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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Root: Allston Vegan Café

Last spring a much-loved vegan pizzeria, Peace O’Pie, closed in Allston. Its loyal fan based found itself deprived of yet another place to find local vegan food. The open space did not go to waste, however, when Root opened in July 2013 as a café and juicery with an entirely vegan-friendly menu. It’s under the same ownership as vegan ice cream café, FoMu, and is just two shops down.

I finally visited yesterday during its brunch hours (Sat. & Sun. 9:30am-2:30pm) and though I fully intended getting breakfasty things, I just could not resist trying the Root burger. It’s listed on the menu as a “house made black bean and quinoa burger with Boston lettuce, tomato, crispy onions, and garlic aioli.” I chose a side of herbed fries, which were good, but not anything to rave about. The burger was both delicious and unique. I’m full and I still want another.

Vegan Black Bean Burger Root Café Allston

My friend Jaimee decided to get the Po’ Boy, a sandwich with crispy cauliflower, spicy house rémoulade (French tartar-like sauce), sweet pickles, lettuce, and tomato on an Iggy’s bun. Jaimee said, “If all vegan food was like this, I’d give it a try.” She even likes Root’s version of the Louisiana classic better than the original.

Root Po'Boy Sandwich Vegan Allston

I’d say the food, being local and vegan, was reasonably priced with full meals ranging from $7-9. The café was crowded when Jaimee and I got there so we were lucky to get to barstool seats facing the street. It took about 20 minutes for our food to come out after we ordered, but the wait was definitely worth it. Considering neither of us are vegan and were still drooling at nearly everything on the menu, Root is a great café for anyone to go to. Jaimee and I already started a list of things we have to come back to try, like the donuts and hushpuppies.

Does anyone have an alternative experience at Root? What other items from the menu would you recommend?

Veggie Libel Law

Over the past couple years I’ve heard an awful lot about a documentary called “Food Inc.” Many of my friends source it as a stimulant for changing their diet or becoming more selective about what  brands they support. I finally watched it this weekend and it was amazing. Terrifying, but amazing. If you haven’t seen it you definitely should check it out (I watched it off Documentary Addict). If anything, it’ll help you rethink your purchasing power as a consumer. The documentary covers so many topics I’ll probably reference it in other posts, but today I’m very much concerned with one thing: veggie libel laws.

What’s a veggie libel law?
More formally known as food disparagement laws, veggie libel laws give food producers the power to sue critics of its products for libel. They were passed in 13 states including Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas.

Why are these laws even a thing?
Food producers realized that sales significantly decreased when their products were mentioned to be unsafe or unhealthy or  [insert other negative descriptors here].

My sassy thought process: Wow! You mean negative feedback can affect your sales? Must be an entirely new concept very specific to the food industry. Hey, how about let’s take away freedom of speech so we can produce food that may or may not be up to health standards and no one can say anything about it. 

What would be considered “libel”?
Technically “libel” is a false statement that damages one’s reputation. There are a lot of gray areas about this, especially because sometimes opinions can come across as factual assertions in a certain context.

One of the most well-known cases of a veggie libel lawsuit is the lawsuit between Oprah and the meat industry. Oprah was sued by the meat industry after talking about her fears of eating hamburgers after learning about the practices of beef product producers and its connection to “Mad Cow Disease”. On the show Oprah said she was “stopped cold from eating another burger.” This episode apparently had a devastating impact on beef sales. Thankfully she won the case, but her legal fees amounted to more than one million dollars.

I’m baffled that these laws can even exist given that they limit the freedom of speech and create a chilling effect, which discourages people from exercising their natural rights out of fear. Further, it seems as though the laws are being invoked more for opinions than false disparagement of food products. If there’s any industry that should be open to criticism from its consumer population its the food industry because preservation of health should be top priority in all of our lives and to our government. It’s evident that these laws were created to squash the voice of the little guys and protect the big corporations. If you’d like to learn more about these laws, this video gives a pretty solid history and overview.

How do you feel about these laws? Do you think it’s right to limit our freedom of speech to stabilize food sales? Will you be more wary of what you say about meat and other food products?

