Like veganism, the United States of America was founded on an impossible ideal (that “more perfect union” that the preamble to the Constitution talks about). Both aspire to a neutral recognition across barriers of class, race, and origin (in veganism’s case, across species) and both are constantly challenged by the embedded realities of racism, class identification, and suppositions regarding culture (and in veganism’s case, speciesism) that make that “work in progress” profoundly challenging.
Throughout its history the USA has been demarcated by certain groups’ relationship with the land—the Jeffersonian farmer, the cowboy, the plantation owner; the cotton-picker and sharecroppers and the promise of forty acres and a mule to freed slaves; the miners of Appalachia, the workers on the Mississippi, the pioneers and settlers; the First Nations of the prairies and the plains; the field-hands and seasonal workers from Central America; and so on. And yet America is not defined by blood or soil or ethnicity, however much blood has been spilled on that soil because of ethnicity.
Likewise, veganism’s ideal is absorbed by pre-existing cultures and identities to reflect the history of that people: Afrocentric spirituality, Hindu or Buddhist or Jain commitments to nonviolence; the ethical traditions from Pythagoreanism to Tom Regan, deep ecology to ecofeminism; native traditions of the three sisters variety, and so on.
What we have here, then, is a vegan America that reflects biological, cultural, and ethnic diversity; where microcommunities of subjects differentiate themselves within their biomes in opposition to attempts to monoculturate ethnic, culture, political, and biological systems—within a structure whereby the human or nonhuman “other” is denied the rights of movement, of being within their own society (or sociality as a whole), or of crossing boundaries into and outside the nation state. Of course, the United States, like all nation states, has set up barriers to the free movement of beings: borders, boundaries, parks, taxonomies, fishing grounds, farms, fences—these all define and establish a political theory of nature and the keeping separate of the wild from the domestic, the human from the nonhuman, and the citizen from the alien.
That kind of enforcement of appropriate relations is constantly challenged by invasive species of human and nonhuman alike, by difference and miscegenation, by the shifting patterns of migration within the country in search of niches (both ecological and natural) within which a community can flourish, and the ever-changing nature of the biological, climatic, and demographic structures that together constitute the United States of America. Under such identifications, then, “veganism”—which is really, and always has been, “veganisms”—is at once an extrinsic destabilizer of social, biological, and ethnopolitical norms and essentialisms (I’m ———. I could never go vegan”), and intrinsic to the dynamic realignments of identity and the cultural hybridization that is America.
We’ll have a lot more to say about these parallelisms and contradictions in future blogs.