being gay) and a vegan-lifestyle (being vegan) shortly after becoming vegan myself last year—after much discussion with a dear friend of mine (Jodie, this column’s for you), a decision made final after interviewing Jane Velez-Mitchell last year (for Cherry Grrl) regarding her book Addict Nation.
Velez-Mitchell narrated her own story of becoming vegan not only through some garish examples (of how meat and dairy are produced; did you know that meat production is the largest greenhouse gas contributor?) but also, implicitly, through her own relation to her homosexuality. The other day, I asked Jane to make explicit this connection; here’s what she said:
The LGBT community knows what it’s like to be voiceless and to be treated as “less than.” That’s why the gay community often has exceptional empathy for the downtrodden, the overlooked, the forgotten. No group of sentient beings is more exploited and neglected than the billions of cows, pigs, lambs, chickens and turkeys trapped in factory farms. Ellen DeGeneres and other well known members of the gay community have made this issue a top priority. The easiest way to help animals trapped in the horrors of industrial farming is simply not to eat them. As an out lesbian I find my veganism goes hand in hand with my sexual orientation. The LGBT community is also known for being on the fashion forefront. Compassion for all animals is the cutting edge cause of the day. It’s no accident that the first community in America to pass a bill that will ban the sale of fur is West Hollywood.
The first sentence of Velez-Mitchell’s statement epitomizes the primary correlative factor in why homos, not only for Velez-Mitchell but also for a number of vocal homogans (homo-vegans) in the blogosphere, adopt the vegan lifestyle: “The LGBT community knows what it’s like to be voiceless and to be treated as ‘less than.’” The correlation, in other words, is one of empathy.
Ari Solomon’s 2011 post “Being Vegan is SO Gay” even goes so far to employ timely “bully” language in his explanation of how he came to veganism:
That day, for nearly two hours, I sat at my computer and poured over undercover footage from inside factory farms. How could it be that in 30 years, no one had told me that this is how animals we eat become our food? I saw the terrified looks on the animals’ faces, the cruel beatings and torment they endured. I heard the desensitized farm-workers screaming in their faces. And inside, I felt hollow because I knew what this felt like. I knew it from growing up. I knew what it’s like to be bullied.
I went vegan that day because I couldn’t stand knowing that I was paying other people to do to those animals what had been done, on a much smaller scale, to me. How could I say that I believed everyone deserved to be equal and have a chance to be happy when I was eating the remains of lives that had been wrought with misery and mercilessness.
To me, the parallel was simple and plain: oppression is oppression. We can rationalize all we want about how animals and humans are different, but at the heart of the quandary are certain undeniable truths: that animals really do suffer; that they have rich emotional and physical lives not so different from our own. If you’ve lived with a dog or cat, you already know this.
The ethic is profoundly christian (lowercase “c”; I am not yet convinced that every “C”hristian abides this dictate); from Matthew 7:12, “do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”
Earlier this year, Portia DeGeneres made headlines for asserting that it’s more difficult being vegan than being gay in an interview with VegNews:
Listen, I think it’s more difficult to be vegan than gay. I think people have a harder time accepting it; people feel more uncomfortable with a vegan at their dinner table than they do a lesbian. It’s confronting. It’s kind of suggesting that what someone else is doing is bad or wrong, and it hits them on a more personal level…If somebody is setting there eating a steak watching you eat polenta, they’re thinking that you’re trying to preach to them or you’re trying to convert them in some way. Whereas with being gay, I don’t think anyone’s concerned that that’s the agenda. “Hey, Mom, you also have to be gay. I’m gay and so should you be!” Certainly when I told her that I was vegan, it forced her to look at her habits.
From personal experience, I found what Portia to be saying all too true — perhaps some reason that this is because society commonly believes that one can change — or, from a different light, is more susceptible to changing — their dietary lifestyle more easily than their sexual lifestyle. Is veganism more “catching” that “THE GAY”?!
There are a few questions that come to mind after reading all these homogan virtual blogs and tidbits: can homos (or anyone, for that matter) compassionately eat animals? (The idea of clearly communicating one’s desire to eat someone else and that person saying “alright” is absolutely absurd!) Or, perhaps more thought-provoking, once we homos stop casting ourselves in a “victim” light (heavy-handed or not), will there be that same identifying impetus? Can there still be the ability to “empathize” with animals enough not to eat them? Are there other ways — other, credible reasons than the common bond of victimhood, voicelessness or helplessness—to establish a connection between a gay lifestyle and a vegan lifestyle?
I ask these questions because I do think that being vegan is honorable, but it is a quality that does not rely on the idea of oppression. It is honorable to respect all living creatures. It is honorable to one’s self to think not just about the ethical implications of this dietary lifestyle but also the socio-economic ones, which include everything from supporting small, local farms (micro-level) to supporting the earth and its environment (macro-level).
What do ye think about your personal ethics and how particular strands relate to and affect one another? Think about, for just one minute, how your sexual lifestyle may influence your dietary lifestyle, or habits, even. (Here I can’t stop thinking about Simon Doonan using the term “lesbian” to describe “wholesome” foods!)
Dr. Marcie Bianco is now a resident of Brooklyn but is still gloriously unemployed— as only one with a handful of useless degrees could be. She currently serves as the Editorial Director of VelvetPark.