Disabled vegans Interviews

Challenging ableism in the vegan movement. Interview with Kaysha Marie (Disabled Vegan)

Kaysha Marie (27) is a disabled activist, patient advocate, and blogger living in Minnesota. They are living with a wide variety of psychological and physical health conditions, including but not limited to: Spondyloarthropathy, Celiac Disease, Mental Health Diagnoses, and a Blood Clotting Disorder. They are no longer applying for disability (as of a few months ago) but are now applying to college after getting into partial remission. They want to become a radiology technician to help other people. They have spent most of their time in the past few years, trying to achieve remission and blogging about their experiences as a disabled person navigating the world on Disabled Vegan.

  Hello Kaysha, tell us who you are? What’s your background and what do you do in life?

I’m a 28 year old person just trying to make my way through life despite some unusual health-related setbacks. My life has been frequently interrupted by various health issues but I’m trying to make it work. I enjoy relaxing with family and friends, watching horror movies, cooking, reading, and hiking through nature. Thanks to getting into a partial remission recently, I am now planning on going back to school to become a radiology technician. My hope is to spend my life trying to help others in whatever way I am able.

  When and why did you become interested in veganism and animal rights? What does veganism mean for you?

Ever since I was a child, I had a rough idea that harming animals for food seemed unethical when we have the choice not to. When I was a teenager, I went vegetarian because of this very rough idea about animals not needing to be killed for food. Then a few years later, my best friend went vegan. She told me that after watching Earthlings, she went vegan overnight. One afternoon, I saw an episode of the TV show Bones which discussed how chickens are treated. This piqued my interest so I decided to watch Earthlings.

What I saw in the documentary horrified me. I no longer believed that being a vegetarian was enough for me. After watching the documentary, I no longer felt that I could support these industries. So I went vegan overnight, which also happened to be on my vegan best friend’s birthday. I started educating myself on vegan nutrition to ensure that I am able to meet all of my nutrient needs (it’s much easier than I thought). Since then, I have been trying to educate myself as much as possible on animal ethics and theory. For me, being a vegan is part of a greater movement of animal liberation. I don’t want to harm animals in any way I can possibly avoid. I avoid meat, dairy, eggs, honey, animal products in clothing, zoos, circuses, animal products and testing in cosmetics and hygiene products, etc. I try my best to not support industries which harm animals.

  Can you tell some more about your disability and how it influences your life? What are your specific challenges, physically, socially or psychologically?

My primary diagnoses are: spondyloarthropathy, thrombophilia (pulmonary embolism), celiac disease, peripheral neuropathy, migraines, alopecia areata (in remission), and some psychiatric disorders which are currently being disentangled from the psychiatric issues celiac disease caused. I have a history of PCOS (Polycystic ovary syndrome), high cholesterol, NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease), and high testosterone which have been reversed. I’m also having some other health issues which are currently being explored and diagnosed.

As a result of these diagnoses, I deal with chronic pain, nausea and fatigue on a daily basis. This creates barriers to participating in everyday life from ADL’s (Activities of Daily Living) to socializing. It can feel quite isolating and causes a secondary depression. I also am immunocompromised from my spondyloarthropathy medication so I am at a higher risk of infections. My mobility changes on a day to day basis due to flares in my spondyloarthropathy. I’m also on lifelong blood thinners which means that I need to carry medical alert jewelry in the event of an accident. I have almost died a number of times, so I have panic attacks frequently due to fear of dying. I rarely sleep more than a few hours at a time due to pain and PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder). Celiac disease means I need to make my food almost exclusively at home to prevent cross contamination. That creates an added barrier to socializing because I cannot eat what other people eat or eat at most restaurants. I usually need to bring food with me wherever I go. My mental health struggles mean that I often struggle with depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and flashbacks. It’s been incredibly difficult to adjust to all of these problems but I’m trying to cope and live as happy an existence as possible with my current circumstances.

 Is your disability mainly visible or invisible? Does that impact the way you are viewed or treated?

I’ve had a disability for the majority of my life. When I was 25, my disability switched from being invisible to being visible. My hair started falling out in round clumps and it got so bad that I eventually just shaved my remaining hair off. I also began using mobility aids around this time from the spondyloarthropathy. During this time, people started treating me differently. When my disability was invisible, people treated me as if my disabilities were not real and that had its own unique set of challenges. When my disability became more visible, people started treating me as if I was breakable and someone to be pitied. People made assumptions that I had cancer despite my hair loss being related to an autoimmune disease that attacked my hair follicles. I think there are unique challenges to both invisible and visible disabilities. Living with either one is not easy and both can be debilitating for those living with it.

