We All Want To Be Free: Disability, Veganism, Oppression & Trauma

By Michele K

In my experience when you’re disabled (and proud #represent ) but require home health care services, it seems like you can’t go 6 months without having to fight against cuts in funding, Which means, that every damn year, we are fighting against attacks (from democrats and republicans) on our literal freedom. Do you know what it’s like to fight to not be forced from your home and into nursing homes & institutions? It’s exhausting, it’s terrifying and it’s normalized. As of early April 2022, I have been signal boosting  #FairPay4Home Care, which works to solve the home health care worker shortage crisis by ensuring a fair wage (not poverty wage) for HHC workers, More workers in the HHC industry, less disabled and/or seniors forced from our homes. Our struggles are connected.

Getting involved in the movement has been simultaneously fulfilling as I am currently mostly bedbound (though working on getting stronger) and sometimes feel isolated from the world, so it has been nice to feel a part of something bigger than myself and my friends. But at times it was also triggering (in the actual psychological sense of the word, not as in a synonym for merely bothered as it’s often misused). No one deserves to be forced from their homes against their will and into institutions, where daily life is a dehumanizing assembly line. And that’s just when we’re not in a pandemic. When we are, such places can be a literal death trap and nightmare.

An experience, I unfortunately know all to well, as I spent several months in three different nursing homes from October 2021 to January 2022. Not only was I malnourished, not only did I at times experience abuse and neglect, but as I mentioned in the previous article which was somewhat controversial,  I (like many of those stuck in institutions) was not able to remain vegan.

And because at that point, I had already lost far too much weight as it was in these various hospitals and institutions, I had little choice but to consume animals like chicken and fish. And at first, it broke my heart more than I can say, but like many toxic experiences that occurred during that time, my way of getting through things was to shut down as I was essentially in survival mode. And it got to the point where I was so closed off emotionally, that after a month, I ate chickens and fish without much of a thought. To be clear I didn’t take pleasure in it. I didn’t take pleasure in much during that time. It was eat or starve – so I ate. But I never felt good about it. I just shut down from those feelings of sadness, the knowledge that I am eating a fellow being. Nope not a being. Just food.

When I got out of the nursing home, my health was not stabilized. In fact, it was worse. I had actually gotten covid while I was there because at first there was one case, then there was a whole floor of covid, and then it was on three floors of covid (including the floor I was on). And still, the owners of the nursing home kept accepting new people even though the staff was already overwhelmed and burnt out and could not keep up with the numbers that we had. In many cases, sometimes on a daily basis, the staff punched down. I remember being so dehydrated at one point that I collapsed on the floor, only to be yelled at because they didn’t have time for “these games”. It was not a game. So when I came home I was not only messed up physically but also mentally. I had experienced trauma and had a lot of healing to do. Anyone who knows that the path to healing from trauma is not an easy one because you have to remember, feel, process and grieve –  and I had gone to great lengths to avoid such things, I still get flashbacks and it remains one of the hardest things I have ever had to get through.

That said, one of the many good things about being home (besides being in a safer environment) was that I was able to eat whatever I wanted – within the realm of my allergies and dietary intolerances. At first I was concerned that going back to vegan “too quickly” might be too much of a shock for my body which was already pretty messed up at this point in time. In addition, one doctor had told me that eating soy might exasperate my thyroid issues, and so part of me felt scared about returning to tofu. I was also experiencing these really strong cravings for salmon that I initially didn’t understand. What if I can’t be vegan for medical reasons and if I stop eating fish I’ll get even worse? I realize now this thinking was partially rooted in trauma. With trauma responses, you experience really intense depression and intense anxiety, so making changes (even good ones) can feel incredibly overwhelming. But at one point in my recovery, as I started to heal, I reconnected to the realization that the salmon I was eating was not just “food” but this was a being, this was a life that was not mine to take. And when I reconnected to that, I cried. Like me, this was a life that deserved freedom and safety. But furthermore, I realized I don’t need to eat the fish anymore. I am no longer in survival mode. I am safe now and I can let it go. So, I looked for other sources of Omega 3 (hemp hearts and jackfruit according to the internet) and it felt safe to make the change.

