posted June 15, 2021
by Kimberly O’Campo, VLCE
Another party: fond greetings, loud music, and the yells and laughter of children finding entertainment in running around couches. And here comes the other constant: “We have chicken, frijoles puercos, tamales…,” my aunt says. “I know you don’t normally eat these things, but I think this once, for a special occasion, won’t hurt you. You should really try the cake. It’s delicious.” It’s intended as a casual suggestion, but it prompts a mental monolog.
No, I don’t want beans with pork and cheese. Because when I was four, the very aunt standing beside me had a puppy, and I inspected his little body and noticed he had ribs, a spine, and joints just like mine. So what if our limbs were arranged differently? Our physical and habitual similarities were much more evident and important. On every farm field trip after, I recognized the same bone structure on pigs and wondered what else we had in common, wishing I could stay and make friends with them all.
No, I don’t want grilled chicken. Because another aunt had a chick when I was seven. My second day knowing this chick, I had her in my room while I did homework and would pick her up when she chirped, marveling at the abundant life and energy in a creature smaller than my hand. Someone took her from me, and not ten minutes later, when I went outside to get her back, I heard she had been stepped on. No one knew by whom. She lay on my mom’s palm as people walked by saying how unfortunate the situation was. I placed a hand on her head, praying it was possible to convey in a touch that she was more than just an unfortunate case. And that I loved her; I was so sorry for not knowing how to mend her bones, but I would stay with her until her final chirp and remember her life for the rest of mine. Someone gave me a ham sandwich to make me feel better, and I couldn’t understand how no one around me was connecting the death they had just witnessed to the death on all our plates.
No, I don’t want tamales filled with cheese. Because I spent years telling my friends and family I wanted to be a vegetarian. I didn’t have knowledge to counter the “meat gives you protein” argument; I just knew I had no right to benefit by another’s death. Those protein arguments lost all credibility in eighth grade science class. “Ms. Parker, are you vegetarian?” a student asked. “No,” she answered, “I’m vegan, which means I don’t eat any animal products.” That’s when my world changed. I still didn’t understand protein, but Ms. Parker was intelligent and energetic without inconveniencing any animal. I promised myself I would get there one day.
No, a good cake doesn’t matter. Because I remember my high school years too clearly; eating recommended portion sizes and rarely feeling full or satisfied, resenting myself for being too hungry to be thin and pretty, then standing in the restroom to gauge just how bloated lunch had made me. But something about going vegan, the autonomy of making a difference and a statement with every meal, has given me the drive and confidence to seek fulfillment in the rest of my life. I don’t remember the last time I wished to look like someone else. I’m having too much fun going to music festivals and posing with the Miyoko’s Creamery cows at Vegan Fashion Week, all the while fueled by delicious calories that didn’t cost an animal’s well-being. [Walk the moon] [Cow] In living according to my values, I found the joy that allows me to love myself as I deserve.
But I can’t condense all this into a couple sentences, so I just say, “No, thank you. I brought snacks.” It’s a no that asks for understanding and peace, a no that is a triumphant smile to that determined eighth grader and a much-needed hug for the seventeen-year-old in oversized sweaters. It’s an apology to that baby chick, to the truck full of pigs we drove by on Memorial Day weekend, and to every life lost in the human narrative of superiority. And it’s a promise. The world isn’t vegan, but I can start with myself, and I’ll spend the rest of my life working to establish respect and dignity for all earth’s creatures.
Kimberly O’Campo is currently working on a degree in environmental studies, sustainability, and science at Antioch University. Her goal is to write environmental policy and start an organization that makes vegan, eco-friendly clothing and household products available to lower income communities. You may follow her on Instagram @kimberly.1968.