Kaysha Marie [ID: Kaysha looking into camera, smiling, short brown hair, black fitting T shirt, green folliage with yellow flowers in background]

  What are the most common ‘bingo’ reactions or microaggressions you have received on being a disabled vegan? Do you feel reactions coming from vegans are generally different than those from non-vegans?

The most frequent bingo reactions I get are people giving me unsolicited health advice. I’ve had countless people tell me that I need to try yoga and green juice to telling me I need to go on a raw diet. I would say that the ratio of vegan to non-vegan bingo reactions are about equal though I do tend to get more vegans suggesting I try a specific diet under the vegan umbrella whereas nonvegans tend to suggest things like cannabis more frequently. I think that many vegans see me as a bad vegan because there is such a common belief among certain vegans that diet cures every disease and yet here I am, living with quite a medically precarious situation. I don’t think that the people who do these things are bad people; I just think they have a less nuanced concept of disability.

I think that many vegans see me as a bad vegan because there is such a common belief among certain vegans that diet cures every disease and yet here I am, living with quite a medically precarious situation.

 You launched the blog Disabled Vegan in 2017. Why did you start Disabled Vegan and what message do you want to bring?

I launched disabled vegan initially to be a food blog. Then a few months after I launched disabled vegan, doctors found intestinal damage, a pulmonary embolism, and arthritis in both hips. My page kind of shifted to being a place where I could try to figure out my own personal medical mystery because even doctors didn’t know what was wrong with me. I stopped making recipes and started posting regularly about my struggles with my own disability and ableism I was dealing with. Now my goal is to present an authentic view of what disabled life can be like while also trying to educate the public on ableism.

 In one of your recent blogs, titled ‘Going vegan didn’t cure me’, you write: “It is vital to challenge non-consensual, pseudoscientific, health advice within our vegan community because it is a form of ableism and is harming people like me.” Can you elaborate some more on this? How is this harmful?

There are some people in the vegan community who view veganism as some magical diet that can cure people of any ailment. I believe that presenting veganism in this way does a great disservice to disabled people and to veganism itself. Veganism is first and foremost, a justice movement for animal liberation; it is not a diet. Yet I see so many people, vegan and nonvegan alike, treating veganism like it is a diet. Eating a plant-based diet can be one component of veganism but it is not all of it. When vegans tell others that “veganism will cure you of x” or that a person should try a specific diet within veganism, that can actually be quite destructive to people with certain disabilities. People with eating disorders can be damaged from dietary advice (I personally have been harmed by people doing this when I was suffering from bulimia). Often times, fad diets are not conducive to disabled people’s specific treatment plans yet presenting these diets as a cure only reinforces the idea that disabled people need to be cured. There is also an issue of consent. Unless someone asks for specific advice, it is a good rule of thumb not to give any advice, especially if you don’t know the details of the person’s medical history. It is vital to present information related to veganism that is supported by the bulk of scientific research. Telling someone for example, that a weeklong juice fast will cure someone of type 1 diabetes is preposterous and incredibly harmful.

It is vital to challenge non-consensual, pseudoscientific, health advice within our vegan community because it is a form of ableism and is harming people like me.

 Do you consider yourself more of a vegan / animal rights activist or more of a disability rights activist? Or both?

I consider myself both. I have been advocating for disability rights since my first diagnosis. I have also been advocating for animal rights since I first became vegan.

 Has your activism changed over the years because of your disability? Are there certain forms of activism that are inaccessible to you?

I had invisible disabilities when I first went vegan. I became co-president of my on-campus animal rights club while also doing occasional activism for a local animal rights organization. At the time, my activism was occasionally affected by my disabilities. I went through a period of time where I kept having episodes of unexplained cataplexy and I ended up missing some activism events. However, since I turned 25, my activism has been almost solely online via disabled vegan. I do not know how I will feel one day to the next and because of that, it is very difficult to predict whether I will be able to attend a local activism event. At this point in time, online activism is the most accessible to me and other forms of activism carry a lot of unknowns.

 I realise it’s difficult to think in terms of ‘what ifs’, but if you weren’t disabled, what do you think your activism would look like?