Just as it was important for me to honor the life of the fish, it was also important for me to honor my feelings on the matter and what was needed to feel safe. Instead of just trying to ignore the feelings or even chastise myself for having them in the first place. My heart is vegan, why am I craving salmon?! I honored those feelings and looked at why I was having the craving in the first place. Turns out as my body was quite malnourished from my time in the various institutions, I needed more calories, more iron, omega 3, and protein than what I was eating as my body needed to heal. Once I ate more of what was needed, the cravings went away. It was never that I wanted salmon per se, but rather that my body just wanted the nutrients that salmon had.

Last week was the first week since I’ve been home that I was fully vegan.  I am feeling better physically (as my body tends to feel better when I eat a fairly whole foods vegan diet, It has a hard time absorbing nutrients from animals, so I tend to do better plant-based.) I am also feeling better emotionally. I am still healing from the trauma which is a work in progress. I’ve been having an increase in flashbacks since becoming more involved in #FairPay4HomeCare but I try to do something in the morning and then leave it alone for the rest of the day in the name of self-care, and honor the feelings in between. But I am also getting involved with activism again, starting to create again, listening to music more and reconnecting to my passions, and living accordingly to what I feel in my heart – which includes veganism. And this is key – to know how to feed my soul, and nourish my body, especially as I continue to heal and fight with my people to remain in our homes. For, in the end, we all just want to be free.

Esther the wonder pig is half sitting on her bed and half on the floor. She is smiling and hanging out with her best friend Phil the dog.

This essay originally appeared on Rebelwheels’ Soapbox in 2022.

me in wheelchairMichele Kaplan is a queer (read: bisexual), geek-proud, intersectional activist on wheels (read: motorized wheelchair), who tries to strike a balance between activism, creativity and self care, while trying to change the world.

For The Planet’s Sake: Unpacking Common Reactions To The Word Vegan

When I saw that the ocean was literally on fire in July 2021, besides experiencing a wave of panic because – the ocean was literally on fire – I was seeing a lot of discussions about what good are individual acts of accountability (such as recycling etc), when we have these giant corporations who cause this horrific level of destruction. That activists who care about the earth, need to focus mostly if not solely on corporate accountability. That the emphasis on individual actions places more of the responsibility and blame on the shoulders of the individual than the corporation.

[Video description: Part of the ocean is on fire and there are several people that are trying to put it out via what looks like boats with hoses on it. The footage is being captured via a helicopter which you can hear in the background. The next thing we see is from the helicopter again, this time a closer look at the fire itself. It is weird to see a body of water on fire.]

And to a certain extent, this is true. The powers that be will often promote individual acts while they approve new pipelines.

Related: Pipelines? Fracking? This is Fracking 101

Personally, I see individual acts of solidarity for the earth, as empowerment. So often we need to petition the powers that be to do the right thing, and keep protesting till they cave to public pressure and/or lack of profit (as we should). But with individual acts, we don’t need permission. We have the power to create change in that moment and that is powerful – especially when done on a collective level. That being said, are single acts like recycling enough? No. I think because we are at this level of destruction, we need as many tactics as possible.

That said, let’s discuss one tactic in particular that some people have this instant negative reaction to. It’s one of the largest contributors to climate change. Science has been saying this for years, and yet when the topic comes up? There is often these strong emotions that arise. What is it? Refraining from supporting animal agriculture aka: veganism or plant based. So, let’s break it down & unpack some of the most common reactions. No judgment. The topic of food is complicated, emotional, it’s tradition, it’s cultural and sometimes even religious, so it makes sense that it can bring up strong feelings for people. But if we can address and unpack the root of these feelings, it’ll be easier to embrace a plant based lifestyle (as much as one can) and that’s one more tactic in our tool box.

In the end, animal agriculture is one of the largest contributors to climate change and so we really can’t afford to let these feelings get in the way of saving the planet.

Feel free to skip the questions that aren’t applicable to you.

Wait a minute, so you’re vegan?


Photo source: vegan food and living.com

So aren’t you just imposing your beliefs on people?

While I am vegan for various reasons, what I am talking about here is not a matter of belief. It is a matter of science & facts.

Related: Chili On Wheels was started by Michelle Carerra and provides vegan meals (and more) to those in need.

Yeah, but how are burgers etc. harming the earth?

