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Feminism & Food

January 11, 2010

Browsing the internet for hours can turn up some pretty interesting subjects. Catching up on my google reader from the holidays, I began reading a Bitch article about PETA’s disgusting objectification of women. (I have nothing to add to the feminist critique of PETA’S advertising tactics except to echo the many criticisms already written.) The article highly recommended Carol J. Adams’ The Sexual Politics of Meat. Adams has written several books about the intersection of vegan/vegetarianism and feminism, (see a more comprehensive list here) and I would be very interested to hear readers’ thoughts on the subject.

Admittedly, I know very little about this subject and would love to know more. I am one of those guilty Americans who orders a cheeseburger at a pub and the next day buys wilting, overpriced organic basil in an attempt to counteract my murderous eating ways. A few days later I’m happily enjoying a chicken panini and the cycle continues. The blog Vegans of Color argues that racism, speciesism, and other -isms that perpetuate an imbalance of power and privilege are all connected. (Their tag-line: Because we don’t have the privilege of being single-issue.) Another blog, Sistah Vegan, specifically marries eating habits and feminism and argues that a vegan/raw food diet is a tool for black women to decolonize and assert control over their own bodies.

A (female) reader’s review of The Sexual Politics of Meat stated an opinion that I have heard before applied to the connection between feminism and racism:

Feminists, in their tendency to view their set of beliefs as a seamless garment, often argue that their other causes are an inherent part of feminism, which burdens feminism by making it more exclusionary. I don’t often hear people making the opposite argument and burdening their other causes with feminism. Adams argues that vegetarianism should be considered an intrinsic part of feminism. Does she argue that feminism is an intrinsic part of vegetarianism? Does she tell vegans that they can’t really consider themselves to be vegetarians if they don’t support feminist issues?

I don’t think feminism is burdened when it includes other causes. I think very few people have the luxury to be single-issue and all aspects of their identities should be respected as a whole. What would the feminist movement be without feminists of color? Feminists with different abilities? Feminists of different gender identities and sexual orientations? (I shudder at the thought.) To quote another feminist raw food blog (I found a surprising number of them), Choosing Raw,

Labels are, if nothing else, hopelessly limited. Whether political, racial, cultural, or dietary, they simply fail to capture the variety and complexity of human identity in an adequately nuanced fashion.

Also, I think very few other causes are “burdened” by feminism because Feminism is still a very dirty word for many people, and people fear that the label itself will drive away supporters.

Should there be a line when it comes to animals, though? Our furry (or scaly, feathered, etc) friends suffer persecution only for food and fashion, not for their gender/race/other identity factors. We could claim veganism as a path towards one of the ever elusive goals of feminism: agency over our healthy, celebrated bodies. We could object to speciesism on the grounds that we, as feminists, object to and refuse to take part in any system of power imbalance where those with more power persecute those with less. Or we could just ignore it because plenty of white men are vegans, so the movement is bound to continue in perpetuity, right?

What say you readers?

9 Comments
  1. Roxanne Samer permalink*
    January 11, 2010 10:58 am

    Colleen,

    I am so excited to read this post! As a vegetarian of nearly ten years, it’s great to have so many new resources to check out.

    In response to the whole “burdening”/multi-issue question, I can only speak for myself but I find that the two causes–feminism and animal rights–stem from a similar place within myself. One did not lead to the other but both came from a discovery of the extreme imbalances of power in this world and the recognition that there are steps that can be taken to begin making slight changes, even if primarily within one’s self. Although, obviously, all feminists are not vegetarians and many vegetarians to not care or regularly think about women’s issues, it has been my experience that most people in either camp are more likely to consider the thoughts and opinions of the other than those with ties to neither, as they have the ability to think critically, recognize injustice and feel sympathy.

    Similarly, you remind us that “feminism” for many is still considered a dirty word. I would claim that “vegetarianism” is in many realms as well. I have in fact received much more harassment by friends, acquaintances and strangers for choosing to not eat meat than I have for making a feminist argument or criticism of sexist practices in American culture. This has been a strange experience as I almost never advocate for vegetarianism unless provoked and have found that simply passing on the meat course at a social event can often lead others to become defensive of their own choices, though I never said anything and simply made a choice for my own body.

    PETA has been perhaps the greatest disappointment over the last few years as a vegetarian. Not only, as you cite, have they joined all other advertising campaigns with the “sex sells” model, but it was released last year that they have been responsible for the deaths of thousands cats and dogs who they were unable to find homes for. Most vegetarians active about their choice are aware of these two scandals and many, such as myself, have dropped their support of the organization.

    While my personal choice to stop eating meat came around due to my love of animals and my discomfort for being responsible for their deaths, I have since read a fair amount on the subject and learned of a series of environmental, economic and humanitarian reasons to avoid supporting the meat industry when possible. I understand that it is “natural” for humans to eat meat but I would remind all feminists of the atrocious biological determinist arguments made by misogynists for the hierarchy of the sexes and ask others to recognize that at least those of us living privileged lives have options when it comes to receiving the proper nutrients. From my experience, it has been empowering to claim agency over at least part of what I consume…though I’m still working on the whole sweets realm! 🙂

    Roxanne

    • January 11, 2010 12:05 pm

      It’s interesting how the relationship between privilege and a veg*n diet changes depending on where in the world you live. In Western countries, being able to eat a veg*n diet reflects a level of economic privilege that allows you to make choices about what you eat (as you point out). On the other hand, when I lived in China, people in restaurants would often be surprised when I asked for meatless dishes because those are thought of as peasant food. They believed that I, as a presumably wealthy foreigner, should want to eat meat-heavy dishes.

  2. Colleen Hodgetts permalink*
    January 11, 2010 12:58 pm

    Thanks so much for the interesting insights! Great point about dietary choices within a cultural/economic context. (I often think of the same irony when western women go to great lengths to give birth at home with a midwife when most women in the world deliver babies this way without question.)

    Why do people write veg*n? At first glance it looks as though it gender neutralizes the term, but obviously “vegan” is not a gendered noun.

    p.s. Roxanne- for vegan sweets I found this website, http://www.etsy.com/shop/sassygourmet, and all the reviews are absolutely glowing, so it might be worth a try!

    • johanna permalink
      February 1, 2010 4:34 pm

      Veg*n means “vegan/vegetarian.”

  3. Roxanne Samer permalink*
    January 27, 2010 10:00 am

    It looks like as of Monday Brittany Shoot at BITCH Magazine’s blog will be writing on this subject regularly:

    http://bitchmagazine.org/post/the-biotic-woman-intro-to-ecofeminism

  4. January 27, 2010 8:58 pm

    Watch Cooking with Ideas for an entry that includes links to a variety of feminist food sites

  5. March 13, 2010 12:30 pm

    I’ve read The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol J. Adams and as much as I admire her work, I I disagree with the vegan feminist argument that all women and children should go vegan. Women and children have different nutritional needs and to argue — as does Carol J. Adams and other vegan feminists — that veganism is the “ideal” is really anti-feminist if one thinks about it. For example, a pregnant woman who consumes free range eggs, or the young single mother who relies on the school lunch program for her children are essentially “less than ideal” according to vegan feminists…

    I wish more attention were given to the writings of Kathryn Paxton George, “Animal, Vegetable, or Woman?: A Feminist Critique of Ethical Vegetarianism.”

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