Feminism & Veganism

These two “isms” are more intertwined than most people realize. For one, hundreds of misconceptions surround them. If you don’t take the time to wave off all the fancy banners, aggressive pamphleteers,  and that one really rude vegan you met in a diner, it’s quite easy to have a clouded view of these ideologies. Two, there are speciality cafés for vegans and feminists because it’s so difficult to find other people who can turn the art of eating pancakes into a sociological argument (I’m sure it’s been done). Three— something I didn’t realize until recently— veganism has roots in feminism. As I’ve read, “to be a feminist is to be a vegan.” Welp guess I deserve the awkward turtle because I consider myself feminist… but I’m not vegan. The more I’ve learned about veganism’s connections to other social justice areas, though, the more I’ve started to decrease my intake of animal byproducts. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll decide to eat vegan, but for now let’s dig into why veganism is so closely tied to feminism.

What is feminism?
The core principle of feminism is equality for all people regardless of sex or gender identification or expression. Feminism does not mean that women are better than men, nor does being feminist mean you hate men. Anyone can be a feminist. Yes, guys, this means you too. Feminists are fighting for the rights of men as well to not be judged by their “maleness”. The perspective most people have of feminism is the radical, bra-burning feminists of the 1960s. Historically, feminism has evolved from the examination of inequality between the sexes to a more nuanced assessment of the social and performative constructions of gender and sexuality.

Here’s the rub:
A widely-held belief by feminists is that no person’s body should be exploited. To be feminist is to be a proponent for body autonomy.  Only the individual can consent to what happens to her body and no one has the right to treat a woman’s body or treat a woman (or anyone else for that matter) as simply a vessel for reproduction.  It seems silly to fight so strongly against female oppression  and gender inequality while ignoring those same issues as applied to the meat, dairy, and egg  industries to the extent that eating animal byproducts fuels female subjugation.

Dairy cows are treated as mere milk machines. Sows are treated as units of mass productions as they’re continuously impregnated. They spend their entire lives in tiny gestation crates, so small they can’t even turn around and they live in their own feces. Their offspring are carried away and slaughtered, especially the young males as they have no reproductive value. The lives egg-laying hens are very similar. Female animals lead miserable lives simply because they have a uterus, an organ that apparently subjects an animal to a life of reproductive exploitation and commodification. Also known as a reproductive slave.

Is this not the very ideology that feminists strive to break down? Beings are not simply the sum of their parts, and we certainly have no right to use another being’s organs for our benefit with complete disregard to their humanity. Sure, most animals cannot give consent to using their body, but they have a natural birth cycle for a reason. If animals were treated ethically and respected for their natural production of food and life, instead of as a mass production factory, then we would have more nutrient-rich food, happier animals, and I wouldn’t be so hesitant to enjoy animal byproducts.

Most of us know what it’s like to be seen as nothing but a body. Objectified for another person’s benefit. It’s dehumanizing and makes us feel like nothing. This is what we’re doing to female animals and to an extent their male offspring who are slaughtered simply because they can’t reproduce or lay eggs or give milk. This is exactly why intersectional approaches to social justice issues are necessary— one is not just a “feminist” in ideology without holding similar ideologies as a vegan. We’re all in this together, which I why I’m a little disappointed when a campaign for one social justice area inadvertently puts down another (e.g. the sexualization of women during World Vegan Day campaigns).

“Before you want to start talking about how the government needs to stay out of your body and your life, you better make sure that your own lifestyle doesn’t entirely revolve around objectifying other females and exploiting someone else’s body.” – Quoi Le Canard 

At what point does this passionate battle for body autonomy extend to the suffering of female animals ? What gives anyone the right to dominate another being’s bodily function?

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Happy World Vegan Month!

November is designated as World Vegan Month primarily because in 1994, Louise Wallis, then President of the Vegan Society UK, established Nov. 1 as World Vegan Day to commemorate its 50th anniversary. No one really knew the exact date in November when the Vegan Society was founded so she picked the 1st of November because she liked the idea of it coinciding with Samhain (Gaelic festival marking the end of harvest season) and Halloween, which are times of feasting and celebration.

World Vegan Month is a month-long celebration of a health-, environment-, and animal-friendly vegan diet. Many activists are using this time of heightened awareness to promote veganism to the public. Of the events I’ve looked into there seems to be a trend of using humans to symbolize food, the goal being to help onlookers empathize with the animals they eat.

In what seems to be an annual event, the founder of People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Ingrid E Newkirk, wills her body to be “barbecued” on a charcoal grill accompanied by a sign that reads, “All animals have the same body parts. Go Vegan!”

vegan, ingrid e newkirk, peta

A similar demonstration in Belfast featured an almost naked model slathered in BBQ sauce with a side of fresh greens on a plate with the words “Try to relate to who’s on your plate”.