It’s not just about cow farts, though that is part of the problem, as US Methane emissions from livestock and natural gas (fracking) are nearly equal.

It’s a matter of land. Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction.

It’s a matter of water usage. Agriculture is responsible for 80-90% of US water consumption. 56% of that goes towards growing crops for the livestock.

It even contributes to world hunger. 82% of starving children live in countries where the majority of crops are fed to animals, and the animal product is then sold to and eaten by western countries.

There is so much more to say on this, and I don’t want to inundate you with statistics as I know that can be overwhelming. If you like, you can read more. The point is that it’s absolutely devastating to the environment.

Yeah, but don’t humans need to consume animals for proper nutrition?

According to science, humans are not obligatory carnivores, meaning that we don’t need animals for proper nutrition. We can get enough via plant based sources.

Photo source: insider.com

There is often this myth that if you don’t eat meat, then you’ll become weak, but there are so many professional athletes and bodybuilders who are vegan. And if they can perform at this professional level, then us average people will do just fine.

How much protein do we need?

According to a Harvard health blog (and what seems to be the consensus), “To determine your daily protein intake, you can multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36“ That said, if you go on fitness websites, they will often have protein intake calculators that you can use to get a number that is more specific to your level of activity. For an example, I once knew a vegan who ran marathons, so he consumed more protein (and calories) than I did.

Because of my health / disability, I can not go fully vegan, but when I say that, vegans call me a liar. Some of them give me unsolicited advice, saying that a vegan diet could “cure” me. As a result, the topic of veganism brings up bad feelings.

Unfortunately, I hear this far too often. I don’t know why some vegans think they’re this instant specialist that is qualified to give advice to all people. Or why some think that a healthy vegan diet is this cure all, as it’s not. I eat a fairly whole food vegan diet, my spine still requires that I get around via a motorized wheelchair. There is nothing wrong with that. I am disabled and proud. I need my rights and access, not a cure – and certainly not unsolicited health advice.

I think part of the reason some vegans don’t believe people, is that sometimes people say things like “I could never live without dairy cheese” (as an example) but they could. They just don’t want to, which is different from someone who legitimately can’t for medical reasons. So it leads to some vegan activists to be skeptical, but they are forgetting that not everyone is able bodied and needs do vary. In the end, if someone says I can’t do this thing for medical reasons, I believe them because I’m not a doctor and it sucks to not be believed.

Photo source: PETA

My advice is to do what you can. Not everyone can contribute at the same level of intensity, but everyone has something to contribute.

This is also true for people who live in food deserts and don’t have the same access to some vegan foods that others do. Or those who live in areas where dairy/meat is cheaper than the plant based alternative and you’re on a tight budget etc.

Related: Why Banning Straws Hurts Some People (Video)
Related: Is Veganism Ableist?
Related: We Need Power To Live: One Way Climate Change Impacts The Disability Community

Photo source: inspired taste.net

So you’re saying because I eat meat (etc.), I’m a bad person?!

No. Unless you were born into a vegan family, you grew up eating meat and/or dairy. My family is Jewish so it was considered a treat to go to the local deli and get a sandwich that literally had a pound of meat in it, that was given to me as a child. I was told as a kid that cows need humans to milk them or they will explode (which I kind of laugh at now, because that’s just now how it works. They’re mammals. They only produce milk when they have a baby to feed.) The point is, it’s all very normalized so, I get it. There’s a lot of misinformation that we are told as kids about animal agriculture, but like a lot of things we were taught as kids, that just weren’t right, as we get older and hopefully wiser, we can choose to level up. This is part of our responsibility, especially since this isn’t just about us and a sandwich, this is about the planet and thus about us all.

Related: Why Is Climate Change a Racial Justice Issue?

I once met a vegan who made derogatory comments (towards myself and/or people I care about / have solidarity with) and now I associate a plant based lifestyle with that behavior.

I hear you. I’ve certainly met my share of vegans who were blatantly and un-apologetically ignorant. I’ve also met people in the anti-war movement and people in the environmental activist movement etc. who were also like that. In any case, it’s not okay.

I think it’s extra complicated though with veganism because it is such an emotional topic to begin with. But in the end, I think it’s important to separate the person(s) from the cause, meaning that just because I meet someone who is a prick and/or ignorant etc. it doesn’t make fighting climate change or war a bad idea. It doesn’t make veganism a bad idea either.

