By Grace Lee, NAPAWF law intern
Deciding to become a vegetarian was not a difficult choice for me, after learning about the cruelty of slaughterhouses, farms, and animal testing. I found it fairly easy to alter my favorite recipes to be vegetarian. I receive negative reactions sometimes, but most people respect my decision. Something that I do struggle with as a vegetarian, though, is that I meet so few fellow vegetarians of color. The majority of the vegan/vegetarian community seems to be white and privileged.
I had the most difficult time as a vegetarian when I lived in Seoul, South Korea. Korean food actually features lots of vegetables and tofu, and there are Buddhist vegetarian restaurants in South Korea. The popular perception, though, is that Koreans are a barbequed meat-obsessed community. When I went out in Seoul, Korean BBQ was what the people I was with most wanted to eat and what was most popularly offered at restaurants. Trying to ask waiters about vegetarian options became a task I dreaded. Although I would ask for meat to be taken out of a dish, it would often still appear, and I would be told to just pick it out. Even my relatives would try to sneak meat into dishes that I ate. While in Seoul, I was also repeatedly asked to justify my decision to be a vegetarian and told that this choice was unhealthy. My aunt, for example, frequently let me know that I would have a difficult time finding a husband if I didn’t eat meat or if I wouldn’t cook meat for him. My mother has also said this to me at home.
These types of comments made by my aunt and mother angered me the most and made me begin to think of feminism and vegetarianism together, instead of as two distinct issues. I became more aware of the way the feminist and animal rights movements intersect. The violence in meat consumption echoes sexual violence against women. Both women and animals are also exploited as consumable objects by patriarchal culture. Just as women are oppressed, animals are exploited as a source of food, entertainment, or some scientific breakthrough at whatever cost to the animal. This overlap is clearly displayed in images of animals portrayed with “female” characteristics and as happy to be eaten:
(Image from Suicide Food)
I have come to the realization that all oppressions are linked, and for me, being a vegetarian is a part of achieving a revolution against patriarchal culture.
Vegans/vegetarians of color are mobilizing together. There are many blogs online by vegan people of color, such as Vegans of Color. Although I still feel like I am one of few, hopefully this will change.