Friday, January 25, 2013

Meat Eating and Feminism

[Content note: discussions of eating and body policing.]

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*.


  1. As a long-time vegetarian and animal lover, I consider my vegetarianism to be a personal choice and do not try to tell others to become vegetarian. Further, I don't think it does anyone a favor to equate animals and people. Animals do not have the same moral reasoning as people, and should not be held accountable for things as if they do. People, who do have such moral reasoning, do need to be held accountable in ways we cannot hold animals accountable. I can't explain to my male turtles how they should behave towards my female turtles, nor should I expect them to know. Instead, I separate them. However, human males can and should be educated about how to behave towards females (and each other)

    1. I have a question for the Author.

      With the fact in mind that mother cows are raped and then have their babies stolen from them for no justification other than "because they are not our species and we are better than them," I searched for something like this to see how a fellow feminist would argue in favor of funding and creating the demand that continues this process. I applaud you that there were no excuses used (except for the protein one which is a myth perpetuated by the industry that stands to gain a major profit because protein is abundant in every food, thus, protein deficiency is literally impossible unless one is calorie deficient), but at the same time my fears are confirmed however.

      My fears are confirmed because it seems that you outright admitted that you are an anthropocentric speciesist. I say that because you never elaborated on WHY you would choose a non-human-animal over a human-animal and it seems that the only reason because of the difference of their species, and you find their species to be inferior. Is that the case or is there anyway you could possibly elaborate on what you meant by that?

      I'm asking this because isn't that what we are supposed to be about? Anti-discrimination based on such irrelevant details as race, gender, age, and species? The point is that the only details that matter when deciding to inflict pain is, *pain, is whether or not the other can feel pain or not. To cite a difference as superficial as species or age or gender or race is discrimination. If we don't need to cause pain-based discrimination then why do it? If it is because pleasure, then that is an unjustifiable reason because a sexist rapist would use the same reasoning.

    2. I'll reply soon when I have more than a phone to write from as I have many responses, point for point.

    3. "I don't think it does anyone a favor to equate animals and people."

      It is not that we are equating the two, it is that we are answering back to the vast distinction anthropocentric humanity has created. We are not doing anything new or extreme we are simply trying to be voices of reason. Your very sentence highlights this because people ARE animals, and yet you seem to insist that we are something else entirely. We are apart of the kingdom animalia, and they are simply a different species than us which is no good reason to harm them just as someone being a different race, age or gender is no good reason to harm or discriminate against either. We intersectional vegan feminists are out to eliminate all needless discrimination not just some discrimination.

      "Animals do not have the same moral reasoning as people, and should not be held accountable for things as if they do..."

      This is the main objection I have with your post. Anti-animal rights advocates use it all the time and yet there is a strong flaw with it. Mind if I ask you to entertain a hypothetical? When you are deciding whether or not you will wear a jacket on any given day, do you consult with the weather, fashion etc., or do you consult with who the 22nd president of the US was? Of COURSE you consult with the weather etc. because the 22nd president is completely irrelevant to the discussion, and it would be irrational to make that decision based on that. THIS, is what the argument you and many pose is. It has no relevance whatsoever if WE inflict pain on them, simply because THEY do not have the capacity to understand morality(?) what is relevant is whether or not they have the capacity to feel pain.

  2. Upton--re reading your comments and the reply structure, I can't tell if you are talking to Ilona for both comments as you do say "author" but then quote Ilona's words. I have a feeling one was supposed to be to them and one to me, but I'm not sure.

    Anyway, I just have a few thoughts. When I say that I will always choose humans, then I guess that does make me an "anthropocentric speciesist" and therefore the crux of our views on this issue is so divergent that I'm afraid we cannot truly understand where each are coming from.

    For example, you strongly believe that humans are animals--I agree. But I think we are of animals, and yet distinct from them. I think that our place in nature is a highly specific one, as we do have the capacity for moral reasoning (like Ilona said) which is not present in other species. What confuses me is that you want humans to be seen as animals but then also held to a principle of non-animal consumption, which is not something that other animals even adhere to. Why should an exclusively or near exclusively carnivorous animal be allowed to consume meat but not humans? If the answer is because they don't have the mental capacity to understand what they are doing, then you TOO are making a clear distinction between animals and humans, which only further fortifies my view that we are not the same as them. If you expect that all animals should be vegan, then you are asking that they die, which is antithetical to your views, I assume:

    So I'm failing to see why, if we take the "humans are animals" path that it leads to veg* eating. (Even our tooth pattern is consistent with being omnivores.)

    But if we are to focus on the pain/harm of the animal involved, then I agree with you inasmuch that it should be a goal to reduce it. I really do think that people who choose to consume meat should do so mindfully, and whenever possible, purchase animal products which are produced in the most ethically way possible.

    Let me further expand on what I mean by "I choose people." I mean that I try to look at the WHOLE picture of a food product. (I thought I made this point with my quinoa example??? Perhaps you didn't click through.) I can't accept that quinoa is a good non-animal protein source if PEOPLE are suffering because of it's overcompensation by the western world. And I also mean that for my values, the respect of another PERSON'S bodily autonomy is MORE important to me than an animals. (While they are both important, I am making a distinction between the two as far as priorities go.) So I reserve judgement on what other people eat, while trying to make the best choices for myself. In other words, I am not going to food police my fellow person.

    Might I also suggest that you are treading into VERY murky waters by comparing the experiences of people of color, women, and other marginalized groups with the experience of being a non human animal.

    I also want to reassert my main point: 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*.

    I simply have not seen a good, clear argument that demonstrates that non-animal product consumption is a requirement of feminist practice.

    1. A. Lynn,

      My reply was too long. And I also see that you do not allow long comments. So as to keep the substantive discussion going, I have instead emailed you. I hope this is ok. I think it is because there is a link at the top that says:

      "You can email A. Lynn directly (link)."


