Monday, February 2, 2015

Veganism is not health insurance



Last year was a tough year for me. I lost a very good friend, a mentor, some colleagues, and a family member. It was a very painful year.

This has led me to be constantly worried about everyone around me, wondering whether or not they are taking good care of themselves. And it does not help that I have some vegan friends right now whose health is not the best.

Granted, I am someone who struggles with eating healthy and even more with exercise. I know it is important, but I seem to enjoy working in front of my computer more.

But I need to get better.

When I talk about the people who I lost last year, some were vegans – in fact, half of them were.  And the ones whose health is not the best? All of them are.

I know that some vegans say things like this as some sort of badge of honor: “I haven’t been to the doctor in years”; “ever since becoming vegan, I don’t suffer from colds and I rarely ever go to the doctor.”

What is worse is that I was recently told that some vegans have been saying, “Veganism is my health insurance.”

While there certainly are an immense number of health benefits to being vegan, I think everyone needs to be realistic that not all health issues are related to what we eat.

We know that genetics can play a role, as do environmental factors. In fact, there can be serious consequences for people who live near factory farms (as many in the central valley of California do) and for those who live in toxic waste areas and other polluting locations. Not to mention that many are impacted by what they are exposed to at work. Many workers are completely unaware of what they are being exposed to and how to protect themselves.

And as activists, we are often in a state of sadness and stress (always unfortunate when created by our own side). My mentor who passed away saw firsthand what was taking place in Western Africa in the chocolate industry and in the fields of California, which I’m sure was extremely stressful.

Too many times I feel as if we seem to respect those who work 24/7 (ahem) and sacrifice themselves for the cause (I consider that the 1980s ways of thinking – outdated). However, I have recently shifted my way of thinking and now have a greater appreciation for those who have a balance in their lives and who actually take the time to encourage activists to take care of themselves rather than continue to work until it hurts.

So what can we all do?

My hope is that all organizations will give their employees benefits that include health care and paid holidays and sick time. Kudos to those that are at least encouraging their employees to get health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

Even if you aren’t sick, get check-ups. If nothing else, you can brag about how perfect your B12 and Vitamin D levels are!

Take care of your mental health, too, as stress can have a great impact on your body in ways you might never have imagined.

Read Mark Hawthorne’s book Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism, which dedicates a chapter to burnout and provides super helpful tips on how to take care of yourself. And also pattrice jones’ book Aftershock: Confronting Trauma in a Violent World, a Guide for Activists and Their Allies includes practical tips and information on how traumatic events affect our bodies.

I also want to give a shout out to activists who speak frequently about the need for us to take care of ourselves: Veda Stram, Charlotte Cressey, and Breeze Harper (who even has a kale smoothie recipe for racial tension headaches).

For as long as I have known Veda she has begun her newcomer orientation at the national Animal Rights conference by talking about the need to take care of ourselves as activists. And I have always thought, “Isn’t she sweet to do that?” And now I say to myself, “Thank you for doing this, Veda!” It is truly important that we give her credit for giving us all such great advice.

We must remember that those who take the time to encourage activists to take care of themselves are the ones who are truly looking out for the movement and making sure that we have a healthier and more well-balanced base to encourage others to join us and ensure that we are all active for many years to come.

So, let’s all be sure to not only take good care of ourselves, but to look out for each other!