Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

Interacting with “The Vegetarian Myth” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”

September 22nd, 2010 No comments

The Vegetarian Myth –

->  A general review by Ginny Messina, RD, whose husband Keith misquotes in her book …

“On page 227, she notes that “Mark Messina, a champion of soy, thinks the Japanese eat 8.6 [grams of soyfoods] per day,” or less than a tablespoon. Really? Well, I happen to be married to Mark Messina, so I have a fairly good idea of what he “thinks” about soy intake. But even if I didn’t know him, I could read his 2006 analysis of soy intake data that was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Nutrition and Cancer. Apparently, Keith didn’t or she would have seen that Asian soy intake is the equivalent of 1 to 1 ½ servings or more per day. Why did she get this so wrong? It’s because she doesn’t understand that there is a difference between soy protein intake and soy food intake. A cup of soymilk contains around 7 grams of soy protein, so the 8.6 to 11 grams of protein that the Japanese typically eat is equal to at least a serving per day.”

-> Or, check out The Vegetarian Myth Myth.  It’s a blog whose singular focus is “deconstructing [Keith’s] book by chapters and themes, in order to give some perspective, as well as offer what we consider some vitally important alternatives to Keith’s ideas.”  A debunking of the debunking, if you will.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma –

-> Over at  Say what, Michael Pollan?, Adam Merberg writes a blog designed “to encourage Pollan to check facts and think through arguments more carefully.”  Again, a single issue blog.

-> B.R. Myers writes an early review of Pollan’s book in this article, Hard to Swallow – The gourmet’s ongoing failure to think in moral terms. I think this paragraph can just as easily be used to respond to all the Paleo-Diet, “man” the cave-dwelling hunter type arguments … which all baffle me in this same way.  It shouldn’t take long to recognize the problem with relying on “we used to do it” reasoning.

“One might as well describe man the way the anthropologist Ernest Becker did, as a digestive tract with teeth at one end and an anus at the other, and claim that the soul is shaped out of that. In which case, I don’t want one. But most of us use soul to mean the part of humanness that is not shaped out of that. In contrast to the fearless Becker, Pollan thinks that taking a hard look at human nature is more a matter of leaning over the museum rail at the caveman exhibit. Seeing only the painted mammoth on the horizon, so to speak, he derives the rightness of meat eating from the fact that humans are physically suited to it, they enjoy it, and they have engaged in it until modern times without feeling much “ethical heartburn.” (Only a food writer would use such an appalling phrase.) According to Pollan, this “reality” demands our respect. The same reasoning could be used to defend our mistreatment of children: In body and instinct, we are marvelously well-equipped for making their lives hell. If many cultures now object to abusing them, it is thanks to new values, to people who refused to respect the time-honored “reality.”

Feminism, vegetarianism, and cultural imperialism, cont.

September 20th, 2010 No comments

I’ll be summarizing Cathryn Bailey’s observations about foodways and racial identity in a subsequent post.  For now though, consider her response to Kathryn George’s feminist anti-vegetarian arguments …

One of the problems with George’s argument in Animal, Vegetable, or Woman? and in a 1994 article that received much criticism, is that many, if not all, of the reasons she cites for why vegetarianism may be out of reach for many poor women is precisely a result of the patriarchal system that devalues women and animals in the first place. It is not a randomly produced feature of the world that women and children make up the greatest poverty class or that the health of women and children is especially precarious. Nor is it an accident that “animal protein” in the form of cheap lunchmeat or fast food is often more readily available than vegetables in the United States. From the point of view of feminist ethical vegetarianism, these conditions result from the very racism, sexism, classism, and anthropocentrism that is being challenged. As Greta Gaard and lori Gruen have pointed out, “What she [George] ignores is the well-known fact that, around the world, it is the men and boys who eat the first and most foods, while the girls and women eat last and least” (1996, 236).

Not incidentally, George’s suggestion that feminist vegetarianism is classist and ethnocentric ignores the fact that “most non-Western diets are largely vegetarian (perhaps by virtue of necessity): consider Chinese, Indian, and African traditional cuisines. If anything, it is meat-eating that is a Western norm that ‘development’ has imposed upon non-Western nations” (Donovan 1995, 227). Ironically, George’s position erases the number of poor women who are vegetarians by ethical choice, revealing the hidden privileged perspective that serves the edifice of her argument.

Cathryn Bailey,  “We Are What We Eat: Feminist Vegetarianism and the Reproduction of Racial Identity,”  Hypatia 22, 2 (2007): 51-52.

Defending the feminist-vegetarian connection against the charge of cultural imperialism

September 18th, 2010 No comments

One of the claims that Kathryn George makes in her book Animal, Vegetable, or Woman? is that Western feminists are engaging in cultural imperialism by arguing for ethical vegetarianism.  Sheri Lucas has written a response defending ethical vegetarianism against George’s claims.