    2. I received it, and it's fine to email me, clearly. And to clarify, it's not that I, personally, don't allow long's that I'm on Blogger (as a non tech savvy person) and they have a predefined max character limit for comments.

      While I have read your email and appreciate the intensity with which you feel about this issue, I don't think I have anything more to say so I won't be replying to it in depth. I wrote this blog post because (at stated from the start) a reader asked for my personal perspectives on the tie ins between veg* eating and feminism, so I supplied them. Veg* eating in general is obviously outside of my areas of core competency, as I've written nearly 550 posts and ONE of them is about eating meat. If someone is wants an in depth discussion on reproductive rights, fat positivity, or the portrayal of women in various types of media, I can do that, but I've simply exhausted my views on this issue and I have neither the time nor passion to take the discussion to the level you are seeking.

      I am confused about what your end goal is for this discussion--because if it is to either change or shame my personal eating habits, I'm not sure this was going to be successful from the start. If it was to educate, then rest assured you have given me some things to think about, and I appreciate that, but again, I don't have anything more to add.

    3. A. Lynn,

      I apologize, I was NOT trying to go off-topic. I DID want to speak about "the tie ins between veg* eating and feminism," but it was that I had to make clear some aspects of a complex issue. I apologize if you feel I have attempted to hijack your post because that was NOT my intent!

      Ok thank you for your consideration and open-mindedness.

      "I am confused about what your end goal is for this discussion--because if it is to either change or shame my personal eating habits, I'm not sure this was going to be successful from the start. If it was to educate, then rest assured you have given me some things to think about, and I appreciate that"

      OKAY, let me clarify what you are "confused" about (please publish this because I want it to be clear)! Here it is:

      This never seems to dawn on so many. All see the diet, the food aspect, and that is it —I was once that way too, we all were. But,
      No my end goal was not to change your personal eating habits.
      No, my end goal was not to shame your personal eating habits
      -> My end goal will always be, to end the clearly avertable suffering of, innocent (in that they have no capacity for malicious intent) other-than-human animals who are as vulnerable and defenseless as the mentally enfeebled, (as Tom Regan points out) and since I protect the mentally enfeebled and know there's no point in someone being "not anti mentally impaired, just pro normal-human," because this is a false dichotomy and the two groups are not competing, the same applies to other-than-human animals, we don't have to choose one or the other.

      My "end goal" is to give them much needed protection.

      thank you for your consideration and open-mindedness,

  3. There is also the issue that the patriarchy already expects women to prefer veggies to meat - so, with that in mind, eating meat can actually be a feminist act... as you're rebelling against the gender role that "veggies are for women and meat is for men".

    1. I'm sorry but that is flawed logic to suggest that it is morally acceptable to cause someone else (in this case a non human) to suffer just to 'get one over' on your alleged oppressors.

      Your basically advocating killing someone to make you feel more liberated. How many (other) serial killers have made that claim before?

    2. Since this topic has posts that began in 2013, continued in 2014 and then 2015, I'll be the first to chime in for 2016! In response to the comment from Sevenfold, there can truly be no credible justification that "women are expected to prefer veggies, so meat can actually be a feminist act."

      No, it can't. It is only a justification. Mother cows are raped via forced artificial insemination. It does not look like tears of joy that a human mother experiences when AI is a blessing to her and her dreams of a family. It is horrific, heartless, painful. The dairy industry depends on perpetually impregnating cows and ripping their babies away from them. If their babies are female, they meet the same fate, the same "purpose." If their babies are males, they become veal--a concept so abhorrent that even many meat-eaters refuse to eat it. Yes, the veal industry exists because the dairy industry exists. Forcefully raping and impregnating mothers and then ripping their babies away from them is something many feminists would fight to their death to prevent. Cows are gentle and deeply nurturing mothers.
      The cry of a mother cow and baby being separated:

      The fate of male babies:

      The suffering of millions of mothers:

      More and more kids and teens are going vegan and spurring a new inspiring global rise of compassion:

      It comes down to this, my beautiful sisters: We are running out of excuses. No, let me amend that point: We have already run out of reasons, unless of course the reason was "I never knew...I never understood it this way before."
      If not for the mothers (which should be enough) then for compassionate activism. Activism that starts with our plates.
      Equality is meant for everyone.
      Compassion is meant for everyone.
      Kindness is meant for everyone.
      And "kindness for all" is not "hard at all" to practice!
      I deeply love my fellow human sisters and brothers and love giving and serving those in need; I consider it my highest privilege and duty.
      I do not need to be asked if I love humans more than non-human animals, or vice-versa. Love is love, and compassion is compassion.
      In my humble but firm opinion, one cannot be feminist, or pro-life OR pro-choice or an animal lover if one patronizes the meat and dairy industry. Because to do so is harming mothers, denying Life, denying Choice, and advocating Speciesism.
      It is within my deepest core set of values not to judge others on their path because each of us has to arrive at certain conclusions in our own way and in our own time, but I will suggest the following: if you haven't really looked this issue in the eye, seen the barbaric footage, and truly investigated this horrific industry, you've still got some work to do in your activism.
      More and more people opening their eyes are going vegan everyday. They are rejecting the cruelty overnight (or in a single heartbeat!) and adding their voices for us to awaken our deepest compassion with the simplest of activist efforts: to stop eating slavery, torture, death, rape, abuse, fear, pain, suffering, misery. Surely this is what every feminist stands for? Strives for? Envisions for ourselves, our future, our children? Surely this is the crown of our legacy. All you have to do is change your menu. My best wishes to all of you sisters with your courageous voices, that you do one day soon draw this connection. Perhaps the way has led you here, and perhaps the time is now?
      With much love.


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