I kind of have a love-hate relationship with Christopher-Sebastian McJetters. On the one hand, anyone who knows him through social media knows how thoughtful, engaging, witty, unique and just generally fiercely honest he is. On the other hand, Christopher-Sebastian could post, “Hey, all, I’m going to get an iced tea,” except it’ll be worded much more amusingly and unforgettably than that, he’ll manage to expose some greater truth about the world in his stated desire to get an iced tea and it’ll end up with 15,692 likes, 3,455 comments, 7,211 shares as well as a fair share of haters whom he will dispatch ever so expertly and efficiently. He’s a damn ninja. Oh, yeah. A week later, the thread will still be active. Sometimes I will be on my Facebook feed and a thread of his from a month before will show up, people still commenting. This guy moves people. His seemingly boundless charisma and intelligence kind of makes me hate him because I’m petty and my envy can make me ugly but 99% of me adores Christopher-Sebastian. That remaining 1% can take a seat.
To me, Christopher-Sebastian is part verbal surgeon, part provocateur and the elegance of his dexterity leaves me in awe; he is also an entirely modern creation, a man who uses his fabulous brain, incredible communication skills and big ol’ heart on social platforms to help shift the world in a more just, compassionate, intersectional direction. He’s just the best. Seriously. You could support his tireless outreach efforts here and check out one of his filmed talks here. Swoon. I am honored to feature Christopher-Sebastian McJetters as this week’s Vegan Rockstar.
1. First of all, we’d love to hear your “vegan evolution” story. How did you start out? Did you have any early influences or experiences as a young person that in retrospect helped to pave your path?
I think all of us probably have some youthful experience that shaped our worldview and made us more receptive to a message of veganism in our youth. Whether it was the talking animals in Disney movies or even our animal companions who became family members or best friends.
Of course, the moment that flipped me was reading Skinny Bitch in 2004. I used to be embarrassed to admit to people that that book was my entry point into veganism because it’s obviously so fraught with some extremely damaging messaging. But Dr. Breeze Harper taught me how unproductive it can be to criticize anyone’s initial access, and I later talked to Carol Adams about it who told me, “But look at how far you’ve come now. We all have to start somewhere.” And this really informs my activism today.
For the most part, I try to meet people where they are with loving engagement and provide them with the kind of online content they need in order to make better decisions about justice for all species communities.
The problem is that a lot of people confuse love with a desire to stay comfortable. I don’t have sacrifice my emotional well being to center your feelings. And more importantly, I won’t. But hey—a little from Column A, a little from Column B right?
2. Imagine that you are pre-vegan again: how could someone have talked to you and what could they have said or shown you that could have been the most effective way to have a positive influence on you moving toward veganism?
pattrice jones does a remarkable job of talking to people about the commonalities of oppression. As a person heavily invested in black liberation, being taught why animal liberation should be a part of my framework would have changed my perspective immediately. I WISH someone had a conversation with me about how our shared experiences make us collectively vulnerable to violence from the state.
This is why it’s imperative to show people that oppression does not exist in isolation. We’re all in this together. And trying to undo oppression against ourselves while consciously committing acts of oppression against others undermines our work. So practicing solidarity with the species communities is of paramount importance.
3. What have you found to be the most effective way to communicate your message as a vegan? For example, humor, passion, images, etc.?
It might sound like a cop-out to say, but I find a mixed approach to be best. You have to know your audience. Humor often opens the door for some people to drop their guard. But passion reveals an authenticity that can inspire others still. Images have their place too. But overall, I think we use them poorly. And when I say this, I’m talking more specifically about graphic images over social media (where most of us create, distribute, and consume them). Sometimes our over-reliance on them is not rooted in education, but rather retribution. I could talk all day about the effectiveness of it and the outcomes. But suffice it to say, I use graphic images very judiciously. I don’t want to fight physical violence with emotional violence if I can help it. And I certainly don’t want to re-traumatize activists who are already vulnerable to burn out. On the plus side, I see some stunningly great images and memes that make profound statements which don’t include violence at all. I feel like those have a lasting impact.
