Vegan Awakening: An Open Letter to Jo
Hello. You may or may not remember me...my name is Alena Singleton. I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA and worked at The E-House Company on the South Side for a while during high school. It was there that we first met and that I became acquainted with your work. I recognized and respected you as a regular customer and author of several of the books we carried in the store. Although we never had the opportunity to engage in a lengthy conversation, I always enjoyed telling you about our new products and getting tidbits of knowledge from you along the way.
Alena J. Singleton (top)
and partner Aleia C. Carr
I experimented with veganism and vegetarianism during those high school years, albeit somewhat unsuccessfully. I took the principles to heart, but my 16-year-old mind had difficulty putting those things into practice. After several weeks of subsiding on little more than plain tortilla chips, salsa, soy milk, and orange juice (not at the same time, mind you), I decided to call it quits. For some time after this, although I did indeed reduce my meat consumption, I viewed leading a vegan lifestyle with a great deal of skepticism. Was it REALLY possible to be vegan? And if so, was it healthy? And even if it was healthy, would I have to make so many sacrifices that I wouldn't be able to enjoy the outcome? Eventually, I thought I found myself at a dead end, where no answer would totally satisfy me...so I sat this issue aside in order to concentrate on something more pressing -- college.
In 1997, I headed off to Penn State, hoping to conquer the world -- or at least gain some reasonable mastery of myself. Excellence in classes and leading a successful campus life would come easily. The uncovering of my true self would be a much harder task. During my first year and a half of college, I began to forge a deeper connection to my Native American (Tsalagi/Cherokee) spiritual and cultural roots, learned to be comfortable and open with my sexuality, developed a strong sense of pride as a multi-ethnic woman of color, and began realizing what I really wanted to do with my life. Somewhere in that mix, I found that Penn State did not fit into my life's vision, so I decided to gather up all the things I'd learned and go elsewhere.
Fast forward to 2001. After a year of living in Chicago and working as a writer, my partner and I decided to move back to the east coast. We decided to stop in Pittsburgh and visit my family and some old friends along our way. As I showed my partner some of my old hangout spots on the South Side, she spotted E-House and wanted to check it out. Of course, I obliged. We browsed, and she laughed at how much product information I still remembered. And then I saw it -- The Vegan Sourcebook. I thought, "What the heck?" I finally gave in and purchased it, not quite understanding why I was drawn to do so. It would be another six months before I would realize the impact that trip to the E-House would have on my life.
In December 2001, I cracked the cover of The Vegan Sourcebook with the intention of reading the entire thing for the first time. At first, I was sickened by the thought of what cruelties animals suffer at the hands of animal agribusiness. Then, I became revolted by the thought of all the hormones and chemicals I must ingest through my consumption of animal products. Finally, I was outraged to discover what animal agribusiness is doing to the planet and all of the communities that reside here. The social activist in me automatically responded to the idea that both animals AND people are suffering great losses, all because of what we as a society are choosing to eat, wear, and how we entertain ourselves. And then it all made sense.
At that moment, veganism was no longer simply a dietary choice. It suddenly became a grounding principle and guiding force, bonding all of my beliefs into one simple course of action. It became a way for me to further embrace my Tsalagi heritage by continuing the belief/practice that we must all live in harmony with the universe. It became a way for me to speak for those who choose to or are forced to remain silent. It became a way for me to stand up for people who don't even realize that they are being exploited and used by politicians and anonymous leaders in animal agribusiness. It became a way for me to rally for the world's poor, disenfranchised, impoverished, and hungry, demanding that we stop diverting our resources towards needless slaughter and cruelty and looking for REAL solutions. It became another way for me to say "I love you" to my partner, my sisters, my brother, my unborn children, and my unborn children's children....a way for me to make sure that there is still food, clean air, water...something left for them long after my physical body has ceased to exist.
I now feel as though a huge weight has been lifted from my chest. For so long, I've sought to find ways to combine all of my beliefs and talents to really make a difference, and it seems as though now a new path has been set before me. I feel empowered, renewed, strong, sure. Obviously, this is just the beginning of a long, often difficult journey. But I am sure I'm working with the right tools this time. In fact, now that I think about it, I have always had those tools...I just needed time, experience, and a few kind, guiding words to help me learn to use them. And for the role that you've played in this, I thank you.
I look forward to speaking more with you in the future. Until then, I wish you continued peace and blessings. And thanks again.
Alena J. Singleton
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