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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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.