4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?
4. What do you think are the biggest strengths of the vegan movement?
Inclusion and diversity.
5. What do you think are our biggest hindrances to getting the word out effectively?
A dogmatic resistance to inclusion and diversity and an unsophisticated understanding of systemic oppression. I’m quite frankly frightened by the number of vegans who don’t understand speciesism, how it operates, and the importance of proper allyship. They remind me of white people who wanted to free slaves but don’t think slaves were themselves people, ones who deserve rights and privileges. And indeed it’s not surprising. Since white supremacy is the dominant voice in animal liberation, we reproduce white supremacist outcomes.
6. All of us need a “why vegan” elevator pitch. We’d love to hear yours.
In the not too distant past, we understood human as a biological classification. We were one species out of many. But somewhere along the line we adopted human as a political identity, an identity meant to separate us from—and elevate us above—the rest of the animals we share this planet with. When we get ourselves back to a place in which we understand that species is an arbitrary rubric to measure one’s personhood, that other animals share things like language, culture, society, and emotional experiences, it’s going to be a helluva lot harder to justify our enslavement of them. What we do to animals is an extension of what we do to other humans. This includes colonizing their lands, wrongfully incarcerating them, stealing their reproductive autonomy, commodifying them and killing them. Animal exploitation is the bedrock of imperialist white supremacist capitalist cis-heteropatriarchy. You want to abolish oppression, you gotta include other species. Sorry, not sorry.
7. Who are the people and what are the books, films, websites and organizations that have had the greatest influence on your veganism and your continuing evolution?
Oh boy. This is the space for the big Oscar speech shout out? Okay, let’s do this. It’s always my favorite part. Aph Ko, lauren Ornelas, Brenda Sanders, Pax Ahimsa Gethen, and Breeze Harper are not only brilliant activists, but they’re dear friends. They don’t just do good work. They make me feel safe. And to be able to do that from thousands of miles away is nothing short of miraculous. I can never say enough about Food Empowerment Project and A Well-Fed World. And some people might think I never shut up about them! But they both do a remarkable job of being radically inclusive and highlighting shared oppression in a responsible way. Anything that pattrice has written. Literally anything. Vegan Publishers has become an incredible powerhouse of vegan and animal rights literature in record time. And Peace Advocacy Network does incredible work teaching communities about veganism and rolling out pledge programs in cities all over the United States.
Books are interesting because a lot of my animal theory is informed by authors who are not specifically vegan. Of course The Sexual Politics of Meat has had a great influence on me. But I rely heavily on critical race theory to understand how our attitudes toward animals have been shaped by centuries of imperialism and colonization. I also think food scholarship provides a wealth of information to study, the history of social movements, and political science.
I also like hanging out in online spaces where conversation can occur. Facebook groups like the Sistah Vegan Project or Animal Rights Zone (which is also a podcast hosted by Carolyn Bailey) are healthy places where people regardless of their involvement in the movement can participate and share resources.
8. Burn-out is so common among vegans: what do you do to unwind, recharge and inspire yourself?
I’m as horrible about self care as the next person. I’d like to say that I do walking, yoga, meditation or any of those other mindful exercises that people are supposed to say. But really, I’m a piece a shit who lays on the couch eating junk food and watching horror movies. I’ve got an unhealthy obsession with fictional violence and bloodshed. I don’t even want to interrogate where that comes from. Of course, anyone who has known me for any length of time will tell you I also enjoy being petty.
9. What is the issue nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like others to know more about?
Animal liberation, black liberation, and queer liberation are the wheelhouses I primarily operate in. And they’re huge umbrellas that encompass climate justice, reproductive justice, and resource consumption. But there’s so much tyranny in the world that it’s hard not to be touched by a number of issues. When I’m not focused on those things, I’m deeply troubled by the under-representation of indigenous humans.
10. Please finish this sentence: “To me, being vegan is...”
…one of the most extraordinary acts of political resistance we can undertake.