Vegan model strips down for activism
Okay I have some beef with both of these, more for the second one than the first. The idea overall that an audience member now having seen a person on a plate or being grilled will begin to attach the same feelings of horror to grilling meat or eating chicken nuggets is misleading. People relate to those with the most similar characteristics as them (i.e. another human vs. creature) and can more easily empathize with humans than animals because their life experiences are more comparable. For example, when we hear of someone dying that we don’t know personally we often wonder about their family and friends, what that person was thinking/doing before they died, what they did for a living, etc. — all categorical experiences we share.  So though onlookers of these exhibits may initially question eating meat, the low level of involvement and comparability of the animal’s life to the person make the shock somewhat ineffective long-term. It’s creative enough for an awareness campaign, but as a call to action not so much. Stimulating change is a long-term process that generally requires more education and involvement from the individual.
As for the second exhibit, why must the model be half naked and made-up? I understand it’s an art form so I have no qualms against nudity and art, but if we’re going with a “people as animals” type thing: Why is she wearing significant make-up? Why her and not someone who represents the average person? Couldn’t she have worn a nude suit instead? In my opinion her being presented as seductive detracts rather than helps the matter at hand and makes me question whether I support the campaign. If this was the sole instance then I would maybe let it go, but it reminds me of Animal Equality’s exhibit in march in Spain:
Animal Equality in Spain
WHY IS THE FAKE MEAT WEARING LINGERIE. (Sorry, I’m done now). It’s just frustrating that these animal rights exhibits still perpetuate an strict idealistic depiction of the female body. This just goes to show that not all activist efforts are conscious of one another nor strive to work together to break down barriers for both groups.

Vegan Relationships

If you haven’t figured it out yet I love a good infographic. I found this one on Alicia Silverstone’s blog (the actress from Clueless) about relationships as a vegan. It would be interesting to survey more in depth about the pros/cons of dating someone who’s not vegan, why it is that it’s harder for women to find vegan men, how the couples meet, etc. Maybe on another post…

Vegan Relationships

Veggiequeer: A Twist to Veganism

“Veggiequeer” is one of my favorite portmanteaus. It’s a fusion of words originating from two social topics: dietary preference and sexuality (though the word here applies as a reference to dietary preference). While the term “queer” has had a pejorative meaning for most of the 20th century, it’s been reappropriated in the past couple decades— at least in the U.S.— to denote an opposition to binary thinking. More personally my friends and I use it as a suffix for anything that we don’t want to box ourselves into.

A recurring theme on this blog is that no one has the authority to monitor your dietary preference. The problem here is that most people are going to do it anyway, especially if they don’t know many people who are vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, etc. In middle school I didn’t know anyone who was vegetarian, but I also didn’t think it was a big deal. I guess it was a surprise to me when I went on a volunteer trip to Belize for a couple weeks and some fellow members referred to another volunteer as “PETA” because she  was vegetarian.

Too often people make us feel pressure to have a definitive dietary preference. We have to be something, as if the person asking has a burning desire  to categorize what we eat. There’s nothing wrong with asking out of curiosity, there’s just a problem with planning to critique or double-check another person’s diet.

To deal with these situations some of my friends and I use the term “veggiequeer” to describe our diet. What does it mean? Here’s the great part: it means whatever you want it to mean! Generally it’s been used to describe some variations in veganism & vegetarianism or gaps between eating meat and not eating meat. It’s casual. More than likely the person asking will have no idea what you’re talking about and what better time than then to A) explain why you choose to eat what you do B) address stereotypes C) explain the origins of “veggiequeer”! Obviously this depends on the person’s actual interest— use your social cues friends.

The “Please Stop Talking About Your Food” Problem

Eating habits and opinions on food production can be touchy subjects for a lot of people. For one thing we were all raised differently in regards to what is “normal” to eat, even if we grew up in the same culture. Food is essential for all bodily processes that enable us to breathe, move, and think, but also what we put in our bodies plays such a huge role in our social and mental health. There is no part of our lives that is not influenced by what we eat. Along with sleeping, breathing, and pooping, eating is one of the few behaviors that all beings have in common.

Because of food’s ever-present power in our lives people become very passionate about it. Some people tweet haikus about food, others make YouTube series of drunk cooking, and still fewer and far less admirable people change Rogers & Hammerstein lyrics into chocolate-praising hymns (The Sound of Music sanctity > chocolate). Tack on all the diets, research studies, and intersectionality with environmental health, animal rights, etc. and there are millions of clashing views about what’s best to eat.

Passion is a wonderful quality to have; it fuels education, progress, and inspires others. There is a difference, however, between respectful passion and stubborn passion. Misused passion can create damaging social dynamics when it becomes a medium for accosting others. Forcing your opinion down someone’s throat will always lead to a coughing fit.

Often vegans, or really anyone else who chooses a more unique diet preference, get a bad rep for being “preachy”.  This is generally a very small minority. Of my ten vegan friends none of them have ever asked me to change my diet, made snarky remarks about my food choice, or made fun of me when I chose to eat that one slice of bacon (I’m vegetarian) like my non-veg friends have. The people I know who eat vegan are very aware of the preachy vegan stereotype and some of them even go out of their way to avoid judgement at restaurants by saying “I’m vegetarian and also lactose-intolerant, what can I eat?” instead of “what’s vegan?” In many ways I think it hurts them more than anyone else.

A couple weeks ago a group of pamphleteers stationed themselves at our campus plaza, dressed as animals, and tried to convince people to turn vegan by yelling about it and holding signs. One of them tried to hand my friend Katie, who’s vegan, a pamplet. When she informed him she was already vegan he looked at her and said “but you are wearing leather shoes and your bag is leather so maybe you should take this.” Someone please explain to me how being  judgmental and rude will convince others to go vegan.

The difference between being “preachy” and having a mutually educational conversation is how open both parties are to discussion. Many of my friends are interested in social justice, earth preservation, human & animal rights, you name it, so I know I can freely address these subjects with them.  However, there are definitely people in my life who have made it clear they don’t want to hear about it and I respect that distance unless they bring it up themselves. Sadly the fear of being perceived as preachy can silence those who have thoughtful, educational tidbits to offer. To make the best eating decisions for our health and our environment we have to be open to learning, even if it’s not what we want to hear.