Vegan Nutella

I did it. I made vegan nutella. It tastes a bit more nutty than the real thing, but hey at least it’s healthier!  “Healthy” as in the way that oatmeal raisin cookies are healthier than chocolate chip. No one wins over chocolate chip. Unfortunately I don’t have a hipster picture of my nutella in a jar, so instead I made the recipe fancy (design inspired by this one):

vegan nutella

Directions:

1) Roast the hazelnuts at 350 degrees for 10 minutes

2) Peel the skin off the hazelnuts once they’re cool. It falls off pretty easy. My friend and I talked about our super interesting lives as we peeled them. It’ll make you feel like a 1950’s house wife.

3) Put the nuts in a food processor and process until it forms a thick paste

4)  Place all other ingredients in the food processor and blend until it’s creamy goodness.

5) TASTE TEST. Add ingredients as needed (because we don’t all Nutella the same, friends).

Spread it on a everything you can think of. Personally I got it all over my watch… but my favorite thing to put it on is a blueberry bagel or one of those Cat Cookies from Trader Joes 🙂 So good.

Banksy’s Stuffed Animal Slaughterhouse Truck

Yesterday in NYC, what appeared to be a slaughterhouse truck with stuffed animals peeking and squealing through open slats drove through the streets of the Meatpacking District. The truck is the work of international graffti artist and political activist Banksy. Entitled “Sirens of the Lambs”, the piece will be touring the rest of the city during the next two weeks, according to his website.

Personally I think as a form of artwork this is a clever way to introduce people to the inhumane way animals are treated in most of the food industry. For children on the street the substitution of stuffed animals is appropriate. Kids are naturally inquisitive and probably asked about  the truck.

Obviously this is a creative piece only meant to be a subtle reminder of a not-so-pleasant reality. It’s not meant to invade people’s lives or shock people with graphic photos, there are other trucks for that, though I’m sure many people are critiquing the truck for not doing any significant form of activism. Even YouTube users are commenting on the supposed “ineffectiveness” of the truck, as if its only goal should be to turn people vegetarian on the spot. Honestly, the truck doesn’t seem to be doing any harm so even if it’s just raising awareness about the maltreatment of animals that’s fine by me!

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.

Water Footprints & Food

It’s not really “in” to be concerned with your water footprint. A Google search of the phrase “water footprint” retrieves 8 times fewer results than a search for “carbon footprint” (723,000 compared to 8.5 million).  Even in the dialogues I’ve had of water conservation most focus on reducing water use at home: take shorter showers, use a basin to wash dishes by hand, turn off the faucet while I brush my teeth, etc. With all the hullaballoo centered on household water use, it must have the most impact on reducing our water footprint, right?

Wrong. Only 4% of the water footprint of humanity relates to water use at home, meanwhile 27% is related to the production of animal products.  (Mekonnen and Hoekstra, 2011).

This means that if you want to make a significant effort to reduce your water use you can start by decreasing your consumption and purchase of animal products and byproducts. The quarter pounder is worth more than 30 average American showers (National Geographic). Forget for a second that I’m vegetarian; personally, I would choose being clean for a month or two over a 5-minute inhalation of beef.

  • The average water footprint per calorie for fruits or cereals is 20 times smaller than that for beef and 3 times smaller than that for chicken.
  • Producing a typical American Thanksgiving dinner for six people requires over 30,000 gallons of water.
  • Pork costs water to produce, and traditional pork production—to make your sausage, bacon, and chops—has also been the cause of some water pollution, as pig waste runs into local water sources.
  • California officials identify agriculture, including cows, as the major source of nitrate pollution in more than 100,000 square miles of polluted groundwater
  • On average, a person who doesn’t eat meat or dairy indirectly consumes nearly 600 gallons of water per day less than a person who eats the average American diet.

Water conservation is not a local or regional issue— it’s global. The food consumed in Boston could determine the water footprint of a cocoa farm in Brazil or a cheese factory in Wisconsin. The decision to cut out meat and dairy is not all insignificant and will not only help water conservation efforts around the globe, but also reduce the negative consequences that production of animal products have on the environment and by default our own health.

Sources:

Hoekstra, A. Y., A. K. Chapagain, M. M. Aldaya, and M. M. Mekonnen. 2011. The Water Footprint Assessment Manual: Setting the Global Standard. Earthscan, London, UK

Hoekstra, A. Y. 2012. The Hidden Water Resource Use behind Meat and Dairy.

Natural Resources Defense Council