Headed to the department car selfie.
I’m not going to lie: this past week has been tough. Really tough. The toughest week I’ve had in a while. I’ve been living in Florida for almost exactly one month. I love my apartment, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the gato happier. I LOVE being a graduate student. After over a year off, I’m with people who love and care about the same things that I care about, at least generally. But there are a few things about this new life that I didn’t expect, and a lot of them have to do with my identity, particularly my veganism.
But let me step back for a second and engage that word, IDENTITY. It’s such a loaded term. In my gender studies back ground this came up all of the time. There are so many books, articles, blog posts, tweets, Facebook statuses, photographs, paintings, movies, TV shows, anything really, that deal with individual identity. I’ve always had a very strong sense of self, and that’s something I’ve always been very proud of. My identities are unique–as they are for everyone. Because I’m constantly dealing with theory (currently academic queer and gender theory, as always, and art historical theory of re-approaching our concepts of the Renaissance) my mind is always whirring with how broad concepts like eating/lifestyle preferences and sexuality diverge from academia, from footnoted words on a page, to my own personal life.
Let’s start with veganism.
I think that as vegans, we’re incredibly lucky (and let’s face we should be PROUD) to be able to walk into just about any coffee shop and find soy or almond milk, to find tofu at most grocery stores, and a vegan option (even if it is at Taco Bell or Chipotle) in most towns. I’m incredibly grateful for these things and the activism that went into their ready availability. But let’s face it, there are still gaps. A lot of gaps. A lot of these conveniences don’t exist in some places. Driving through rural Georgia on my way to Tallahassee to find an apartment in May, I came to the sudden and jarring realization (after all of my vegan life spent in a very liberal, fairly vegan friendly place) that veganism let alone vegan options are simply invisible in a lot of places.
Suddenly, I’m in one of those places. Every day.
For the most part, veganism slips completely under the radar, at least right now. For the most part it’s invisible and the few food options I’ve explored near my building haven’t been the greatest in terms of vegan cuisine, though I’ve found some good options in the greater Tallahassee area so far. The lack of on campus vegan options and some of the frustration I’ve felt over wanting or needing food when I’m in my department coupled with my newly acquired, beautiful, spacious kitchen (and the food that ends up right here on the blog as a result) has made my vegan identity come to the forefront.
When I created my “Thoughts on the Tattooed Vegan Body“post nearly a month ago, one of my new colleagues commented, “I kind of want to see a chart of your identities.”
I haven’t been able to get that comment out of my head–especially as recently I’ve been seriously coming to terms with this new chapter in my life, in a place that’s new and different and around people who really don’t know me. As of right now (really, last night at work) these are the major chunks of my identity that occupy my mind and my self-presentation on a daily basis. (And to be honest, anyone’s identities are probably endless. These are just the ones that I’ve been pondering this past week.) I think about being an art historian constantly, because I’m in graduate school for it. I’m always thinking about what this means for me now and for me in the future. I’m constantly doing readings, preparing for classes, submitting questions, emailing/meeting with professors, and doing my own research. And I LOVE IT.
I always think about being vegan, because so far I’m the only one. I haven’t met any other vegans in Florida yet. A few of my friends are occasional vegans or have an interest in veganism and vegan food. I’m hauling in a feed bag (as I like to call it) just about every day to cut down on cost, potential hanger, and of course to feed myself through out the day. I love bringing my own foods to campus, because I love my food, but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t thinking about my steadfast vegan-ness all the time. Every time I order soy milk at Starbucks, when I eat my little homemade lunch, when I see someone else eating food, when people mention events or going to restaurants. Seriously, my vegan identity is always at the forefront.
I feel that I already addressed the woman/tattooed identities in my post on the tattooed vegan body, so I’ll just graze over them here. As someone who focuses on androgyny in art, I’m always thinking about the (un)gendering of images, about social constructions of femininity and masculinity, and about my own self-presentation.
Cat lady kind of goes without needing an explanation. I think about my cat child all the time, I talk to him and see him more often than I see any other individual. I’m a cat lady, pure and simple.
Now, queer has always been something that I’ve used a descriptor for myself and particularly my sexuality here on the blog. It’s also a way of seeing the world, of engaging temporality and rejecting most normative ways of thinking and engaging the world. Honestly, veganism is a queer practice and way of living. It goes agains the grain and rejects the normative practice of consuming animal products. Veganism is also a queer community, as Judith/Jack Halberstam puts it (and I’m seriously paraphrasing here folks) in their In a Queer Time and Place, queer identified people tend to make their own separate communities bound by common interests and activism. As vegans, we do that too. (I think that Sarah E. Brown of Queer Vegan Food perfectly ties together veganism and queer identity in her About section.) So I often engage my queer identity in relation to any and all other aspects of my life. (Now, after writing this section I wish I’d made the queer piece of my life pie bigger.)
Now, let’s come back to this week. Oh, this week. Bascially, all of this has been percolating in my ever bubbling brain for the past…well, forever really. As long as I can remember, even if I didn’t have a name for what I was thinking or feeling. Getting back into the academic world and coming from a very activist based alma mater (UNC-Chapel Hill) has been mind blowing to say the least. This past week marked the boiling over point, when all the things I’m always thinking about (the water) met with a pinch of salt (my new academic life) and started bubbling and fizzing even more. And honestly, it’s been something that I wasn’t expecting. I’ve spent the past 5 years of my life preparing to get to where I am now, graduate school. Now that I have that end goal, now that I’m in it, it’s been mind blowingly beautifully overwhelming to deal with it all. It’s the beginning of a great grand adventure and learning experience. I’m always so fascinated to see how people engage different parts of themselves and other people when those facets of identity come to the forefront.
This all culminated with my desperate search for green juice on campus Thursday afternoon. As I mentioned, there’s a campus Starbucks and I was hoping they’d have some of those cold pressed green juices there. They didn’t. Neither did the small market next to my building. While there were some vegan options there, they just weren’t drinks or foods that are fitting into my lifestyle right now. So, I jumped in my car and went to Whole Foods.
I had this moment of isolation and frustration at not being able to find a delicious, healthy beverage near the place where I spent hours everyday. (and by hours I mean 8-12) This, coupled with a super overwhelming week led to a existential crisis. An existential crisis over green juice.
The next day at Earth Fare near my home, I found this. One of the first local products for sale that I’ve seen since arriving here. I can’t describe the feeling of comfort that swept over me. This new journey is the adventure of a lifetime, and I’m going to find these little unexpected treasures within it that match up with my identities and my needs as a health conscious vegan. I just have to know where to look.