Journey to Vegan Superhero Training

So I’ve just arrived at Animal Place where I’ll be working in their education department as an animal rights, advocacy and outreach intern, or as I like to think of it, Vegan Superhero Training. Truly a dream come true.

How I got here is a bit of a strange whirlwind. I’ve been a graduate student for the past 6 years, and teaching for the past 5. But somewhere in the past couple of years I started to feel disconnected from my work. I felt like my vitality and inspiration was waning, a feeling that anyone who has started or finished a PhD can relate to. I assumed that what I needed was a matter of discipline and focus, so I tried more by creating a rigid work schedule, then tried less and did more yoga and mindfulness meditation. I bought a book on how to organize my life, then organized it to the thrift store. I started seeing a therapist.

All of this led to the realization that despite the academic path I’d been on since first year when I discovered the seemingly wondrous job of “professor,” perhaps there is something else. I’d been on a one-track path toward a much coveted academic career for so many years that I’d forgotten to check in from time to time and ask if this dream still fit who I’ve become. The fact that academic jobs are so hard to come by also figures in here. A friend told me that even if Ontario produced no more graduates in education for the next 10 years, we’d still have 100 applicants for every job that becomes available. Slim pickings for us professor wannabes.

In the process of reconsidering academia, or what I’ve come to think of as my mid-PhD crisis, I became intensely interested in Midwifery – so much so that I flew my ass to the world-renowned Farm Midwifery Clinic in Tennessee for a workshop to become a Midwife Assistant. I loved every minute of it. I loved the people, the profession, and doing something so practical. I knew right away that this is something I must pursue, so I applied to the super-competitive Ryerson Midwifery Education program in Toronto. I spent months working on my application letter while daydreaming about catching babies.

Meanwhile, my vegan advocacy was taking root. I was getting more involved with vegan blogging on Tumblr – working on my secret blog that no one in my real life knows about despite its growing popularity – and seeing the very real effect that my spreading the vegan message in the world could have. People started telling me that it was my blog that finally made them decide to go vegan. I incorporated more vegan material into my teaching.

In March, I found out that I was one of the 70 out of 400 applicants selected for an interview at Ryerson. I was so excited and involved in the midwifery world at the time; re-reading all of Ina May Gaskin’s books, reading every midwifery student blog in existence, watching every episode of Call the Midwife, and preparing my husband for what the midwifery lifestyle might involve. I even started thinking about having a kid myself. I felt so ready at that moment that I wished I could be interviewed the next day, but I had to wait over 4 weeks.

As the interview approached, I felt as though I’d lost my steam. I was no longer reading classics in midwifery scholarship, I ran out of Call the Midwife episodes, I forgot why I wanted to be a midwife. I read a study about unusually high rates of attrition among midwifery students, I read about burnout, I read about the 80 percent divorce rate of practicing midwives.

I’d been so focused on concluding my first ever course directorship, supervising a final exam for nearly 300 students, and vegan advocacy, that it felt odd to suddenly need to direct myself to something so foreign in an intense 2 hour window and show why this new profession is everything I’ve ever wanted and ever will want. I began to question if my veganism and social justice orientation were compatible with midwifery.

I also felt inspired by my teaching. I’d just led 300 students on a journey from their very first day of university through defining why sociology is for everyone, developing critiques of capitalism, understanding Freud’s model of the mind and what it says about our social order, what it means to live in a market society dominated by commodification, the future of work, environmental devastation, mass media, the social construction of gender and critiques of patriarchy, race and racism, and how we need a new consciousness to reformulate our relation with the world and create much needed social change. It felt wonderful to have delivered this important message. And, to top it all off, I overheard a TA at the end of the last lecture saying that this was the best course he’d ever encountered, and imagine how much better the world would be if every person had to take this course. I was ecstatic and humbled.

The interview at Ryerson came and went. Overall, I felt I did well in the crazy multiple mini interview, 10 rooms with 10 different interviewers, numerically-ranked 2 hours of hell. Though I did kind of enjoy it. The trouble was that just 2 days after the interview I went to a family dinner, encountered endless dead animals served at the table, and something in me was activated. My activism was activated.

I began to write profusely. I wrote letters to my local grocery store requesting that they remove pamphlets advertising dairy as a primary source of calcium, citing studies showing that dairy provides no protective benefit to our bones. It worked. I started putting up signs in my community to help people get access to vegan material. I joined the board of directors of an environmental organization in my community. I reached out to fellow activists in Toronto. I began to formulate everything I needed to say about animals: ethics, environmental issues, human health. I couldn’t stop. What started as 2 pages, turned into 6, turned into 20. I worked on this project on and off all summer and I’m proud to say that it’s now a short book that will soon be published in e-book format by Vegan Publishers!

But where did this leave me at the time? Only 5 days after my interview, applicants unexpectedly heard back from Ryerson. I was waitlisted. The dreaded waitlist: the limbo that I so didn’t need because I felt as though this is already where I’d been for years. And yet, I wasn’t as devastated as I’d expected. I even felt relieved. It was almost as though I was glad it was over so I could get back to my newfound activism and my new book project. I also started reconsidering if the on-call midwifery lifestyle would suit me. Could I really be that dedicated? Is this really where my skills are most needed?

Within hours of confirming my spot on the waitlist, I was reading up on certificates from the Institute for Humane Education and animal rights internships. I was looking seriously into opportunities that I’d stumbled upon in recent months only to put aside for another lifetime. It turned out that I’m in that other lifetime! Within a day or two I was filling out my application for an internship at Animal Place and looking into taking a one year leave from my program.

I got the internship, and the rest is history…

Well not quite. I got a call from Ryerson in June that I got accepted into the Midwifery program from the waitlist. So I had an extra 24 hours of excruciating fork-in-the-road will-I-regret-this-later contemplation and then went with my heart and declined the offer and re-affirmed my path as an educator and animal advocate. I’m starting my internship on October 1, taking a course at Brock University on animal liberation and social justice in the winter, all the while trying to figure out how to combine my academic world with my advocacy world.

Stay tuned for my experiences as an intern!

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