At Home with Kait and Sy
We recently sat down with Kait and Sy, one of our favorite queer vegan couples, at their home in Brooklyn. We've known the couple for a while now and have been wanting to feature them ever since we learned that they became vegan. Both of them work in fields relating to social work: Kait works as a social worker/counselor at a high school for a program called Relationship Abuse Prevention program, and Sy recently started a new job at NYCLU doing multimedia work. While the two have been vegetarians for years, it wasn't until recently that they made the move to veganism.
nooch digest: A growing number of people see veganism as a social justice issue. What are your thoughts about that especially because some people don't necessarily see it that way?
Sy: "I think when we started learning more about the environmental impact [of what we eat], that especially changed our perspective. We were both vegetarians, and I had been vegetarian on and off since I was a kid. And then I cut out dairy, because I'm lactose intolerant, so it's something that I've done a long time ago. So it was really just eggs hanging in there. Once it was just that category of food, it made it much more apparent that we were consuming something that was produced in a way that we didn't really agree with."
Kait: "I think it's one of the things that made me at least start thinking about going vegetarian. When I was studying abroad, the professor talked about all the people being exploited in the process of meat production, as well as all the places in the world where meat is produced, but the people who live in those places don't have enough food. That kind of encouraged me to go vegetarian, even though I was already at the edge of doing it anyway. Ever since then, our reasons have just grown consistently. And it's the type of thing that, ever since I went vegan, I've never had reasons come up to make me question my decision to go vegan, I've only had reasons come up that reaffirm my veganism."
"I feel like I've been "other" my entire life so I feel like the veganism thing hasn't made me feel any less fucking weird than I already have. I've always had to explain a lot of things about myself and my identity to other people. In that way, it kind of meshes with my identity pretty well."
nd: That's really cool to hear. It's been the same for us. In terms of privilege, there's also been a stigma attached to veganism that it's a very privileged lifestyle. Would you agree with that statement?
Sy: "If I were more vocal about being vegan, I would definitely talk more about the privilege. I don't think it's impossible to be vegan without privilege but it's definitely a major part of the conversation just because food is just so expensive and there's all these systems in place that make access to healthy food difficult for everyone, which is ridiculous. I don't know that I could tell a single mother, or a family that has a lot of kids, that they would need to [go vegan], unless I would be in their house helping them myself. It's very complicated. It's possible to have the conversation about privilege and veganism because it's true, but it's also not vegans' fault that it's true, it's all these systems in place. There's also all of these huge industries that make shitty food, which also prevents access to healthy food."
nd: Totally agree. I mean, frankly, it's so much cheaper to just buy a Big Mac.
Sy: "Absolutely. In fact, every once in a while, I would talk to someone in the street and ask, 'Are you hungry?' or 'Would you like something to eat?' I usually try to go out of my way to go to a place that has vegan options but the response I would usually get would be something along the lines of, "If you don't mind, if you can actually go to McDonald's, you could spend the same amount and get me like three meals." And I'm just like, am I going to tell you not to do that? No. But I think it's an important conversation to have. You can be vegan and talk about that and the privilege associated with it in that same conversation."
nd: What are some of the problems that either of you have encountered since going vegan?
Kait: "We cook a lot and we don't really go out too much. In some ways, it's been a fun challenge. I wouldn't say it's been a bad thing. But it's been a challenge because neither of us cooked before we started dating. I think it's definitely pushed us to prepare more, buy more groceries, take the time to actually cook more. Our groceries are probably more expensive, but I mean we can afford it at this point."
Sy: "Especially, you know, when you want something special. I mean we love Field Roast sausages and Chao cheese."
Kait: "And what's that ice cream we like? Van Leuwen?"
(Everyone agrees. Yass all around.)
nd: "Let's just be real, that stuff is better than..."
Kait: "..real ice cream..."
nd: "dairy ice cream. I know because we always want to say real ice cream too, but now we're always dairy ice cream."
Kait: "I know, my brother actually calls it cow's breastmilk. He goes, 'Oh so you wanted to drink cow's breastmilk? You want to put that in your cereal?' " (Sy laughs.)
Sy: "Speaking of privilege, I think the ability to go to Dun-Well [Doughnuts] was a huge turning point in my life. Doughnuts are like a part of my identity. (Laughs) I knew Dun-Well existed but when I found out that they had a location in the East Village, I was like, 'I can still have my doughnuts.' Then I was like, this is doable."
nd: "What's your favorite doughnut?"
Sy: "Hmmm...probably the cinnamon sugar one. I know, basic."
nd: "Some say basic, some say classic."
nd: "What would you say to someone who says 'Oh, I could never go vegan.'?"
Sy: "If it's like a coworker, then I would assume that they make around the same income as I do, then I would tell them that it's possible, and also, I don't think I'm giving up anything. If they're living in, like, Iowa, then I would probably tell them to do some research first. I wouldn't say it's easy. It hasn't been this magical change in my body. I wish it was, I really wish it was, but it hasn't been. But it's been enough and [before I was vegan] I would be achy and miserable all the time and any little bit that I can cut off from that, it's kinda worth it."
Kait: "My brother and sister-in-law are actually big on the health aspect of veganism. And they're really good at bringing information on what to take if you have, say, any joints that hurt. They would offer a particular mineral that might help, or talk about something that you might be eating that's actually contributing to that than if you switched to a plant-based diet. I don't know if I would say anything either if they said they didn't want to, but I think if somebody said there's no point in that then I would probably say, in a totally selfish way, 'If you don't care about animals, or if you don't care about other people being exploited, or if you don't care about the environment, it's also actually really good for you.'"
nd: "I'm actually interested in your thoughts on the intersectionality of social justice issues and how it overlaps with veganism. Have you guys ever experienced any social justice issues that collide with veganism, personally speaking?"
