Guest post: ‘You’re a what?: Veganism, feminism and self-identity’ by Colleen Hodgetts

(Editor’s note: Colleen Hodgetts is the senior editor of Gender Across Borders, where the Chicago-based writer posts about gender, race, sexuality and class issues happening around the world. If you’d like to write a guest post, e-mail me at

I began eating a vegan diet for health reasons. I don’t call myself a Vegan, nor have I ever publicly declared my dietary habits before now. I run with a very progressive crowd, but I don’t often talk about my vegan diet. I am a little embarrassed about my choices, and worry greatly that my new label will offend someone.

It’s hard to grasp the shockingly apologetic and unsure nature of that statement if you don’t know me personally. Growing up in a house where protests and labor-rights sing-alongs were the norm, I developed political opinions at a very young age. A teacher in first grade told me never to raise my hand with the answer if no boys knew the answer. I’d like to thank her for inspiring me to become a feminist before I even knew what the word meant. As long as I can remember, I have been painfully aware of gender inequality and the need to fix it.

I did become a vegan for health reasons, but I am not ignorant of the many ideological arguments for veganism. The horrible labor standards for those in the industry, the devastating environmental impact of corporate meat production, and the cheap production of food sold to millions of consumers despite known health risks are all things I disagree with and would like to stop. Then why the hesitancy?

A very liberal friend of mine once proclaimed, “I hate vegans! They are so self righteous!” The few friends I did tell I was vegan reacted in two ways: “You’re no fun anymore,” was the less hurtful of the two. “You must be rich to do that,” stung a lot more, and pointed out the privilege of someone like me who can afford to buy the (pricier) fresh fruits and vegetables necessary for a healthy vegan diet. In the same way that the word “feminist” is often associated with privilege, namely race, class, and hetero-normative privilege, the image of a stereotypical vegan is a white, wealthy woman fighting for her own rights. Well, I don’t want to be associated with that.

In order to avoid the stereotypes and negative comments, I started describing myself as “eating a vegan diet”. That way I could dissociate myself from those more radical vegans who broke into slaughter houses and freed cows at night, or threw paint on fur-wearing models. At the same time, I bought Veganomicon, the bible for modern vegans. I love cooking, and it was the first cookbook I had ever read that did not assume that the reader was a heterosexual married woman with kids. I was delighting in the healthier food I was eating, the positive effects it was having on my body, and the happiness I felt at supporting local, organic farmers and sustainable eating habits. (And I secretly admired those cow freers and paint throwers who had way more courage than me and were willing to commit radical acts to bring attention to a cause they believed in.)

Disassociating myself from the more radical members of a movement? Trying not to seem “self-righteous” while expressing ideals I believe in? Worrying that people might take offense to a label that I associated with? Whoa. Sounds like the conflicting process of those identifying with feminism. In all my attempts to fully grasp it, I had never understood the struggle to identify as a feminist because it had been part of my identity for as long as I could remember. It was my choice to stop eating animal products, of all things, that illuminated this identity crisis.

So here I am, proclaiming on the internet that I am a vegan. Unlike other posts I have written, I feel conflicted and even nervous about posting this. Will my family understand? Will potential employers see this and think I’m weird? Will my friends who now realize that I’m vegan assume that I am anti-meat instead of pro-healthy food?

Again, the similarities abound and have helped me, as a feminist, understand the hesitancy that some people have to align themselves with the movement. This does not mean that I do not believe in feminism and its absolute pertinence to everyone. Gender equality is something we should all fight for. Do I feel the same way about veganism? Not yet, but my ideas continue to develop. As with any movement, educating myself and listening with an open mind are the best ways to grow. This movement just comes with the added bonus of delicious food to munch on while processing a new identity.

10 responses to “Guest post: ‘You’re a what?: Veganism, feminism and self-identity’ by Colleen Hodgetts

  1. The vegan hate is something that I just don’t understand When I am with a bunch of non-vegans I don’t know I dread the topic coming up because then I have to endure the same jokes, the same I love bacon speeches, and all the other things people say over and over and over again. It makes me want to bring out the bingo card,

    I think it is interesting that people constantly talk about how expensive and elitist my diet is when they are eating meat three times a day which is more than the much of the world can afford. Rice and beans and greens is pretty cheap.

    So I can see why you are nervous to come out, people will give you a hard time about it, constantly, the second they find out. For me, it is the only part of veganism that is hard. But you are right too, it is just like feminism . I learned that you have to just embrace the label and forget about pleasing people and do your best. And listen to Nellie McKay when it starts to get hard

    • Thanks for sharing about your own experience with others’ reaction to your veganism. Embracing labels is hard and defending them can be even harder.

      One observation: I imagine that in our bacon-obsessed world it’s more acceptable to poke fun at being a vegan than being a feminist.

      • Yes, it took me awhile to embrace both and, like Colleen, I was pretty much a born feminist! Defending feminism is a lot easier because it doesn’t come up in conversation nearly as much so you don’t have to get into it if you don’t want to. Veganism, on the other hand, is always right out there if you want to talk about it or not because people offer you food, or see what you are eating (or not eating), or invite you places.

        • Thanks for your thoughts Lazysmurf! I appreciate the support. You’re right- veganism comes up in conversation much more often and thus you are forced to defend it frequently.

  2. I would argue, though, that the ladies of the Veganomicon (whose work I love and adore, speaking as a non-vegan) DO have some blind spots especially where class is concerned. Look closely at the discourse around brunch in Veganomicon and Vegan with a Vengeance — I find it interesting that these anti-establishment, DIY punks are so in love with a ritual so closely associated with the privileged and powerful. And a lot of their commentary assumes a lifestyle in which one can fritter away a weekend in one’s jimjams/thrifting/testing recipes/not having to report to a job or wipe someone else’s bottom.

  3. I definitely noticed that type of language, but I do think they make an attempt to acknowledge that not all readers have the time to fritter away, as you eloquently and hilariously stated, “in one’s jimjams/thrifting/testing recipes”. They often give suggestions to cut down cooking time, do away with time-consuming and complicated cooking techniques, and replace more expensive ingredients.

  4. Colleen, congrats for coming out and speaking up for your beliefs! For me, supporting local/organic farmers and consuming sustainable foods has led to a nearly vegetarian lifestyle. We stick to local, organic, family-farm produced dairy and meats. (I’m keeping occasional meat in my diet for health reasons.)

    I really like the parallels you draw between the vegan/feminist movements. I’m 26 years old and it’s a little disheartening that, in my experience, fewer and fewer young women self-identify as feminists. I know lots of 20 somethings who are very outspoken about their vegan/sustainable/gluten free diets. However, our eroding reproductive rights, wage inequality, and other feminist issues are rarely discussed with the same enthusiasm. (Maybe I need to make some more feminist friends!) Anyways, I found your post encouraging and now I’m inspired to speak up, too! :)

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