We've come to the end of another VeganMofo. I haven't been as enthused about participating this year because I think my goals, diet, and attitude are too different from those of the organizers and the majority of the participants. The daily round-up posts and giveaways have focused largely on vegan versions of animal-based foods, especially cheeses, and packaged products.
As I've mentioned previously, I don't think there's anything inherently unethical about eating plant-based substitutes for dairy and flesh, but they are not my focus. Many are expensive, not widely available, and not particularly healthy. And even some "naturally" vegan products, like dark chocolate and palm oil, may be produced in ways that are particularly damaging to farm workers, animals, and the environment.
I love my volunteer work in gardening because I get to see and interact directly with the bounty of the Earth in its natural state. At the 23rd Street Garden, the first thing I do when I arrive is walk around under the trees looking for avocados. This Saturday I found 30 of them! And those were just the completely undamaged ones; there are always more that aren't quite good enough to hand out to our garden visitors or Free Farm Stand guests, but still have edible parts.
In addition to our trees bearing avocados, chestnuts, pears, apples, and persimmons, we're growing potatoes, greens, and lots of herbs. And then there are the raspberry bushes. It's a treasure trove of beauty and color.
One favorite tradition we've carried over from the Free Farm, which closed in December, is having a free vegan lunch for our volunteers. We often join hands in a circle and go around and say our names, express gratitude, then pass around bowls of homemade soup, stew, pasta, rice and beans, or other simple, hearty food. There's always a salad (usually not as fancy as the one above) featuring produce from local gardens and/or Alemany Farm, and often bread and fruit as well. I would seriously rather sit outside sharing this food with like-minded people than eat at a fancy vegan restaurant. Even if the latter were also free.
Not everyone has the space or time to plant a garden, but we really encourage more people to get directly involved with their food, even if it's just growing herbs in a pot on a windowsill. Many cities have community gardens, and many small farms offer produce through CSA - community supported agriculture - boxes you can pick up or have delivered to your home.
When it comes down to it, for me at least, ethical veganism is not a diet. It's a commitment to ending the exploitation of the vulnerable, human and non-human alike. Food is only a part of that mission, but it is an important part. My food justice work is a means to bring plant-based food, plus knowledge of vegan nutrition and cooking, to everyone. For more work in that area, I highly recommend checking out the Food Empowerment Project.