Exactly 30 years ago today, I chose to become a vegetarian. I wanted to turn a date associated with the worst pain my parents and I have ever known–the day that my 20-year-old brother suddenly and violently lost his life– into something life-affirming.
The decision was my teenage protest against the cruelty and the environmental destruction stemming from factory farms. In the past 3 decades, I have never once even remotely thought of “switching back,” which is what my father jokingly said I would do in 1991 as soon as he fired up the BBQ grill for a down-home Serbian barbeque. We’ve come full circle because I’m the one doing the grilling of Impossible Burgers and Beyond Meat, corn on the cob, portabello mushrooms, and a variety of savory veggies.
“The control of food, the very basis of life, makes food a very political issue. … The patriarchy has taken away much that was woman’s: we have lost control of our bodies, our psyches, our history, our intellectual growth. Presently we see wise women everywhere taking back control of their lives. In this process of regaining our spirit, we must not forget that patriarchy has taken away our food and our knowledge of food. … We must relearn the knowledge of and respect for food if the process of taking back our bodies and our spirit is to be complete.”Mary Farkas, “The Politics of Food” (1989), quoted in The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries by Z. Budapest. Oakland, CA: Wingbow Press, 1989. Revised ed. pp.202-203.
This announcement isn’t a boast, isn’t some attempt on my part to claim moral superiority over people who do eat meat and seafood. In my mind, I couldn’t reconcile claiming to love some animals as pets while categorizing other animals as food. My intense forays, independent of any of my formal education, into Neoplatonism in my late adolescence only deepened my commitment to being cruelty-free.
American culture has certainly changed for the better since 1991 in terms of its acceptance of people demanding plant-based foods in chain restaurants. I used to get a lot of raised eyebrows when I asked about vegetarian options for a menu, or if a chef could craft something for me individually. Restaurants like the Chicago Diner and more recently, Native Foods, were havens for me for creating a sense of community, reminding myself that it wasn’t just me wanting to live and eat this way.
To this day I still burst into tears when I’m driving on any Chicago-area expressway and an 18-wheeler truck laden with slaughterhouse-bound cattle pulls up alongside me. The look of terror on the cows’ faces haunts me for hours afterwards. The factory farming industry, and its powerful lobby on Capitol Hill, is to me the ugliest expression of capitalism and a stark reminder that it and capitalism itself NEED TO END for the good of the planet. Many feminists starting in feminism’s Second Wave and civil rights advocates since the late 1960s have drawn parallels between the way the United States treats animals in its factory farming system and the country’s deeply entrenched, systemic misogyny and racism. It really is All One Struggle.
“It was a look so piercing, so full of grief, a look so human, I almost laughed (I felt too sad to cry) to think there are people who do not know that animals suffer. People like me who have forgotten, who daily forget, all that animals try to tell us. ‘Everything you do to us will happen to you; we are your teachers, as you are ours. We are one lesson’ is essentially it, I think. There are those who never once have even considered animals’ rights: those who have been taught that animals actually want to be used and abused by us, as small children ‘love’ to be frightened, or women ‘love’ to be mutilated and raped…”Alice Walker, “Am I Blue?” (1979) from Living by the Word: Selected Writings 1973-1987. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989. pp.7-8.
My parents were always greatly supportive of me and said they weren’t surprised I made the decision to become a vegetarian because it was clear from the time I was very little that I was extremely sensitive to any creature’s suffering. As I learned to cook my own meals on my own cookware, my sense of self-sufficiency/independence grew, for which I’m thankful. I knew that entering adulthood meant accepting responsibility for one’s decisions.
My favorite vegan chef, Christina Pirello of the PBS cooking series “Christina Cooks” fame, has been a source of inspiration to me. As have celebrities like the Phoenix brothers, Ellen De Generes, Angela Davis, Erykah Badu, and U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ).
As a Witch and practitioner of magick, I know there is energetic truth behind the old saying of “You are what you eat.” That styrofoam and plastic wrapped package of meat at the grocery store energetically contains abuse and terror experienced by the animal that cruelly was killed to produce it. And then meat-eaters eat that unconsciously. What effect does that energetic absorption have over the course of a carnivore’s life?
“The last few months of fattening are torture for the animals. They are force-fed and in a constant state of indigestion. In the slaughterhouse the fear, the incredible panic that they feel at the sight, sounds and smell of their own kind dying permeates their flesh and then is served to us for dinner. No, thank you.”Mary Farkas, “The Politics of Food” (1989), quoted in The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries by Z. Budapest. Oakland, CA: Wingbow Press, 1989. Revised ed. p.209.
At every level, physical and energetic, we become what we eat.
I am of the firm conviction we will see total societal collapse in our lifetimes. The skill sets I’m working on cultivating center on growing my own food and learning to recognize and utilize medicinal herbs wildly growing in my area. The late, great Chicago astrologer Guy Spiro told me in 2009, as he shared his findings of doing my natal chart with me, that I have been “the crazy witch on the outskirts of the village” before, and I am incarnated as that person again. The major difference is that before I was persecuted for being so. Now, in this lifetime, my role will rally my tribe around me. To quote one of my favorite nonfiction authors, Alan Cohen, “And so it is!”
And none of this would be possible if I didn’t make the conscious choice 30 years ago today to turn the heartbreak of my brother’s death into a reason to celebrate life.
Works Cited and Recommended Reading
Adams, Carol. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. London: Bloomsbury, 1990.
Farkas, Mary. “The Politics of Food.” In: The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries: Feminist Witchcraft, Goddess Rituals, Spellcasting, and Other Womanly Arts by Zsuszanna Budapest. Oakland, CA: Wingbow Press, 1989. Revised Ed.
Fey, Rebecca. Recipes from My Cauldron: A Vegan Witch’s Kitchen. Self-published. 2019.
Fideler, David. The Pythagorean Sourcebook and Library: An Anthology of Ancient Writings. Trans. Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie. Grand Rapids, MI: Phanes Press, 1987.
Leadbeater, C.W. Vegetarianism and Occultism. Adyar: Theosophical Publishing House, 1913.
Pirello, Christina. Christina Cooks: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Whole Foods but Were Afraid to Ask. New York: Harcourt Press, 2004.
Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation. New York: Harper Perennial, 2009. Revised ed.
Starhawk. Dreaming the Dark: Magic, Sex, and Politics. Boston: Beacon Press, 1982.
—–. Webs of Power: Notes from the Global Uprising. Gabriola Island, British Columbia: New Society Publishers, 2002.
Walker, Alice. “Am I Blue?” (1979). Living by the Word: Selected Writings 1973-1987. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989.