Here’s the gist of Lucas’ response  to the cultural imperialism argument specifically (emphasis mine) …

Are Western feminists who promote ethical vegetarianism guilty of cultural imperialism? This question was raised at the 1990 NWSA Conference. The prevailing sentiment matched George’s charge of cultural imperialism. Most of the feminists present thought of ethical vegetarianism as “a white woman’s imposing her ‘dietary’ concerns on women of color” (Adams 1994, 123). A white woman’s imposing her dietary concerns? Ethical vegetarianism is idiosyncratic in the West, not to the West. In North America, vegetarians constitute roughly 5 percent of the population, and vegans less than 1 percent (Davis and Melina 2000, 12). In comparison, most of the non-Western human population is vegetarian or nearly so (Fox 1999, 183). While this is often of necessity rather than by choice, many of these vegetarians are morally committed to abstaining from flesh (Gupta 1986, 3).

The International Vegetarian Union has been “Promoting Vegetarianism Worldwide Since 1908” (IVU 2003). On their Web site is a map that marks the territories housing a branch of their association: Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe, Russia, Latin America, and North America. The only unmarked land region is the North Pole. The billions of vegetarians dispersed throughout the continents, islands, and countries of the world are not following an ideal the West has developed and forced, coerced, or swayed them to follow. There is, as Donovan says, no reason to accept George’s charge that ethical vegetarianism “is the product of a wealthy society,” and harbors “class bias” against so-called less developed societies (1995; citing George 1994b, 408).

However thunderous our hubris, the West does not have a monopoly on ethical vegetarianism. To suggest otherwise silences the diversity of ethical vegetarians and suspiciously ignores Western traditions as though they are irrelevant to the feminist-vegetarian debate. But they are relevant. We have turkeys for thanksgiving, ice cream with our birthday cakes, “chicken soup for the soul,” and summertime barbeques. At our conferences, weddings, and cafeterias, in our lunch bags and homes, most of the foods we eat contain flesh, eggs, or milk products. To treat ethical vegetarianism as an ideal that Westerners want to force on the rest of the human population is to lose hold of reality. In reality, it is we who would have to change the most if humans became a vegetarian species. And it is we who would most disparage the loss of nonhuman animal foods. Most of the human population would not feel the pinch. They live it.

Sheri Lucas,  “A Defense of the Feminist-Vegetarian Connection,” Hypatia, Volume 20, Number 1 ( 2005): 164-165.

Seeing the Interconnections, Racism-Sexism-Speciesism

April 25th, 2010 No comments

Delicacy and Disgust

October 2nd, 2009 No comments

Hell is when we consider what it might be like to live under our own dominion.  Our popular idea of ‘going to hell’ basically means that God (or Satan, depending on your theology) will treat us (creatures under his care) the way we treat the animals under our care … merciless slaughter, burning flesh, you get the idea.  Hell is the very worst thing we can imagine – but only when it happens to us. Take the following, for example, describing a forced feeding procedure …

The idea, proposed by the government, that experience demonstrated that forced feeding was harmless, was a convenient myth. The government most likely knew that forced feeding was a painful procedure that often caused both biological and psychological damage.

…  the men in power shoved feeding tubes down their throats and force-fed them …

… tubes often damaged the larynx and pharynx, and if by mistake the tube was pushed into the trachea instead of the esophagus, fatal aspiration pneumonia could result from the error

(from a victim) “Knowing what to expect I braced up my nerves and sat quietly in the chair instead of struggling and fighting … The passage of the tube through the nose caused me but little inconvenience … but its further passage caused me to retch, vomit, shake, and suffocate to such an extent that in the struggle for air I raised my body till I stood upright in spite of three or four wardresses holding me down, after which I sank back in the chair exhausted. When the tube was withdrawn I seemed to be afflicted with chronic asthma and could only breathe in short gasps. To take a deep breath caused me excruciating pain.  Two wardresses helped me back to my cell where I lay in agony, the pain becoming worse every moment.”

This is actually text from an article describing the forced feeding of suffragettes by the British government in the early 1900’s. That’s disgusting.  Having your body violated that like …  Evil.  No questions asked.  It’s also the description of what we do to geese in order to have foie gras, here and here.  Watch as they shake, wretch, try to vomit, have trouble breathing … all in the name of literally creating a diseased liver we’ll later consume as a gourmet delight.

Having their bodies violated like that … Delicacy.

Hell is imagining ourselves.  We are the mouth that swallows the damned.


August 30th, 2009 No comments

“People for the Ethical Treatment of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals”.  It does have a ring to it.   I can only hope this doesn’t actually need explaining. It’s the Onion.