My disabilities have stretched back as far as 5 years old so this is difficult to answer because I just don’t have a good basis of what being able-bodied is like. I think that if I were able-bodied, I would probably be able to participate in in-person activism such as leafleting and pay-per-view. I used to enjoy bringing vegan food to social gatherings (this allowed people to try vegan food that *hopefully* tasted good). But I also feel that my disabilities have given me more insight into certain aspects of activism and were I to be able-bodied, I wouldn’t have that same understanding.

 People who challenge discrimination and prejudice within our movement (ableism, sexism, racism, etc.) are often criticised for distracting attention away from the animals ‘We should focus on the animals’ Or ‘Our movement is about animal rights’. What is your reply to that criticism?

I think that it is important to center animals in their own movement. However, it’s also important to address the oppressive behavior and ideas within our movement against humans, because that harms both humans and nonhumans alike. People are being put-off of animal liberation due to some oppressive behavior that exists within our movement. So if we can effectively address the ableism, racism, sexism, etc. then my hope is that our movement would be even more effective. I think that many people in the disabled community specifically, get put off of animal rights because there are some incredibly ableist members of the vegan community. My hope is that we can bring in those people who were initially put-off, by addressing the oppressive behavior within our movement.

People are being put-off of animal liberation due to some oppressive behavior that exists within our movement.

 There are some issues where disability rights and animal rights seem to collide. Two thorny issues are the use of medication (which involves animal experimentation) and the use of service or assistance animals by disabled persons. What is your stance on those issue?

Taking medication is often unavoidable for people, especially those of us with disabilities. I personally cannot survive without some of my medications. However, it is important to advocate for systemic change to create vegan medication free from animal derived ingredients and animal experimentation. The vegan society included “as far as possible and practicable” into the definition of veganism for situations like medication. I am still figuring out my position on assistance animals and am still researching the topic. I personally found AV’s (Anonymous for the Voiceless) post on the topic to be quite unnuanced. However, I also am not an expert on the topic of assistance animals and I need more time to research it to have a thorough understanding of all its intricacies.

  Next to pseudoscientific health advice (mentioned above), what are other ways in which the animal rights or vegan movement is harmful or discriminatory towards disabled persons?

I could talk about this for days but I will try to go with a few to keep it short.

Many animal rights events are not wheelchair or mobility aid accessible so this entirely eliminates the possibility for those disabled individuals who use that equipment to be involved in many animal rights organizations and events. This includes providing accessible bathrooms at each event.

Many food related, vegan events are not accessible for individuals with dietary restrictions. The best way to fix this is to send out an email before each event asking what dietary restrictions people have and to try to make accommodations. If anyone is bringing food, request that an ingredients list and allergen list be provided.

If there is a presentation at any AR event, it needs to be accessible to those who are blind/low vision and/or for those who are Deaf/HOH/auditory processing disorder. Having subtitles, a paper copy of the presentation, a braille copy, etc. goes a long way to making an event accessible.

 Can you give some suggestions as to how the vegan and animal rights movement can become more inclusive and accessible for persons with disabilities? To be more inclusive on all fronts?

I’ve listed some commonly needed accommodations above that all animal rights organizations should implement. For the movement to be more inclusive, it is vital for people to center and accommodate all marginalized groups within the movement. It is a good idea for organizations to have a thorough understanding of all forms of oppression and policies in place to protect those marginalized groups from further harm. The last thing we want to have happen in a justice movement is for more individuals to be harmed.

  In the animal advocacy movement, a diversity of organisations, activists work on a diversity of fronts for animals (education, information, liberation, behavioural change, legislative change, …). If you need to single out one specific aspect that deserves special focus, what would that be?

I think that education is one specific aspect that needs special focus. I think that it is vital for any education that is given within the vegan movement to be based on widely supported scientific research and for all of our facts and statistics to be accurate. I think that any nutrition information given to new vegans needs to be supported by the bulk of the scientific research on nutrition. This would hopefully help stop misinformation regarding fad diets on popular vegan social media influencer accounts. Shout-out to Ginny Messina RD for the work she has done on this topic.

  Is there anything else that you would like to share here?

Thank you so much for taking the time to interview me and thank you for all the work you do with Crip HumAnimal. I love your page and website.

Kaysha Marie – Interview Crip HumAnimal

Website: https://www.disabledvegan.com/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/disabledvegan/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/disabledvegan/

– Interviews Crip HumAnimal – I particularly welcome stories of disabled LGBTQ+ vegans, vegans of colour, vegan women, or other oppressed and marginalised groups, to highlight their specific experiences and the interconnections of oppressions –

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