posted May 9, 2023
What is Veganism? Depends on who you ask. Some say it’s exclusively compassion for non-human living beings. Some include the environment and climate. Then there are others who include intersectional aspects such as oppressed and historically marginalized communities. In the past several years, I have tried on:
- Compassion, as if it were an option in my closet.
- Green slogans for Mother Earth.
- “No animal prints” and “no leather” for the animals.
- Connecting the dots between carnism and colonialism in various speaking engagements and on my podcast.
I have sought to check all the boxes above. I have performed well on these key performance indicators. But then, I’m great at analyzing a system, cracking its code, and acing an exam. No surprises there. I may have earned an A+ yet I have miserably failed at Veganism.
Passionate and intelligent cognitive analyses of compassion, ahimsa, and himsa, explaining the cruelty and oppression meted out to other beings, reasoning the ties between animal products and chronic illness, teaching about planetary boundaries being irreversibly breached and the long shadow cast by war and colonialism is simply that: Cognitive.
Yet the fluency of my compassion-speak and the cogency of my analysis does not make me Vegan. Not in a way the personal practice of compassion as an ethic might.
The reality is that I shore up all reserves of compassion for others except for my Self. I perform for others yet my Inner Child suffers. I pray for the Earth yet I self-flagellate. I can’t accept a compliment and I don’t trust kindness. My body has no inflammation because I treat it like a temple with diverse plants and I drink only water, and a decaf occasionally. Yet my heart and my mind are nuclear dumping grounds of a never-ending war of self-criticism, regret, and a need for perfectionism. The ahimsa is for the world. The himsa is for me?!
I turn to experts in my quest to fathom this conundrum.
One of the key proponents of self-compassion, Dr. Gabor Mate, physician and bestselling author, who has spent over 20 years studying addiction and stress-related illnesses. In his book When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress, Mate emphasizes that self-compassion is essential for well-being. He states that individuals who are compassionate towards themselves are less likely to experience stress-related illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and autoimmunity. Would Dr. Mate include Vegan dystopia as an illness? Climate anxiety? How about a feeling of forever falling short as a Vegan?
Dr. Stephen Porges’ work on polyvagal theory suggests that self-compassion is crucial to activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s relaxation response. The parasympathetic nervous system helps regulate heart rate, breathing, digestion, and other bodily functions that are essential to maintaining good health. Porges argues that individuals who lack self-compassion may have difficulty activating their parasympathetic nervous system, which can lead to chronic stress and other health problems. Yet my cardiac markers seem fine. I am as insulin sensitive as I can ever get. What does Dr. Porges have to say about physically healthy, cognitively high functioning Vegans who are emotionally distraught?
Then there’s research on the gut-brain axis, responsible for regulating mood, behavior, and cognitive functions. Recent research has shown that the gut microbiome, the community of microorganisms living in the gut, plays a crucial role in regulating mood and behavior. I know my gut microbiome is diverse and is a production powerhouse of serotonin…and yet?
There are times I wake up and wonder if ignorance is truly bliss. Back when I walked with eyes wide shut, went for steak dinners, popped shiny pills thinking chronic illness ran in my family; when I didn’t have flashbacks of memories with animals, where either I witnessed cruelty towards them (read: my earlier blog on witnessing a cow slaughter) or when I recall having stomped an entire ant hill “just because I could.”
Authentic Veganism is not a performative path. It’s not a brand with which to adorn my social media with. Being Vegan—inside out—requires me to be compassionate towards myself, in addition to my love for other humans and non-humans. Veganism invites me to transcend my Ego, embrace my Inner Child, her wounds, her longings and her trauma—inherited and otherwise.
How and by when will I do this, time will tell. Until then, I can’t call myself a Vegan anymore.
Nivi Jaswal is an intersectional vegan advocate and social entrepreneur in the Boston, Massachusetts area and Main Street Vegan Academy graduate. She founded The Virsa Foundation Inc., a 501c3 nonprofit and the JIVINITI Research Program after healing herself on a Whole Food Plant-based lifestyle. In addition to holding a BA (Psychology, Sociology), an MBA (Consumer Behavior Marketing) and extensive international corporate experience in the consumer packaged goods, medical devices, and media and research sectors, Nivi is a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC) trained at the Mayo Clinic. She is passionate about developing creative multidisciplinary intersectional content and designing unique research collaborations aimed at communities of color in the US, South Asia, and elsewhere. She is an advisor to Harvard Plant Futures, Cambridge Climate Society and regularly speaks at climate-friendly plant-focused events and courses in academia.
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