Thursday, February 23, 2012

Why Vegan? Why Wisconsin?

With this being the first post, I decided I'd start out by introducing myself, and talking a little about what kind of blog this will be. It's about veganism, feminism, animal rights, and politics. I will talk about recipes, (pop) culture, arts & crafts, about cats, traveling, and vegan products. About restaurants and movies and TV shows. About life, and living vegan in Wisconsin.

I'll start by answering two valid questions: Why vegan? Why Wisconsin? I will try to answer both as best I can, telling you a little bit about myself.

I grew up neither a vegan, nor a Wisconsinite. In fact, I spend most of my life living in rural Bavaria, Germany. When I was thirteen years old, "Mad Cow Disease" was a big deal around where I lived (as it was in other parts of the world). This prompted one of the most important decisions of my life: becoming vegetarian. Now, even though this may sound like a "health vegetarian", I wasn't. Not at all. In fact, when my mom started reading about "Mad Cow Disease", and then animal "farming" in general, it was the ethical aspect of it that shocked and moved us most - and it remains, to this day, the most important aspect of the veg lifestyle. So I (along with my mom and my brother) became ovo-lacto vegetarian. And I was content with that, for many, many years. For fourteen years, to be exact. It wasn't until 2010 that I ever thought - ever wanted to think - about the truth behind milk and eggs, behind all animal products. Even though I had made the first step, had learned about "where meat comes from", and had made the conscious decision not to eat it anymore, a long time ago, I was afraid of going "all the way". I thought vegan food was a joyless, drab, tasteless, and boring affair. I thought vegans were humorless extremists, full of misery, and unable to enjoy life. I thought I could never give up cheese. I thought I would have to give up baked goods, all kinds of desserts, if going vegan. And so I chose not to. I chose not to think about the implications of eating dairy, of eating eggs, of supporting animal agriculture. I knew, in my heart, that something was wrong, but I closed my eyes. That wasn't, of course, a fully conscious choice. But it was a choice.  

In 2010, I couldn't make that choice any longer. I started reading about veganism, and started learning. And I was amazed. Amazed by the choices, the possibilities, the joy. Amazed at all these people feeling the way I felt, going through the processes I went through. I was introduced to new food, new ways of cooking, new ways of looking at the world. And it all resonated with me. It wasn't as if I had changed. It was as if I had finally opened my eyes to who I had been, all along. So I decided to give veganism a try. It couldn't hurt, and if it was too hard, I could always go back, I told myself. And again, I was amazed. It wasn't as hard as I expected it to be. In fact, it was almost easy. Most of the foods I loved could be veganized. I realized that I didn't even miss cheese. And the more I learned about animal agriculture, the less I wanted to eat animal products. Ever again. To my surprise, I suddenly liked to cook and bake. I had always avoided spending time anywhere near the kitchen, I had always eaten what was fast and easy and available (as long as it was meat-less), and suddenly I enjoyed trying new recipes. I also started feeling more at ease with myself. At peace, if you want to say it like that. As if I was suddenly living the ideals that were important to me.

Two other events (not related to veganism) have shaped me more than I would have expected. One of them was September 11, 2001. That was the day when I started paying attention to what is generally called "politics". I started caring about what was going on in the world around me. Well, maybe that's not entirely true. It's not that I hadn't cared before, it's just that I was too busy with my own life. But on that day, I realized that what goes on in "the world" can (and will) affect what goes on in my own little world.
Alright, you may say, but what does that have to do with Wisconsin? Well, it was my interest in politics that caused me to decide to major in political science, and then to go on to grad school in the same field. And this is what brought me to Madison, Wisconsin. You may call it ironic that I moved to the "dairy state" right after becoming vegan. Maybe. But that's how life is, oftentimes. Unpredictable, and sometimes it seems to be playing jokes on you. And I have realized that Madison is an incredibly vegan-friendly city, with a wonderful, and active, vegan community.

The last event that "shaped" me (even though I dislike the drama inherent in that word) was, ironically, the Democratic primary election of 2008. I started out without strong feelings about any of the candidates (why would I? I couldn't vote for any of them, anyways). I was aware that everybody thought Hillary Clinton was "certain" to win the nomination, that she was "inevitable" as the Democratic nominee, and I liked the idea of a female US president. And then strange things happened. It wasn't so much that she made mistakes, that the Obama campaign was surprisingly successful, that she started losing when she should have won. It was something else. Suddenly, I realized that there was pervasive sexism, still today, that politics was, after all, still a "man's world". You may think that I was incredibly naive, and that is probably true. I thought that a woman running for president in 2008 wouldn't be a big deal, that she could win (or lose) just like any other candidate - and I realized, as the campaign went on, that I had been wrong. Now, I am not trying to argue that she lost because of sexism. Many factors, some external, some internal to the campaign, caused her to lose (or not to win) the nomination. She made mistakes, she listened to the wrong people, she didn't see how strong Obama could be, it took her too long to find her voice, or to find the right strategy, she wasn't perceived as "charismatic" as Obama, she was the establishment candidate in a time of change. But on top of all that, the amount of misogyny and sexism that surfaced, that was expressed freely, was shocking, at least to me. And so I became an active feminist, when before I had thought that all the important battles had long been fought.

And this is where I stand today. I study politics. I live a vegan life, and feel better, healthier than I ever have before. I volunteer at a sanctuary for farmed animals. I am a feminist, aware that sexism is alive and well, and that the different forms of oppression in the world are interconnected, and can only be overcome together. I am saddened by all the cruelty in the world, but hopeful that we can change things. That we can make a difference, one step at a time, in our own lives, our own homes. I share my home with the two most amazing cats in the whole world, Dana and Scully. I love to cook and bake, to travel, to read. Nothing can lift my spirits like a Madonna song. And those are the things I will write about, because those are the things I know.

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