I was raised to be a feminist and a vegetarian.
My mom, who was open and vocal about her strong belief in feminism, animal rights and the importance of an education, had a huge impact on me.
However, I experienced considerable opposition to these particular identities a child.
I went to a public elementary school in Puerto Rico a short drive away from my grandparents house. We had many random half days where we were dismissed from school early because there was a gas leak or something caught fire or a teacher meeting was to occur. Whenever my parents were teaching and couldn’t pick me up, off to my grandparents house I went.
Although I was raised vegetarian, my Dad’s parents are staunchly NOT vegetarian. They believe meat is an important part of a meal, both health-wise and culturally (obviously, I disagree that it’s great for health, but that’s for another post).
When I stayed with them, they gave me lectures on how I needed to learn to cook, “For your future husband”. Never mind that my grandmother rarely cooks and it is her husband who does the cooking and cleaning. The illusion of the gender binary is so important to maintain.
In any case, my response was just as ridiculous: “I will either marry a cook or a man rich enough to afford a cook.” What more can you expect from a ten-year-old’s perspective on feminism?
So I resisted learning to cook for a long time. In my view, this was a feminist act, my personal opposition to the patriarchy. I would not learn to cook and therefore could not be expected to be a servant to my future husband.
But as I grew older, I wanted independence. I realized that a huge part of that self-reliance includes be the responsibility to feed myself. If I was going to live on my own I would not be able to afford to buy food out all the time, nor would I want to. So I began to learn, and realized I enjoyed it.
Cooking became equated with independence and self-sufficiency.
Fast forward to me finally having my own kitchen as a broke grad student and becoming a vegan. My perception on cooking has changed radically — I now see it as a source of power and a valuable skill to be shared with others. I can make meals that don’t contribute to harming other beings. And I can prove that vegan cooking is both delicious and healthy.
In a world where eating meat is the norm and the dairy industry is so powerful that a glass of milk is recommended with each meal (never mind the many other foods with protein and calcium) cooking vegan feels like a radical act.
To me, feminism is about compassion; it is freedom, love, awareness.Yes, it is about women, sexuality, and diverse gender identities and expressions. It is about fighting for a just society in a very complicated and multifaceted sense. It is about preventing violence, about ending oppression in many forms. I cannot justify separating it from other movements, be it anti-racist, economic justice, environmental and many others.
Therefore, if I believe that eating vegan is healthier, it is a more compassionate approach towards other beings, and is significantly better for the environment, how can I separate my feminism from my veganism?
Now, when I cook, I am asserting myself. I have the power to control what industries I support and what goes in my body. What I chose to eat, or not eat, is both a personal and a political choice.