The Source of Joy Can Change

Carol AdamsThis is the last question and answer of James Wilt’s interview with Carol Adams, the author of the vegetarian and feminist classic The Sexual Politics of Meat (1990) in the current issue of Geez Magazine:

You make it clear in Sexual Politics that you’re a cultural worker, not an academic. You’ve been involved in advocating for and helping battered women and involved in animal rights for many decades. What keeps you grounded, from getting depressed, or anxious, or saying it’s not worth it in the end?

There’s a quote from Susan B. Anthony about how she always had great company. She wasn’t doing it alone. Václav Havel said we have to do what we’re doing to change the world not because we know that we’ll prevail, but because it’s the right thing to do. We can’t measure success by some sort of end goal. We have to simply subsume ourselves in the process of it. I think that ties into an ecofeminist philosophy.

I’m not saying I don’t get depressed. I’m not saying I don’t get anxious. One simply can’t let knowledge about all the wrongs that exist in the world cohabit with who you basically are. You have to be able to enjoy lying on a bed with your dog, or watching a black dog sunbathe. I find joy in cooking. I find joy in meeting people and talking about vegan recipes. I don’t know at this point whether when vegans get together they always talk about recipes or whether I force the conversation when I’m travelling around the country or the world.

People think we’re asking them to give things up. That we’re asking them to give up joy, the joy of a relaxed meal, or the joy of whatever dead animal they love to consume. We’re just asking them to realize that their source of joy can change. The kind of joy that you’re deriving from depriving animals of their lives is a sort of hollow joy.

During a hospice death, it’s said that you don’t give up hope, but what you’re hoping for is something different. No longer hoping that my mother stays alive, but instead hoping she has a good death. But there is still hope; its focus is different.

Many meat eaters act as though they would fall off the edges of the earth or something equally dire if they stop eating meat and dairy as though there will no longer be joy in what they eat. By becoming vegan, they’re just changing their source of joy. But it takes time. It takes consciousness.

People say to me, “Oh Carol, I could be vegan if you cooked all my meals.” Well, learn how to cook. I make a sweet potato dish with hoisin sauce. Truly: you buy an organic sweet potato, you slice it and slather hoisin sauce on the slices and you bake it. That’s it. People swear by this recipe. There’s nothing elaborate here. Wonderful fruit salads are just so joyful and easy to prepare. Think about the actual joy conveyed through Genesis 1, including Genesis 1:29: we’ve been created within a beautiful world and given this food to eat, and this is truly joyful.

Now it could be argued that the average flesh-eater is afraid of knowing too much. They are afraid that grief will destroy them. I wrote a book of prayers and tried to articulate some prayers for animals that really accessed my sense of grief over what was happening to them. I realized, yes we feel grief. The grief doesn’t destroy us. It’s kind of like when somebody dies and people go to their house; they don’t know how to sit with grief. They’re tongue-tied.

There are things we can do to live with grief. We don’t have to banish it. We don’t say, “Grieve three days then go back to work.” Figure out a way in which grief lives with you, accompanies you, because there is something to grieve in our world. This is a grievable world. What’s happening to animals is grievable. And what I want people to know is this grief doesn’t destroy us. It helps us. If I can grieve, it means I can meet the animals in their sufferings and reach out to them. When people say, “Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know,” they’re – through ignorance – preserving suffering. And that is selfish.

But it’s also because we don’t have the kind of emotional education that would say, The grief, in a sense, can make you more human (if we could release “human” from being a definition that’s oppositional to the natural world and other animals). Grief helps you become who you are, who you could be. We should be grieving this world. To only feel joy in this world is to miss something rather huge. The joy of delicious vegan food co-exists with (and helps to temper) my sense of grief, anger, and alienation towards the nonchalant violence perpetrated against the other animals.

To envision a world where we greet each other’s possibilities (including the other animals) and to create a world where those possibilities can be lived and achieved – that to me is justice.

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