Sy: "Totally. Well, I feel like I've been "other" my entire life so I feel like the veganism thing has just been..it hasn't made me feel any less fucking weird than I already have my entire life. I've always had to explain a lot of things about myself and my identity to other people. In that way, it kind of meshes with my identity pretty well. There are also definitely cultural elements, as far as meat consumption goes."
"we need to make it a more intersectional conversation of how veganism and food justice relates to racial justice relates to gender-based justice and understanding how all those things tie together in a way that can draw everybody together."
nd: "I've read actually that Asian-Americans are more likely to have a very low tolerance with dairy, while African-Americans, as a group, are known to be more likely to have diseases related to high cholesterol and high blood pressure, statistically speaking. Does that play into how you view veganism?"
Sy: "Absolutely. Because it's also gradual, like there was never just one thing. But, absolutely, especially thinking about my family's health history. For me, it's all about balance. I'm still going to make certain choices that are less healthy than others, but in places where I can minimize that risk, I try to do that. It's been a really, really huge part of why I think I'll be vegan for the rest of my life to minimize the risk of certain things. There's just such high rates of certain diseases in minority communities. Again, I think this is something that's bigger than veganism. There are a lot of things in place that affect that, but also the direct connection to the environment. When you're talking about factory farms and the things that ooze out disgustingness, it's often communities of color that gets affected. That's when you start thinking that it is all connected."
Kait: "And a lot of that, environmentally speaking, more disproportionately affects women. In general, climate change will affect women more, just in the type of work that women do, globally. As far as child-rearing, the diseases that affect women more, and the diseases that more often affect children, and therefore, the women that have to take care of those children."
Sy: "I guess I would say, too, that now, I see veganism more and more with an intersectional lens. In that, we are all people striving, hopefully, to have less of a negative impact on the world and more positive impact to the people around us. There's so many ways to do that and veganism, now, is part of how I move through the world. Some people, you know, compost, some people volunteer a lot of their time. There's so many ways that you can be like, "How can I be just less shitty to the world and to people?" and I think now veganism has been central with the way I look at that. It doesn't mean that I'll let up on other things, but it has become more of a central part of how I look at things as opposed to just this incidental thing like, "Oh I don't eat meat," which is how my vegetarianism was."
nd: "Yes, totally agree. So, actually, my last question is how do you guys see the landscape of veganism changing in the future? Do you think more people are going to adopt it or do you think it's just a trend that's going to die out?"
Sy: "I think more people are going to adopt it. The way people look at veganism is changing. Just going into by Chloe, and you see the people in line, you see all kinds of folks, and not just your typical vegan who might be labeled as 'alternative.' I think it has been more racially diverse than I've seen in a lot of vegan places. Over the years, I think the optics of veganism has been shifting. Even people who are not coming at it from a social justice angle, but more of a health angle, I think that's also changing. As that changes, I think the way people feel about it will just soften in general."
Kait: "I feel like people, especially in an urban area like here in Brooklyn, I think people's idea of veganism has changed. Historically, you know, how people only saw vegans as this super hippy-dippy, far left weirdo. But now, even people from our generation, who aren't vegan or vegetarian, say that they couldn't even if they wanted to, I think more people understand more how to be less shitty to the world. Maybe it's like a backlash to the generations before us who thought that 'Oh, we own this world. We can do whatever we want with it. We're going to mine it, we're going to frack it, colonize it, and we're going to literally do whatever we want. I think our generation now is actually like 'Oh, that's actually not working.' A.) You're all fucking unhappy and unhealthy. All your kids are also unhealthy and unhappy. Even if people say that they cannot be vegan, I think there's a little bit more understanding from our generation at least."
Sy: "Even if you don't have people becoming 100% vegan, just the idea of people thinking that they're not having to give up some sort of essence of themselves, whether it's being cool or their masculinity or whatever it is, or even just being less hostile to the idea of veganism, is a huge step. I think in order for me too to be more vocal about veganism, I would like to see vegans talk more about privilege, talk more about the systems in place that make food choices for people so difficult. I think the way people have to think about how they eat, as long as it stays as restricted as it is right now, it's always going to make more sense to people to just go to McDonald's than anywhere else. As long as that's in place, we're kind of stuck. That's food markets, that's different laws that are put in place on how food is produced and how they treat their workers, there's so many layers to that and I feel like it's important for vegans to be involved in that because food is just, you know, it's everything. It touches everything. And one of those things in that documentary, Cowspiracy, that I didn't really think of, is how many interests are very vested in keeping it a certain way. And it's all connected. It's all those same people who don't care when people get sick from tainted meat, not caring for people who live in communities that are food insecure. As veganism becomes more popular, I'm hoping the conversation evolves into something more like, 'How do we make food consumption better for everyone, whether they will be vegan 10 years from now or just thinking about it, or on the fence about it.' It's still a conversation that needs to be had, as we fight for things that are more immediately relevant. I could never talk about veganism and advocate for veganism and turn a blind eye to someone who doesn't have access to fresh food, whether they're vegan or not."
Kait: "I think making it more of an intersectional conversation about how veganism and food justice relates to racial justice, relates to gender-based justice. Thinking a lot of those things in similar ways and understanding how they all tie together in a way that can draw everyone together. That can draw Black Lives Matter activists into the same conversation as women's march activists and science march activists. So I think including that into the conversation, and if we're really going to talk about justice, this is one part of it. It doesn't negate other things but if you want to talk about living in a just way, then you also need to be talking about racial justice and all these other forms of justice at the same time. They need to all be included."