Also keep in mind that while some vegans (or vegan-ish people) get into Animal Rights and take it to the streets, this is not a requirement. You can just go about your life and be as plant based as you can and that’s fine.

Related: The Sistah Vegan Project is a great resource.
Related: UK based Fat Gay Vegan has a great blog and podcast
Related: Vegan Bodega Cat is a NYC based vegan youtuber with Arab roots.

Photo source: well and good.com

Related: Jenné Claiborne from Sweet Potato Soul wrote “Sweet Potato Soul: 100 Easy Vegan Recipes for the Southern Flavors of Smoke, Sugar, Spice, and Soul : a Cookbook“

But food is part of my culture, it’s tradition and/or in some cases, part of sacred rituals in my religion

As far as tradition and culture goes, there are a lot of people like Sweet Potato Soul who are taking traditional meals and making them vegan, so that might be one route.

There are also some people who are religious and are taking traditional recipes and making them vegan.

But at the end of the day, that’s something that you need to figure out how you want to navigate. And if there are some things that are sacred and can’t be made vegan, then try to be vegan in other ways

Photo source: veg out mag.com

Where do I even begin?

Vegan Kit is a free resource. Keep it mind that it was put together before all these realistic vegan meats alternatives came out. Now you can go to Burger King and get a vegan burger. You can get vegan fried chicken at KFC. It’s actually become quite common to see vegan options at fast food restaurants (depending on where you live).

There are also a slew of accidentally vegan junkfood that you can get in stores.

A lot of people find Meatless Monday to be a great way to dip their toe in the water. It’s also a great resource for recipes.

Speaking of recipes, there is also an abundance of vegan meal and snack ideas online that are available for free. In addition to Sweet Potato Soul, and Vegan Bodega Cat, I also enjoy: The Unhealthy Vegan (who makes decadent but easy vegan food), Candice from The Edgy Veg , No Egg Craig , Tabitha Brown and Lisa from The Viet Vegan.

Photo source: the viet vegan .com

So, that’s it. I know there is a lot going on right now in the world, but I do hope that when you can, you will really think about this and add this tactic to what you are already doing. It doesn’t have to be this huge instant change. Start by eating one plant based meal and go from there. Thank you for your time and I shall “see you” in the fight.

This essay originally appeared on Rebelwheels’ Soapbox in 2021.

me in wheelchairMichele Kaplan is a queer (read: bisexual), geek-proud, intersectional activist on wheels (read: motorized wheelchair), who tries to strike a balance between activism, creativity and self care, while trying to change the world.

“Obsessive” Vegans: The Politics of Vegan Ableism

In the bid to become more effective activists, it is important to acknowledge differences in identity and access that characterize the Nonhuman Animal rights movement’s diverse constituency. Although recent publications such as Sunaura Taylor’s Beasts of Burden: Animal and Disability Liberation have drawn attention to the many compelling intersections between speciesism and ableism, it remains the case that the movement at large is insensitive to the experiences of non-able-bodied persons.

As I explored in a 2015 publication with Disability & Society, both the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and its countermovement engage in ableist frameworks to dismiss the legitimacy of one another’s position. For instance, speciesists regularly refer to liberationists as “crazy,” while liberationists have been known to employ labels of “sick” or “schizophrenic” in retaliation. Since publishing this article, I have noticed that “obsessiveness” is another identity under contention. As with “craziness” and “sickness,” “obsessiveness” becomes a flashpoint for both sides of the animal rights debate, while actual disabled persons are erased in the crossfire.

Problematizing mental illness resonates in an ableist society, and Nonhuman animal rights organizations too willingly adopt resonate frames regardless of the negative consequences for those whose identity is objectified. Vegan Outreach, the Humane Society of the United States, and other professionalized charities frequently chastise vegan liberationists for “obsessing” over animal ingredients in a self-centered effort to achieve “personal purity.” In doing so, they pull on social stigma against self-focused behaviors and anxiety disorders to shame radical contenders into silence, or at least to dismiss them as lesser-than in the movement hierarchy.

