Gotta Have Faith: A Black, Female, Christian Perspective on Veganism - Interview with Valerie McGowan
Valerie McGowan is a Black female Christian vegan who writes on her blog of the same name. She lives with her husband Marc, ten-year-old son Julian and Farley the cat, surrounded by the beautiful redwoods in Northern California. We caught up with her to find out about her passion for intersectional vegan writing and how Christian teachings support a vegan lifestyle.
Tell us about your vegan journey…
Well, it was a long time coming. Nearly 17 years. I had made the decision to go vegetarian back in 1990 due to my nearly obsessive interest in health and nutrition. Much of what I was reading at the time from alternative health professionals seemed to strongly suggest that adopting a vegetarian diet, or at least one that included only a small amount of animal products, was a great way to possibly prevent the degenerative diseases that seem to occur in such great numbers in the Black community. I had lost two relatives to Type Two diabetes-related complications and I believed that I could at least lower my chances of succumbing to the same fate.
Fast forward to around the end of 2006. That’s when I discovered this wonderful phenomenon…podcasts! I had come across vegan cookbooks and a little literature in the past, but I always felt that while admirable, veganism would just be too hard to maintain and a bit “extreme”. That all changed when my eyes and heart were opened by listening to some fabulous vegan podcasters. I’m eternally grateful to Colleen Patrick-Goudreau and Erik Marcus for the part they played in my awakening.
It was then that I first learned about factory farming and the suffering these animals went through so that we could eat them. And not just those who are killed for meat, but to my surprise dairy cows and laying hens as well. I believed the lie that cows “gave” us their milk and hens “gave” us their eggs without enduring the same fate as their raised-for-meat counterparts. It was quite overwhelming at first. I watched all those horrible slaughterhouse videos that no one wants to see because I wanted to develop the courage to face what was going on and decide if I wanted to continue to support this system with my money.
Some Christians use passages from the Bible to justify eating animals and using animal products. From your experience, what guidance can you provide to support veganism?
As a Christian, I view the Bible as very important to my faith and God-inspired. I also see scripture as a great story that’s not always neatly cut and dried where everything recorded is prescriptive for us today. For example, there are passages in scripture that seem to suggest that all women should literally cover their heads and not speak in a church gathering.
While there may be some isolated groups who would still hold to these beliefs, for the most part Christians around the world see these instructions as meant for another time and culture very different from our own, as opposed to final commandments from God. Sure, there are verses that suggest eating animals is permitted. But I would counter with the question of what was the original intent? Whether people take the Creation story literally or not, the beginning of humankind is shown to be of a peaceful nature where no creature kills and eats another. I know that those who have a more naturalist view of the world may have a vastly different belief. But for those who would call themselves Christian, it’s something to consider.
I also believe that Jesus calls us to live a compassionate and merciful life. Why should that compassion and mercy only be extended towards humans? When I was myself wrestling with these questions a few years ago, I spent many hours in scripture as well as writings from any other Christian (and sometimes Jewish) vegetarians and vegans that I could find. Nowadays, there are even more resources and ways to connect with people of faith who are vegan through social media and blogs, etc.
The Bible teaches us that we are created in God’s own image. What does this mean for you in relation to our role on Earth - particularly in our treatment of animals?
I see God’s creation of us in His image and his instructions to humankind to have dominion over the Earth in a very different way than I did in my pre-vegan days. I reluctantly accepted the idea of “it’s all gonna burn anyway” from the pulpit in reference to just doing what we want and using what we want without any thought to the damage we’re doing to the planet and the animals. Although, a part of me always felt an uneasiness about that way of thinking.
I now wholeheartedly believe it’s our responsibility to lovingly take care of God’s creation; all of it, including the animals. To me that means protecting them from harm and death as much as possible. The best way I can do my part is to not eat them or use things made from them. But, I’m not claiming some kind of vegan perfection. I know it’s nearly impossible to live in this world without causing some harm to other creatures. I believe it’s important to be aware, informed and do the best I can.
What inspired you to set up your blog and Facebook page?
Funny story… Well, a little over five years ago now I was sitting on my couch with a dear friend of mine while our kids were playing in my son’s room. We were having a great time sharing about our lives and interests. I was kind of making a joke about the seemingly contradictory parts of myself when I said “What if I started a blog called Black. Female. Christian. Vegan.?”
My friend, who is an atheist by the way, said “do it!” I was mostly kidding, but the idea stuck and very shortly after that, my blog was born. My only regret is that I don’t get to blog as often as I’d like. I started the Facebook page for the blog last year to try and maintain better connection and share the various ideas and stories that are important to me on a more regular basis.
It seemed contradictory to claim something was “cruelty free” and technically vegan (no animal products), while the people in the chain of production were suffering at the hands of those whose main objective was profit. Again like when I first went vegan, my eyes were opened and I was never able to “un-see” what was going on.
So, I blogged about it, shared it on my Facebook wall, talked to any friend that would listen. Most had no idea these things were going on, especially when it came to the issue of slavery in the production of chocolate. As far as other issues related to intersectionality, I am still very much on a learning curve and seeking more knowledge all the time.
Pope Francis is arguably one of the most famous Christian figureheads in the world today. He’s recently been speaking publically about our treatment of animals. What, if any, response have your non-vegan Christian friends had to his comments?
I actually have not heard any responses from them about the Pope’s statements. But I have to say that it is encouraging whenever people of faith, especially those in church leadership make public declarations on the importance of caring for the Earth and animal protection.
How do your faith in God and your Christian beliefs help you in your everyday life?
I would have to say that my relationship with God has been the most consistent thing in my life. But, having said that, I feel it’s important to recognise that a life of faith is not always comfortable and is sometimes messy. And yet, there is still beauty in the mess. One way our family practices our faith is often described as organic or simple church. We do not frequent traditional services in a church building, but meet and help facilitate small groups in homes. This has fostered a certain intimacy over time with various friends that have joined us in this spiritual journey over the years. Most are Christians, some not. But as those relationships grow, I feel that much closer to God as well.
What further plans do you have in terms of writing and vegan intersectional activism?
In terms of vegan intersectional activism, I will continue to educate myself on those issues and possibly incorporate them in my work as the director of our local vegan society. As far as writing goes, in addition to my goal of blogging more regularly, there is a special young woman who presently lives only in my head whose story I hope to tell in the near future.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers?
Being a follower of Jesus or any other faith, can indeed be compatible with veganism. For me, that means viewing animals and all of God’s creation as under our care, not to dominate or in many cases destroy, but to cherish and protect.
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