Through The Vegan Looking Glass

Photo:  Iris Cohen

Photo: Iris Cohen

Before I adopted a vegan lifestyle, like with much of the unknown, I perceived the possibilities very one dimensionally. 

To ‘go vegan’ was an unnecessarily gruelling challenge, an affront to cultural traditions, a plea for attention or some combination of the three. The people I knew (of) who were vegan did not espouse views that were particularly close to my heart and, if anything, the visible vegan movement was one of privileged, white trustafarians able to throw themselves in front of police picket lines, safe in the knowledge their human rights are sacrosanct and never in fear of being violated.

Against a societal backdrop of Black Lives consistently NOT mattering, Brexit, Trump, the rise of the right and an ever-unraveling social fabric from top to bottom, it is hard for the people who are prey to these traumatic human narratives to find redemption (or salvation) through humility and humanity toward animals. Put the lives of others ahead of your own marginalised existence. Put yourselves singularly in harm’s way to protect the animals globally.

Haven’t we, the children of the African diaspora, been sold this story before? Whether it be the gospel according to Christian missionaries, the governance according to colonial powers or the game according to the gatekeepers of Western society, we are consistently bit part players in our own stories.

So when the idea of veganism was first broached to me by a couple of property heiresses over matcha lattes before they ‘summered’ in Mykonos, as much as I was seduced by their Instagrammable physiques, I was totally turned off at the thought of their rarified company. 

Photo:  Iris Cohen

Photo: Iris Cohen

If the requirements of ‘being a vegan’ were family money, far-flung yoga events and organic, cold-pressed juices then it wasn’t for me or the people I’ve grown up with.

However... as an experienced human rights activist, especially pertaining to the plight of black people in the UK, I have long understood the terminal damage that our collective purchasing decisions are making to the economic potential of our communities. Whether it be cheap chicken and chips after school or expensive disposable fashions for ‘turning up’, there is a common theme of reactionary consumption as opposed to considered investment. 

To effect a paradigm shift amongst groups of people who do not necessarily share cultural commonality but have a blanket political identity (black) is limited to that racialised common denominator. This positioning, as outliers, is the cornerstone of black vegan philosophy as I have come to understand it.

This is stripping away the mantras of products we are sold and reclaiming our intrinsic selves. Reminding ourselves of our spiritual identities rather than our economic values. With an open and inquisitive mind it becomes extremely obvious that consumption is not our primary objective as humans. Stuff serves it’s distractionary purpose of eroding human connection which in turn weakens our collective consciousness.

The long and short of this is a philosophy akin to something our ancestors would have been more familiar with. Long before the machinations of Imperial globalisation began commoditising and harvesting all of the world’s natural resources, indigenous communities were thriving in all the regions they had settled. There were relationships of respect with the environment (both flora and fauna) and when animals were sacrificed - whether for meat or ritual - it was recognised with revery and there were blessings and libations to commemorate this.

Respect, simplicity, empathy, freedom, communication, love - concepts that are antithetical to the tenets of modern politics and finance. However, these are the building blocks of human capital and the black vegan mandate is very much about rediscovering our connection to each other, taking individual and collective responsibility for our societal positioning and drawing on our cultural capital to be thought leaders and activists for good.

The dietary element of my personal vegan journey is less of a talking point than I had first thought it would be. Sure, it can still be occasionally troublesome when places you visit don’t sufficiently cater to your dietary requirements but to learn restraint through conscientiousness has been a worthy reward. 

Photo: Iris Cohen

Photo: Iris Cohen

I used to be greedy and would continue eating long after I knew I was full because I could. My food habits were very much guided by consumption and not survival. I always got the ‘-itis’, regularly suffered from reflux and assumed that constant stomachaches were part and parcel of being a man in his thirties. In retrospect, it was a wretched existence but the food products I was consuming were drugs to which I was addicted hence my appetite had increased to such levels to satiate my need for a high.

Since being vegan, my body has retrained my mind and has dialled down my consumption habits considerably. By having a firewall on what I will and will not put into my body, by way of a strict criteria, has changed me from a general feed to a closed group. So much toxic noise is gone and my body needs to expend less energy in processing the inbound stream. The irony is not lost on me that this allegory is what current politicians refer to as ‘a sensible immigration policy’ but whilst prepared to impose it on arbitrary land borders, they do not implement or advocate it personally as a more effective way of ‘saving our people’.

I feel so many of the answers to the ails of modern life can be found on the pathway of the conscious vegan journey. It must begin from within, be honest in intention and with the humility to accept that what you had believed before was ill-informed. From this starting point, the world becomes a very different place with very different opportunities ripe for the taking.

Now I am doing everything I can to impress and inspire the next generation of vegans to be the change that means we no longer need to be named. I can not stress enough that we can not build the future with the architects of the past. The baton is now in all of our hands to ensure that there is a hopeful tomorrow for our children and all of theirs to come.



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