While it is unfortunate that Western society stigmatizes disability, it is truly shameful that the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, a movement that purports to represent compassion and justice, should exploit ableism for its gain. When vegans call nonvegans “psycho” for consuming flesh to advance the movement, they trade on ableism. When nonprofits call vegan liberationists “obsessive” for finding fault in reformist approaches to speciesism, they are doing the same.

In other cases, OCD is trivialized in the pursuit of profit in a movement that has been co-opted by corporate interests. Take for instance the vegan makeup company Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics: “The first step is admitting you have a problem,” says company founder David Klasfeld, “I did and the result is a line obsessively crafted from the finest ingredients possible, to celebrate the driving compulsions of makeup fanatics everywhere.”

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is not simply a qualifier to denote extremism or fanaticism. It is a real medical condition that impacts real people.  While level of severity varies and some individuals are able to live healthfully in an able-bodied world, the International OCD Foundation emphasizes that:

Those tortured with OCD are desperately trying to get away from paralyzing, unending anxiety…

I also wish to emphasize that ableism is a feminist issue. Anxiety disorders disproportionately impact women, a demographic that happens to be most receptive to anti-speciesist messages and dominates the movement’s rank-and-file. This predisposition to anxiety is not a biological happenstance. It is, in large part, a survival strategy that develops in response to strain within a patriarchal social structure.

Thus, vegans would do well to lend solidarity to stigmatized groups in forgoing inconsiderate ableist references to all things determined to be bad (“obsessive” vegans) and trivial (“obsessively” vegan makeup). Ableist claimsmaking is tactically impotent as it is bound to offend and alienate the disabled community that makes up a considerable portion of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement’s constituency.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

Receive research updates straight to your inbox by subscribing to my newsletter.

In a Sexist World, a Horse’s Company is an Escape


Many people go through a traumatic experience at least once in their life and they may also go through times where things get very hard. We are told that this is life and that life is supposed to be hard, but is it really supposed to be this difficult? Being a woman in a male dominated business is very difficult and often very stressful for me even though I am still in school. I choose a major and a career path that is heavily dominated by men, but women are slowly breaking down the barrier.

There have been many times where I feel like I’m being talked down to at work or I’m being talked to only because of my relationship with someone who is big at this company. There have been times where my boss and other co-workers have given me an extremely easy assignment because I am a woman but on the contrary, they have also given me nearly impossible assignments to make me feel like I can’t complete it. There are days where I feel like I should give up on my career choice to be an accountant and to pick something that is more welcoming to woman, but the only thing that stops me from changing my life is the company of my horses.

When people typically have a bad day at work they go home and relax on the couch; or they can go pay a therapist to listen to them talk about their day. When I have a bad day, I go to the horse farm to destress with the company of my horses. There is something about a horse that is relaxing to a person and can make their bad day turn into something positive by just being around a horse. I often get called the “crazy” horse girl by my friends, but anyone who has ever been around a horse before knows exactly what I am talking about.

Some people would argue that the reason for having animals, such as horses is to use them for a specific purpose such as providing labor or transportation. Another thought is that we as humans exploit animals for our gain and we do so by using force (Luke 1996). While these things are sadly true, this is not the relationship that I have with my two horses. My horses get to enjoy being outside with other horses eating grass all day. They occasionally get brushed and then I give them their cookies, which they happen to love. My horses are not pets to me, they are my family and I need them in my life. I have a mutual relationship with my horses as they trust that I won’t let them get hurt and I trust that they won’t hurt me.

The relationship between a horse and a person is a powerful one that can help a person who has been struggling with personal difficulties. I have had my fair share of personal difficulties in my 21 years of life. I have never had anything extremely traumatic happen in my life but I have had things that have messed with my head before happen to me. Although I have lived a very good childhood, a few things recently hurt me and the only way I could cope with the issues that I was facing was by going to see my horses. Even if I could stop by for a couple of minutes to give them some treats I would because their presence helped to calm me down.

The recent issue that has been bothering me is that after 21 years of what I thought was a happy marriage, my parents announced to my siblings and I that they were in the process of getting a divorce (right before the holidays). I felt that my whole childhood and my life was a complete lie because they said that they have been having issues for years. I wouldn’t talk to anyone, not my mom, my dad, or even my two siblings. I would get angry and get loud, but then I would immediately start crying afterwards because the only life I knew was crashing down out a nowhere.

