As Vassar students, we strive to create positive change in our greedy, racist and ultimately destructive society. But can we meet this goal when we fill our bodies with exploited non-human bodies? When we fund the persecution of undocumented factory farm workers? When we needlessly contribute to climate change, drowning Asian and Pacific Islander Nations?
Vassar Animal Rights Coalition, or VARC, responds to these questions with a simple truth: meat is not progressive. To save the world, and to save ourselves, we must eat more veggies, and VARC is working tirelessly to bring this message to the entire campus.
Although VARC has been around for decades, meetings were generally poorly attended and events were minimal, until last semester. Thanks to veganism being “the fastest growing movement in the world,” in the words of member Gabriela Maria ’18, as well the donation of much-needed funding due to Maria’s association with a PETA offshoot, VARC has been able to put on a myriad of events.
These have included a screening of “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret,” a cruelty- free makeup giveaway and a bake sale in support of Dutchess County SPCA. This year, we’ve also attended Hudson Valley VegFest, hosted a vegan cheese tasting, visited Woodstock Animal Sanctuary and more.
Another active VARC member is Gelsey White ’19, who went vegetarian in high school when she saw lobsters in a grocery store, destined to be slaughtered. After visiting an animal sanctuary with VARC, she felt inspired to take her activism a step further and go vegan. “One of the most important parts about being a vegan is getting support from others,” said White, which she found primarily through VARC. I agree with this sentiment, and don’t know if I could’ve maintained my veganism had I not met others on campus making similar lifestyle decisions.
White also appreciates VARC’s emphasis on intersectional justice, as do I. We both believe that we cannot achieve animal liberation when communities of color are denied access to healthy, plant-based options, just like we cannot eliminate racism when we eat meat. White commented on the topic, “Ideas from one issue can be applicable to others.” From my perspective, this means that a value like the liberation of dairy cows and egg-laying hens can be translatable to the human feminist movement.
On a similar note, Isabel Schneck ’19, who went vegan after learning more about the lifestyle choice from her boyfriend, finds it unfortunate that veganism is sometimes associated with wealthy white people who want to feel sad for animals and hug trees, without caring about any other movements against oppression. Veganism is rarely discussed, but when it is, I’ve found that it often carries connotations of privilege and wealth.
In contrast, Schneck believes that veganism can be “a way to combat multiple modes of oppression, promote a different view of other beings and the Earth, and restore symbiosis and equality.” Schneck, like many of us in VARC, views her veganism as one effort to actively oppose the abuse of animals that has created society as we know it. What pushed her to go vegan was the realization that the exploitation of human beings and non-human animals are interconnected, and that a fully intersectional worldview needs to go beyond the human species.
“If we viewed other beings the way we view humans, it would be genocide, child abuse, and exploitative labor,” Schneck said.
Long-time VARC member Tonya Ingerson ’18 went vegan after watching “Cowspiracy.” I too was shocked by the documentary, which shows how, though animal agriculture accounts for a whopping 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the profit-driven meat and dairy industries have manipulated the government into downplaying this reality.
Ingerson, who is also zero-waste, described how she only receives praise for reducing her plastic and paper consumption, whereas her veganism tends to be met with more negative reactions. She has had to deal with “shitty people, rude comments, teasing, and jokes,” which to her are far worse downsides to veganism than her inability to eat a cheeseburger. Yet through VARC, Tonya and the rest of us can celebrate our veganism without social stigma. We can show our friends, show our community, that we are not alone in our advocacy for compassion.
So what’s in store for the future of VARC? On Sunday, we’re hosting an Earth Day extravaganza complete with a bouncy house, games, and snacks. We’re also continuing to work with campus dining to expand vegan options, and to reinstate Meatless Mondays. Moreover, VARC hopes to collaborate with more orgs, as we did when we brought vegan activist and Black decolonial theorist Aph Ko to Vassar.
Academically, VARC is petitioning the College to offer Human-Animal Studies courses, or at least to incorporate discussions of animal exploitation in current curricula. Later on in the semester, we hope to host a panel on veganism and to protest Vassar’s annual deer slaughter.
All of this will be done with the goal of creating a campus consciousness that recognizes speciesism as a legitimate form of oppression. Members of the Vassar community need to realize that veganism is, in Scheck’s words, “not a loss or a sacrifice, but an opportunity for growth.” Veganism is not about giving up animal products. It’s about giving up on a system that has perpetuated violence for far too long, while refusing to give up on all that’s good in the world.
Having read this far, I personally hope that you’ll go vegan, if only for the rest of the day. As new member Joseph Nowacki ’21 said, “Take it slow, every bit has an impact.” Maria recommends the app Happy Cow to help you find restaurants with vegan options, but it doesn’t even have to be that hard. “It will never be easier to try new meals than being in a dining hall,” said Ingerson. “You just have to scoop it on your plate.” In other words, you can combat animal, environmental and human oppression by simply going to another station at the Deece.
Ingerson went on to say, “Vassar students talk the talk, but hardly ever walk the walk. Animals matter to me and climate change scares the shit out of me. Although one person won’t shut down a factory farm alone, we shouldn’t think that way. A compassionate world has to start from somewhere, and it might as well start with us.”
So when ignorant politicians pull out of international climate agreements, do protest. But also remember, every time you eat a piece of chicken, you’re perpetuating oppression too. Is that who you, as a Vassar student, as a socially just human being, want to be?