A Response to “Veganism is Celibacy” from an Eating Disordered Perspective

All photos taken at the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary.

A couple of weeks ago, I began my morning—as I do every Saturday—by listening to the then latest episode of Our Hen House (at which I now serve as a Contributing Writer, whoo hoo!). Jasmin and Mariann, during their preliminary “Ramblings” section, discussed two articles that referred to veganism as akin to celibacy, the latter of which deemed it “a form of dietary totalitarianism,” a regime that “sucks out the joy” from eating.

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Synonymous with celibacy is abstention—the act of voluntarily holding oneself back. Integral to totalitarianism is control—the exercise of restraint. The absence of joy connotes the absence of pleasure—a feeling of satisfaction.

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I’m deeply familiar with this state of abstention, control, and lack of gratification surrounding food. My catchall term for this state? Eating disorder. In high school, I eagerly held myself back from consuming calorie-dense foods, in disgusted awe of those who dared to eat peanut butter sandwiches and baked goods. I controlled every calorie that entered my mouth, tracking each morsel of food on a macronutrient chart and making sure to restrain myself from consuming over 1200 daily calories. I gained no pleasure from eating, simultaneously overwhelmed during meals with the fear that I would consume “too many” calories, and with the stifled yearning to finally feel dietarily satisfied.

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In contrast to the two aforementioned articles’ authors, as well as to this disordered mindset, veganism both reintroduced meaning into my life and aided me in viewing food as friend rather than adversary. Soon after discovering veganism, my obsession with not consuming more than 25 grams of fat per day paled in comparison to the urgent yet overlooked issue of animal exploitation. I strove to gain weight in order to combat the mainstream notion of vegans as frail, gaunt, and unhealthy. I found a sense of empowerment in voting with my meal choices against the oppressive system of animal agriculture, eager and proud to consume all of the edibles in the plant kingdom (even those I had before demonized, such as…gasp, full-fat coconut milk?!?!?). Most of all, I pushed away the shadow of gloom lingering over my restrictive, fanatic lifestyle, welcoming in the sense of purpose, the passion, the joy with which veganism imbues my life.

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Emerging from my introverted hibernation (eating disordered depression proves quite adverse to quality social relationships), I found communion with the world around me, first and foremost through the non-human animals for whom I soon began to advocate. As an individual with access to adequate plant-based food sources and the funds to purchase them, I found the act of not eating the flesh and secretions as a logical extension of my newfound harmony with the broader world. In the words of Buddhist philosopher Joanna Macy in her book Active Hope, “When we perceive our identity as an ecological self that includes not just us but also all life on Earth, then acting for the sake of our world doesn’t seem like sacrifice. It seems a natural thing to do” (76). 

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Replacing the chickens on my plate with maple-glazed tempeh and the dairy-based cheese in my salad with aged cashew cheddar does not add any militancy nor detract any pleasure from my life. On the contrary, doing so has opened up a world of flavors, textures, and ingredient preparations of which I never before dreamed.

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I completely understand that, for many individuals suffering from eating disorders, veg(eteri)anism can serve to perpetuate dietary regimentation. However, I’d like to introduce an alternate perspective to this unfortunate phenomenon, as well as to the authors of the articles in question (most likely neither of whom, as well-off white males, have had to face the same lifelong media bombardment dictating how female bodies “should” look). For me—as well as others featured in Choosing Raw’s “Green Recovery Series”veganism proved integral in transforming my life from the empty one described in both articles into a vibrant, fulfilling one.

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Veganism is not celibacy. Veganism is not totalitarianism. Veganism is a respect for all life put into practice in a world that frowns upon such respect, but that with our activism, won’t be frowning for much longer.

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Until next time, Ali.

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19 thoughts on “A Response to “Veganism is Celibacy” from an Eating Disordered Perspective

  1. Fantastic post!!! So proud of you and am so inspired by who you are and your powerful activism work and writing. Thank you for sharing this deeply personal and inspirational piece, and for offering your unique perspectives on this topic. xoxoxo

  2. I always love your posts, Ali. You say exactly what I feel too. Being a vegetarian then vegan almost all my life (57 years) there is not a single day I am not grateful for the fact that I am vegan. Nothing that anyone feels could remotely compensate for the suffering of my animal friends due to human selfishness and greed. There is no abstinence in veganism other than abstaining from having blood on your hands.

  3. Thank you for your very well-written post, Ali. I feel the same way. Being a healthy vegan is integral to my very being and keeps me grounded in my body. As young women in this society, it is so essential that we are able to take care of ourselves and nourish our bodies with a conscious respect for both our fellow beings AND ourselves. <3

    P.S. I'd like to link back to this on my blog, if that's okay with you? This is an important message for folks to hear – vegan or no.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree!!

    Since making the transition from vegetarian to vegan:

    My husband has gained 20 pounds (because the food is “soooo good”) and is always asking what’s for dinner with excitement I NEVER saw him have over food before. This from a man who, ten years ago, his bible was cheese and salami.

    I, one who was never a cook, have found a passion and enjoyment for all things cooking related that I never felt when I consumed animal products. I’ve tried foods I used to make faces at in the grocery store (uh hello? Olive oil and garlic roasted cabbage steaks?! OMNOMNOMNOMNOM) and, now that I’ve settled into the lifestyle and truly understand cooking, never feel anything lacking in my meals whether they are 1 or 10 course.

    I don’t even need to touch on the emotional and mental fulfillment I feel now being a vegan. In tune with this blog post, if it’s strictly palette speaking it’s the best thing that’s ever happened!

  5. Love this post, Ali. There’s not much I can say that you haven’t already elegantly articulated, but I am so happy, as someone who has watched you blossom and grow into your recovery, to see how much meaning you’ve invested your food choices with. It’s very inspiring.

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  8. Super post Ali! I’m another one who’s found going vegan to be a huge help in my recovery from anorexia. I agree with everything you’ve said- the empowerment you get from making choices out of compassion, the greater connection and appreciation of the world around us, the desire to be a healthy vegan role model, the discovery of a passion for food I never knew I had…
    I love Gena’s “Green recovery” series and it’s another great challenge to the idea of “veganism is celibacy”.

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