I never thought that I would be a result of divorced parents, even though the United States is #3 in divorce rates. To be honest, none of the divorce risk factors have affected my parents as they were in their late twenties when they got married, so they didn’t get married young, and neither one of them have divorced parents. They also knew each other for a while before they got married. Divorce seems to affect women more than the men because the women are typically older women, who are housewives or have been housewives for many years and are reentering the labor force after a long absence. Although divorce has become more common and more acceptable over the years in the United States, it is still shocking to me that this is happening.

My escape from the things that were happening in my life was my horses and just being around them helped. They are both complete opposites in personality and in appearance. Marshall is a big bay, with a gorgeous glistening coat, whereas Yankee is of a shorter and stockier build, who is grey (white) with flea-bitten spots, which look like brown freckles all over his body. Yankee will stand over me if I’m sitting in the grass crying as to almost be the therapist that listens to my problems, but obviously cannot give any input. Marshall is the horse that gets my mind off things because he is goofy and will head butt me if I’m trying to hug him to try to cheer me up.


Some people don’t believe that animals know when something is wrong, but I can say that my horses know when something isn’t right; it’s like animals have a sixth sense. If you ever need to get your mind off things or need a break from reality, see if you could go to a local barn to just be around the horses. There are even non-profit programs geared towards helping disabled people and veterans with PTSD. So, if a therapist isn’t in the cards, go pet a horse, I promise it will make you feel much happier.

Brian Luke. 2007. Brutal: Manhood and the Exploitation of Animals. UI Press.

rebeccaRebecca Hila is currently a junior at Monmouth University. She is majoring in Business with a concentration in Accounting and a minor in Criminal Justice. She has been an avid animal and horse lover since she was a little girl. Although she spends a lot of time indoors due to her choice of study, she loves spending as must time outside as she can especially in the spring and fall.

Is Veganism Ableist? A Disabled Vegan Perspective

Photo of myself in my motorized wheelchair, Betty. It am outdoors on a sunny day at the piers in New York City. I am dressed colorfully with colorful striped socks, black combat boots and capris and a red t-shirt that reads “The Revolution Is Wheelchair Accessible.”

Disability is just another way for a mind and/or body to be. We are not broken.

Author’s Note: While I am still vegan, it’s been over a year that my primary focus (for many reasons) as an activist is no longer animal rights/liberation. As a disabled person, I remain intersectional in my support, but my focus is now disability rights. Since this change, I have heard of many instances of disabled people who experienced ableism from the AR community. While this was certainly not news to me, as I too have experienced this, I want to address the following question from the disabled vegan perspective: is veganism ableist?

By Michele Kaplan

Every time I delve deeper into the disabled twitter-sphere, without fail I come across tweets from the disability community talking about how ableist vegans are. Vegans calling a disabled person a liar when they state that they can not be vegan due to their disability. Vegans telling disabled folk that if they just ate a healthy whole food vegan diet, they would be “cured”. As if said vegans were actual doctors that specialized in that specific disability, and thus were properly educated regarding any possible treatment options (including medications). As if one size fits all and the vegan diet was a solution for every medical situation. As if by default, disability made a person “broken” and in need of fixing / being cured.

And as a disabled vegan, I often find myself between these two worlds. I cringe and facepalm when I read these tweets, as I try to do damage control: ‘Hey. I’m a disabled vegan and I just wanted to say that I am really sorry you experienced ableism from the vegan community. That is not cool’, in hopes of creating some sense of healing.

So, is ableism a problem within the vegan community? Absolutely. There are intersectional animal rights activists who have solidarity and who get it, but there are also activists who identify as intersectional, but miss the mark on ableism. There are also single issue animal rights activists who don’t even know the word ableism or who do, but don’t care because (to them) the only cause that matters is animal rights, which is just as problematic as it sounds.

Anyone who is involved in activism knows that single issue and faux intersectional activism, by default is indisputably problematic. However, it is only fair to note that Ableism is certainly not just an “animal rights thing”, since Ableism occurs in any cause where the activism is based on an able bodied model and/or the cause fails to acknowledge the existence of disability.

