A Survey of a Liberal Arts College’s Response to Veganism
by Ali Seiter
Applying to colleges brainwashed me. The notion of escaping the stifling familiarity of my Midwestern hometown, endoctrinated with the locavorian “we-love-organic-humanely-raised-romanticized-animals-slaughtered-just-up-the-road” philosophy, to live amongst progressively minded liberal arts students fooled me into thinking that a massive crowd of vegans sporting “I Love Kale” t-shirts would welcome me with open arms upon arrival at any small, East-Coast educational institution I decided to attend. Reflecting upon my woefully incorrect notion that carnism would prove much less pervasive on a liberal arts campus, especially one as proud to combat mainstream society as Vassar, I now blame the guarantee of the immense life change offered by entering the collegiate community for my disillusionment. While moving to Poughkeepsie obviously shifted my daily life in an extremely profound manner, it did not produce the difference between high school in Madison and college at Vassar for which I had so vehemently hoped: an increased awareness of the ethical, environmental, and health implications inherent in commodifying animals.
Acquaintances continue to inquire as to where on earth I scrounge up enough protein to function from eating only plants. Campus Slow Food organizations continue to tout the benefits of raw milk. Sustainability-obsessed households continue to raise chickens in their backyards. And environmentally concerned folk continue to justify the killing of animals on the grounds of “protecting biological diversity.”
Clearly, I rather naively convinced myself that a campus so attuned to issues of race, socioeconomic status, and the LGBTQ community, as well as so devoted to cultivating an atmosphere free of oppression regarding all the aforementioned subjects, would have also recognized animals as a group worth of anti-discriminatory efforts and respect as sentient beings. Any battle for social justice requires a slow shift in collective consciousness, and veganism has garnered a shift that remains in the minority, even among the most progressively minded of people.
That said, I have witnessed innumerable instances—some manifesting themselves as mere glimmers, others as complete transformations—of the shifts in consciousness necessary in growing the vegan movement and ensuring animal liberation during my past five months at Vassar. While part of me wishes they had happened prior to my coming to campus so that I would have encountered a primarily veg community upon arrival, I must admit that I am immensely grateful to have played a role in inspiring those shifts. Seeing that moment of realization, no matter how small or massive, whether in the form of defense, despair, or complete epiphany, reminds me of the importance of activism—that realization could mean the world for the furthered wellbeing of animals and the environment.
To direct some of the hope and empowerment I’ve recently experienced out into the vegan community (that means to you guys!), I’d like to recount a brief list of the shifts I’ve witnessed in others (at least somewhat) realizing the truths so deeply ingrained in veganism since commencing my Vassar journey:
- Two vegetarians, one long-time and one of a mere three weeks, made the commitment to veganism. One attributes her decision largely to a visit to Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, the other to a combination of reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals coupled with my bounty of
- One of my dormmates adopted a fully vegetarian diet, another decided to eat only vegetarian while at Vassar but to return to an omnivorous diet when visiting home, and many of the rest took the pledge to participate in Meatless Mondays.
- Two omnivores who attest to “not even really enjoying the taste of meat” except for that of fish and cows, respectively, and to being open to considering vegetarianism if not for that single taste preference sat in open-mouthed disbelief when I revealed that they could adopt a vegetarian diet except for the flesh of those two animals. In the words of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau (which I recited for them), “Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything. Do something. Anything.”
- After every instance of my baking for my fellow Vassarians, at least one person exclaims, “Well, I’d happily go vegan if I could eat this kind of food everyday!”
- Upon tasting his first spoonful of nutritional yeast, my friend affirmed, “I can see why vegans don’t miss cheese.”
- After engaging with me in many friendly discussions concerning veganism, two of my meat-eating friends (one of whom participates in the Vassar Debate Team), admitted, “I just can never prove your arguments wrong.” Yes, veganism does indeed always prevail.
- Another one of my friends, who earlier in the year insisted upon consuming some type of animal flesh at every meal, revealed to me that he can’t look at meat or dairy in the same way since I recounted to him the trauma mother cows experience in having their calves rended from them in the dairy industry and that cows must be pregnant to produce milk.
And the list continues. No, not everyone I’ve met at Vassar has adopted a vegan lifestyle or become an ardent animal rights activist, but that’s not what I’d expect after recovering from my bout of utopian ignorance. As I mentioned before, upon reflection of my experience as a vegan advocate on campus, I cannot express my gratitude in witnessing the individual shifts in consciousness that will hopefully one day manifest themselves as unhindered compassion for all beings. Until then, I’m happy to continue to witness and inspire them—as I also articulated before, slow and steady wins the race, especially in social justice movements—and I hope you all will do the same.
Until next time, Ali.