I recently received an email from reader Tricia about the connections between meat eating and feminism. She wrote (reprinted with permission):
And although I have been a vegetarian for 7 years, I recently realized that I don't know if I can reconcile the control and consumption of not only someone else's body, but of entire species based on nothing but their difference from "human" (which I make note not so long ago was referred to simply as "man," thus leaving women out of the "in" group and part of the "others") with feminism in any way. Let me rephrase that. I cannot. Perhaps I am shallow-minded because I am so passionate about animals (ALL animals, ourselves included), but I was hoping to get your perspective on the matter. Can we dominate these beings and still call ourselves feminist? (I ask because I have several friends and family members who are staunch feminists and also staunch meat-eaters.)
See, it's a difficult question for me because on the one hand I don't want to criticize women for their eating habits, because society does that enough, no? And certainly there are more women who are vegetarians than men... however, I cannot help but think that these two issues are fundamentally intertwined. Your thoughts?
The topic is pretty compelling to me, and while it's not one that I have ever really written about before, I remember reading about it in my Philosophy of Feminism class way, way back when. And of course I have thoughts! How can you be a blogger if you don't have thoughts about everything!? *Obnoxious wink*
First off, let's just get it out there. I'm not a vegetarian, but I'm also not a staunch meat eater like Tricia describes...I would say I only consume meat with about 1/3 of all of my meals. But I almost always consume animal byproducts (you can take my dairy from my dead, cold hands!)
When I was in that feminist philosophy course and we examined connections between feminism, environmentalism, and animal consumption, I could definitely see how someone could make the choice to be veg* because of feminist beliefs. I can see it as a not too far off jump to make and I can see some overlap between "patriarchal values and meat eating." I also think that as progressives, we can and should make responsible eating choices and think about how our consumption affects our communities, whenever we can. That's why I'm happy to patronage the many ethical, locally sourced restaurants in Austin.
However, I would say that if there was such a thing as a feminist litmus test, it couldn't include an expectation not to eat meat, because, to me, there is an inherent rub there with the feminist value to not police other people's bodies and eating. There is no benefit to shaming or scorning someone because they do not share the same eating values as you. And additionally--there are some people who cannot live healthy, productive lives without animal protein to fuel their bodies. How can I tell someone else what is appropriate for their health?
There's also another important distinction I'd like to make here, and it is the fact that I will always choose humans over animals. Let me explain. I often hear people make jokes about how it's way sadder to see a dog die in a movie than a human...and that animals are better than people because they are "innocent" and haven't caused all the ills of our world, and blah, blah, blah. All of that is fine and well, but for me, if it came down to saving a person over an animal, I'd choose the person every time. Humanity matters and you have to look at a larger context of eating choices to understand how food affects people. If you are vegan so you don't eat meat, but you eat a product which causes harm to other people, you're not eating ethically. There's no way around it.
And because I value the bodily autonomy of people over animals (not that I don't value animals!) I would never tell someone that they have to eat a certain way. It's just not my choice to make for them.
So basically, I can see how a feminist could make the personal choice to say: I cannot in good conscious consume animals and call myself a feminist. But I wouldn't think it's appropriate to make the leap to: all feminists must be veg*.