So, is veganism ableist? This is why I say no. Veganism at it’s root is a philosophy, an idea that the animals don’t exist for us. Just as a disabled person, I don’t exist to be someone’s inspiration nor target of pity, animals do not exist to be our meals and clothing. They have their own lives and exist for themselves. This may not be the mainstream way of thinking, but as with all forms of oppression, just because someone decided that a particular demographic is inferior, doesn’t make it true nor does it justify the oppression.

photo of Esther, The Wonder Pig who is napping with a highly content grin on her face.

It’s complicated because often vegans will come across people who say “Oh, I could never go vegan. I love cheese (bacon etc.) too much and I could never give that up.” This of course, is not a factual statement, as it is not oxygen in which their life depends on. So technically they could give it up. They just choose not to, which is different from the disabled person who due to their disability / chronic illness, may not have the choice. There are some vegans who fail to make note of the difference, who are unaware that the difference even exists. It’s as if they hear both answers and their bullshit meter immediately goes off, not realizing that the latter is actually valid.

Some vegans might argue: but what if the disabled person in question, is just using their disability as an excuse to not go vegan? This is incredibly harmful and triggering and so as a disabled vegan, I say: believe them every single damn time. I would rather let that one hypothetical person, that 1 out of 10,000 (assuming they even exist) “off the hook”, then give the remaining 9,999 people yet more crap to deal with. Disabled people often experience social and systemic ableism on a daily basis. The last thing the community needs is further discrimination.

It’s also complicated because there is this idea in the animal rights community, that there is no such thing as a half or partial vegan. You either do it 100% hardcore or you can not claim the label. And if you can’t call yourself vegan, then you are deemed as an unethical and a lousy human being. This in itself is ableist because if a person is legitimately not able to go the 100%, then they shouldn’t be shamed for that.

a model is hugging a variety of vegetables and holding them close to her chest. she is grinning and looking to the right

It’s also complicated because in truth, no one is 100% vegan. When I go to the market to get vegan food, I go to a market that has a whole section dedicated to meat, eggs and dairy. Therefore, I am essentially, though indirectly, financially supporting a business that profits from the animal agriculture industry. When I use a grocery delivery service (as due to my disability, I can not always make it to the store), they bag the groceries in plastic bags which (and I kid you not) contain additives that are derived from animals. My point being, that the system in it’s current state, makes it impossible to do zero harm and thus there is no such thing as the perfect vegan.

Veganism is thus about doing the least harm and the most good. And so if one can not go fully vegan due to their health and/or disability, it becomes a matter of doing what they can. Consider eating less meat. Not an option? Considering drinking a non-dairy “milk” (soy, rice, almond, oats, coconut etc.) instead of buying dairy milk. Or if changing ones diet is not an option, then consider purchasing products for your home and body that are not tested on animals, if not totally vegan. One can choose to buy clothing made from synthetic material instead of animal skins such as leather, fur and suede. If you already own a leather coat, as an example, and can not afford to buy a new synthetic one, then wear the coat but do less harm in other ways. My point being, it’s about doing what you can. It doesn’t matter if this doesn’t “qualify” you to accurately identify as vegan. It’s better to do some good and less harm than nothing at all.

photo is of the earth, a view from space.

And do keep in mind that this goes beyond the animals. There are mainstream scientific studies that show that the animal agriculture industry is one of the largest contributors to climate change. This is big, considering since climate change is an issue that directly impacts us all, but particularly people who are poor and/or the disabled population. After all, who is often left stranded during and after a major storm (such as a hurricane)?

Or even just the impact of climate change on every day weather. Climate change is being linked to the increase in heat advisories which prevent people (like myself) who are medically sensitive to the heat, from leaving their home. I am vegan for many reasons, but one of them being is that I do not do well with being stuck in my apartment for a week. When I do my best to not support the animal agriculture industry, I lessen climate change, and thus I lessen the physical isolation that I experience, which impacts my well being.

That being said, the intention of this article, is not trying to tell people what to do nor demand change. I just wanted to address the question of “is veganism ableist?” as a disabled vegan and present you with the information from that perspective. Because in the end, it is never … ever okay when a vegan (or anyone) is ableist (or any other form of discrimination), but that doesn’t make veganism (or a variation of), a bad idea.