Advocacy Group Decries PETA’s Inhumane Treatment Of Women

Left Behind with God the Garbage Man

April 18th, 2009 No comments

In her article, “Murder in the Theme Park: Evangelical Animals and the End of the World”1, Kristin Dombek lays out a critique of the intersection of apocalyptic thought and secular humanism as it gives birth to popular Christian entertainment like the Left Behind fiction series and the Holy Land Experience theme park.  Great Read.  A few selected excerpts …

In current mainstream Western culture, of course, the ritual sacrifice of animals is taboo (and, in an inversion of the sacrificial logic of “primitive” cultures, considered violent), while killing animals for eating is commonplace (and not considered violent); in performance, though, the two look uncomfortably similar.

The Left Behind series has only one scene depicting animal sacrifice, and the depiction is damning.  The Antichrist’s performance of the abomination of desolation, staged in book nine of the series, Desecration (laHaye and Jenkins 2002), involves slaughtering a “gigantic” pig in a parody of Jesus’ triumphal entry … he attempts to butcher the pig, but fails.  “Pity!” he exclaims; “I wanted roast pork!” thus conflating the sacrifice with slaughter for the sake of eating (163).  Like the sacrifice in general, the novel represents this conflation as an abomination.

In the end, it is our dependence on our difference from nonhuman animals that allows us to think apocalyptically without figuring our own extinction as a real possibility.  But it is a difference we earn by identifying with some animals we love, as if the violence they survive is not our own.

And so it is that by reading closely these Christian texts and performances, we come full circle to the same enemy that conservative Christians have positioned themselves against during the 20th century and now the 21st: humanism.  The impulse for such positioning came in part from a recognition of the bankruptcy of a vision that left humans alone in a world in which all else was simply not human, and therefore not meaningful.  Rightly, fundamentalists wanted us to realize that we are no gods of this world.  But the Left Behind series – as the clear fulfillment of this tradition -posits the most deeply humanist vision of all: the utopic feast, after God reaches down and cleans up all that humans have done.  This final image shows us just how secular conservative Christianity can be: for Christians to enjoy all the consumer pleasures that secular humanism has allowed citizens of capitalism, but escape responsibility for the violence upon which global capitalism depends, God must be demoted to garbage man.

I would add “butcher” to that.  Part of her discussion is how, in the series, the kingdom is represented as a place where animals literally volunteer to be butchered.  Talk about a guilty conscience.  The authors of the Left Behind vision of the kingdom unveil the heart of the matter specifically by their fantasy portrayal of being able to kill without guilt.  That’s what they think the kingdom is about?  Being able to kill without guilt?  Our biggest claim to fame is the fact that we have a conscience in the first place and yet the most popular bit of Christian fiction ever portrays the kingdom as the time when “we” will finally get to kill animals without being burdened by a guilty conscience – because animals will want us to kill them.  Does that sound familiar?  That’s the “she wanted it” defense played out in pop theology against the other creatures who share the breath of God.

… the utopian butchering depicted in the series’ final pages is easy, relatively clean, and divinely ordained.  … In the millennial kingdom, then, no longer do humans have to hunt, for all animals are docile and turn themselves over for killing whenever humans need food.  Now that the Beast is gone, humans will no longer need to be martyrs; the only skin to be cut, the only bodies slaughtered and on display, will be those of nonhuman animals.

The tone is unmistakeable … that which the authors of this book (this theology) want to “consume” will finally quit complaining, quit struggling, be docile and just give themselves over to the authors appetites.  Do Christian women see this?  Can we acknowledge all the victims of Stepford Theology (animals and certainly men too) or do we care only in so much as it suits a particular slice of feminist agenda?

1. originally published in TDR: The Drama Review 51:1 (T193) Spring 2007 © 2007

Not helpful

February 18th, 2009 No comments

Let’s see … what’s the biggest hurdle I encounter in trying to talk to people about the issues of animal advocacy?  Humm, stereotypes of animal rights advocates as nut-jobs so far outside the mainstream that anything they say can and should be dismissed out of hand.  Yep, that’s a good place to start.  

I had originally linked to the video of what PETA is doing in Texas (for conversational purposes – not because I’m proud of what they’re doing), two girls in lingerie making out on a heart shaped ‘bed’ on a sidewalk, but I decided not to.  It’s apparently part of the “vegetarians have better sex” thing they’re doing.  If you haven’t seen it, you won’t have any trouble finding it.  The superbowl ad  they did was useful here because it has a meat counterpart and is good for discussion of stereotypes. This gig in Texas is just embarrassing.  It’s a free country, and that’s cool, but PETA’s propensity for playing to the commodification of women is sooooo not helpful.  Sigh.  

In the spirit of full disclosure, I didn’t always see the full ramifications of their approach.   I thought, well, whatever toots their horn.   I didn’t see how intimately connected sexism, speciesism, racism, etc. were.   The means do matter, they matter very much.  It’s not just about what we do to animals, it’s about the rot in our souls that blinds us to the evil we do to them, and to each other – I think it’s the same rot.   I know they believe in what they’re doing but we’re not doing the same thing at all.