Brooklyn-based Jarry contributor Leah Kirts wrote the Issue 6 story “Coming Out as Vegan,” an exploration of where animal rights and queer rights intersect, told through a series of conversations with queer vegans reflecting on their coming out experiences—as gay; as vegan. It’s the result of over a decade of reporting and interviews (it was part of her thesis when she earned her NYU Masters in Food Studies). Her work largely focuses on social justice in food, the intersections of veganism and queerness, and ecofeminism, a philosophical and activist movement that connects environmental abuse with the exploitation of women. She also hosts the podcast Food Without Borders on Heritage Radio Network and teaches plant-based nutrition and cooking classes in New York City. We caught up with her to learn more about her field of study, and to see what else she’s been up to.
What was your journey into studying and writing about food?
My relationship with food changed dramatically when I became vegetarian ten years ago. In choosing not to eat animals, I was simultaneously reevaluating how I thought about food while relearning how to cook it. It always felt so much more complicated than any one single issue but there wasn’t a lot of writing at the time about veganism that reflected nuanced perspectives on food politics and animal liberation.
While studying literature in college, I was encouraged to dig deeper into food, sexuality, and ethics for an honors thesis and that really set it off for me. I was reading Audre Lorde, Carol J. Adams, Judith Butler, and Greta Gaard all at the same time and each one rattled my brain, but the discourse seemed to be siloed. As you might guess, few people were covering the radical queer ecofeminist vegan beat.
Writing has always been my preferred medium but it wasn’t until after I moved to New York City that I felt confident enough to pitch a story, conduct an interview and file a piece. I think it takes time to build confidence in covering a niche that maybe not many people are talking about (yet) but that nonetheless keeps you up at night. Food writing is great because it’s never just about food; it’s always always always political and it’s cool to see how over the last few years so much has shifted. It’s exciting.
Can you give us a sense of the existing scholarship around gender and sexuality—and veganism?
Vegetarian and queer ecofeminists from the late 1970s-1990s like Marti Kheel, Greta Gaard and Carol J. Adams critically examined how feminist discourse ignored animals and queer folks. The field has evolved a lot since the early 2000s thanks to activists and theorists like pattrice jones, Dr. A. Breeze Harper, Christopher Sebastian, Aph Ko, Angela Davis, and Rasmus R. Simonsen (to name a few) whose framing of animal ethics and veganism is informed by queer theory, critical race theory, Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality, Marxism, and anarchism. Not only do they challenge norms about gender, food. and sexuality, they are critical of capitalism, White Veganism and rhetoric that fails to connect animal rights with the total liberation of other marginalized groups like trans, non-binary, Black and indigenous people of color.
What's the reaction to your piece been like—both in the context of your studies, but also since it's been published in Jarry?
I think it resonates with people who have lived through similar experiences and it’s piqued the curiosity of others, opening up dialogue about how movements can better align. People will send me research or news articles about anything related to queer stuff and veganism, which I love. As for the Jarry piece, it’s been positive feedback, but until someone reaches out to personally tell me what they think, it has been difficult to gauge the effect.
In what ways has growing up in the "fundamentalist, conservative, evangelical notch of the Bible Belt" in Indiana shaped your political sensibilities?
Growing up in that kind of environment (and walking away from it), pushed me as far left as I previously was right. I try to be critical of power and promote radical empathy. I want to get more involved in local organizing and leftist grassroots activism and to divest my brain from reformist binary thinking. :)
What's next in your writing? Can you share any upcoming projects?
I’ve been doing archival work on historical figures who shaped modern vegetarianism and veganism in the US. I can’t talk about the details yet but am excited to see how it develops and will, of course, share on social media new projects as they unfold. :)
Order your Copy of Issue 6: Mind & Body featuring Leah’s Piece “Coming Out as Vegan”