This essay originally appeared on Rebelwheels’ Soapbox on September 6, 2016.

me in wheelchairMichele Kaplan is a queer (read: bisexual), geek-proud, intersectional activist on wheels (read: motorized wheelchair), who tries to strike a balance between activism, creativity and self care, while trying to change the world.

Am I Still Vegan?

By Michele Kaplan

Image by Claudia Hafner Watercolor

Image by Claudia Hafner Watercolor

There was a period in my life
where I devoted
My heart. My soul. My time.
Passionate. Vegan. To Animal Rights.
I would stand there in the freezing cold, some winter nights.
bundled up like I was going on an arctic expedition
with my activist family by my side
What do we want? Animal Liberation! When do we want it? NOW!
all with my camera, raised fist or a protest sign,
#ForTheAnimals! #ForTheEarth! #ForTheMovement!

and then. my wheelchair. stopped.
and no longer was I able to attend,
the many and various AR events.
And because sometimes shit happens consecutively,
my physical health also went sploot.

It all began to unravel.

I began to share less and less vegan articles on social media
because I just lacked the energy to engage
in the sometimes defensive and hostile conversations, as I tried to explain.
why veganism

I began to share less Animal Liberation events
because I was already feeling isolated from not being able to attend,
because I lacked the heart space required to further face isolation.
backlash. that can occur from advocating
for a cause that goes against the norm.

No more energy to give
to the long draining internet conversations
with the single issue activists
who felt that veganism gave them some sort of free pass!
to discriminate.

No energy for the long draining internet conversations
for the activists who cried out
“vegan apologist!!” “sellout!”, accusing me of distracting from the cause.
for when I told them that it didn’t.

No more energy to write the intersectional articles in response,
desperate to do damage control because what. if. someone
outside of the movement
read this (what they posted) and thought
THIS represents the movement as. a. whole!
That this deters them from going vegan!
Oh no! Quick! We have to do… something!
#ForTheAnimals! #ForTheEarth! #ForTheMovement!
No more energy to spare for the urgency.
No more energy to spare…

No energy to spare for the anger in the movement,
lacking mindfulness, driven by ego rather than the cause.
No energy, not even for the intersectional anger, driven by compassion.
No energy to spare to be angry.
There was no energy to spare…

And when people would turn and say to me (almost demanding)
“Go ahead. Convince me. Why should I go vegan” (as you have done before)
a voice in my heart and head would cry out
“I don’t fucking care if you go vegan!!”
I am overwhelmed. I am drained. Thirsty soul.
I am just trying to survive.
get though this.
I have nothing to give.

And as time went on, and I became
isolated from the community
(which I say without resentment.
For this is the nature of the activist family.
The cause is the glue)
I began to rethink my devotion
Once married to the cause, I had no choice but to now map out:
Just who am I (when I’m not the hardcore animal rights activist, taking photos at the events)?

Quiet and aching from the times,
searching for a sense of community.
I began to rediscover a life beyond the movement.
And because the majority of people who stood by me during this time,
happened to be the folks I knew before I went vegan.
I began to question ideas of compassion
I began to question ideas of priority
Just what is important to me in this life?
And what is worth my devotion?

But if this was in question.
I am still vegan.
#ForTheAnimals. #ForTheEarth.


Author’s Note:

This poem is in no way putting down or trying to get people to not get involved in the AR movement. Like any activist movement in society, there are problems within the movement. This is not an animal rights thing. There are issues of privilege. But there is also a growing intersectional side to animal rights. This poem wrote was written in regard to my experience. It’s not to say that I will never return to the movement. I probably will. Activism is a part of me. But it talks about defining veganism for yourself. Not in the sense that you occasionally eat vegan food but still call yourself vegan, but in regard to the idea that a “real” or true vegan is out there in the streets, fighting for the animals but sometimes that’s just not an option. And that doesn’t mean one should stop being vegan, because veganism is not about a human run movement. It’s about the animals and the earth.

This is also not to suggest that no one in the AR movement stood by me. While there is a difference between activist friends and friends, I have made good fiends in the movement as well.


This essay originally appeared on Rebelwheels’ Soapbox on May 17, 2015.

me in wheelchairMichele Kaplan is a queer (read: bisexual), geek-proud, intersectional activist on wheels (read: motorized wheelchair), who tries to strike a balance between activism, creativity and self care, while trying to change the world.