Thursday, August 9, 2012

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Animal Rights and Mother's Milk: Why aren't babies included?

This may be a controversial topic. Not because I'm trying to start any 'mess,' but because there's many a debate on what constitutes ethical eating -- what we should be eating, who has access, food justice, etc.

To be clear, I am not a vegetarian or a vegan. Anymore. Nor do I believe we were meant to be. But when I was 16, when I thought it could make a difference in preventing animal cruelty, I stopped eating meat -- a lifestyle I practiced for almost 10 years, and within that timeframe was a vegan for one. More recently -- just over a year ago, I decided to stop eating meat in an effort to raise my consciousness around food justice -- for humans. What that meant, and examining just who could practice this lifestyle that relegates consuming animals as barbaric and inhumane -- and connecting that with what I've found many people saying is a marker of colonialism (for some, at least). That journey lasted for about one year, when I realized that the vegetarian and vegan lifestyle does not constitute food justice. At least the way I see it. And looking at meat-eating along a single trajectory of animal rights, in my own opinion, is either ignorance of the overwhelming amount of poverty, ethnocentric in not taking into account the various reasons behind eating habits, or just a plain marker of privilege. People are eating (or not eating) for too many reasons.

But that's not the point of this post. Well, not exactly.

I always try and get people to recognize the importance of breastfeeding -- regardless of who they are. To see how they are affected by it whether they realize it or not, which is often the case, because my ultimate goal is to get them to see how they can effect change. Or at least be more aware.

I volunteered at camp for queer youth recently and stayed at the home of some of the organizers. There were four who lived in the house along many other guests -- who, I learned, mostly practiced the same eating habits. Most of them were vegetarian or vegan. Most were young, white and in my mind, privileged kids, who talked about the reasons behind their journey. To prevent animal cruelty. Of course I just can't keep my mouth shut when it comes to breastfeeding -- but to be fair, we all got into a conversation on what we 'did' for a living. I think they were kind people, who probably didn't want to candidly shut me up, so they listened. But during the conversation about their diets and the look on their faces when I told them that they indeed were affected by breastfeeding -- since none of them had any kids, I realized that animal rights and the desires to protect these animals from factory farming, or just being consumed, doesn't really seem to go beyond what adults are eating. Why are babies never included in the conversation when it comes to eating habits and vegetarianism -- especially in large organizations?

If someone believes rejecting certain foods from their diets will produce change towards the greater good in humanity -- or in this case, towards non-human animals, why do we not integrate this message when it comes to them -- to promote more breastfeeding -- especially among people who don't believe they are or can become involved? Why is veganism and animal rights centered around adult lifestyles? After all, infant formula is cow's milk.

I am not promoting vegetarianism or veganism at all. I am promoting breastfeeding. And though I do agree, like many others, that factory farming is undeniably inhumane, like I said earlier many people, communities and individuals are eating many different things for just as many reasons. I advocate practicing what people feel is best aligned with their moral, physical, social, cultural, spiritual and ethical beliefs. But these were just some thoughts.

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