Thursday, September 15, 2011

Another feminist rationalizing eating animals

Over at the University of Minnesota blog, Kathy Rudy, an asssociate professor of Women's Studies at Duke University, has posted a blog introducing some of her reasons for a writing a book on animal ethics. I don't know how much of the blog reproduces arguments in her book, but her blog benefits from mischaracterizations. As a feminist-vegan, I wanted to challenge the mischaracterizations. My response is apparently too long to be posted in whole at UMinn's blog site, so I have moved it here.

Kathy, your post helps me understand why, when Duke's Women's Studies Program devoted a year to the issue of Animals, it made such a studied pronouncement that distanced itself from earlier feminist writers on animals--earlier feminist writers who had advocated a vegan diet--and why they (we) were characterized as "essentialist" ecofeminists.

This also explains why, in a year-long study, none of your invited speakers were feminists who advocated veganism as part of their scholarship (Marti Kheel, Josephine Donovan, Lori Gruen, Greta Gaard, or myself, to name a few).

What confounds me though, is why any ethical issue is determined by whether it is "hard" or not. There are many days when it is "hard" to be a feminist, and to see the world as a feminist--does that stop any of us from maintaining a feminist consciousness? After all, it was my generation of feminist-vegans who pioneered the idea that oppressions are interlocking and difficult to see.

Like Ginny Messina, a dedicated nutritionist, I am sorry that your experience of veganism was difficult and had such side effects. But your characterization of the doctors associated with PCRM is a little unfair, and I wonder if you reached out to vegan nutritionists like Ginny. 

Yes, veganism can be done badly. But there are many wonderful people working to help educate the public about good vegan eating (whole foods, not Whole Foods). Vegans understand that none of us lives a pure life.

The goal of feminist-veganism is not to position ourselves as "eating well" in Derrida's terms, but as always struggling with the question of how do we do the least harm.

Your discussion of all the hidden animal ingredients that make it impossible to actually be a vegan mischaracterizes the vegan community and the ways we have addressed these issues for many years. (Even books like Animal Ingredients from A-Z" contains a foreword by Bruce Friedrich saying, "don't think you can eliminate everything.") This is really old news and a straw dog.

You say humans have been eating meat for thousands of years. Which humans? Not all societies ate meat at all. And in the Western world, it was actually mainly upper class humans and royalty who ate much meat at all. There has always been a politics to meat. And especially in the United States, where, as I argue, meat eating was democratized.

Earlier you mention subsidies--government subsidies of meat and dairy contribute to keeping their costs down. Only if you are eating a lot of vegan processed food are the costs great; beans, lentils, rice--these have always been the food of low income and poor people. As for turning back the clock and returning to small farms raising animals to be consumed, even writers like Michael Pollan admit that it is currently impossible to feed everyone from local not factory farmers.

Most people are perfectly happy eating vegan food--as long as they don't know that's what they are doing; this shows that the issue is more in the brain, and about assumptions about what is proper for them to eat (politics again) rather than about taste. I don't understand the pessimism that gives up on humanity and says they aren't going to change, before giving people a chance.

Your discussion of and justification for the locavore movement requires more space and time than is currently available. But let me ask, why do you assume all domesticated animals disappear if we don't eat them? You presume an equation between their current ontological status as edible and their existence. This seems to be a major flaw. We don't eat dogs or cats in the United States but there are plenty of them. There are many ways to be in relationships with animals.

Moreover, where does the locavore movement get their chickens? From institutional farming situations. Did you know that cows from organic farms are more likely to be killed earlier than cows in industrialized farming situation because the organic farmers don't want to use antibiotics to help them recover from illnesses; so if they get ill, they are dispatched to slaughter? As for that, if you look at the fat content of cow's milk versus the fat content of human mother's milk, it is very different. Why do you presume that it is even healthy to be consuming milk from cow's? (feminized protein as I have called it).

Finally, the feminist ethics of care has provided an alternative position to that of animal rights and animal liberation. We argue that one cannot love other animals, be in relationship with other animals, care for other animals, and then kill them and eat them. As Josephine Donovan argued in her classic Signs article on this subject in 1990, animals don't want to be eaten, and if we listen to them, they are telling us so.

It would have been interesting to have been in a dialogue with you about any of these things, but, oh, that's right--we represented the positions you were re-appropriating and massaging into... into this? Surely the new ecofeminism would at least discuss the environmental costs of meat eating and dairy production. Do we really need a muddled way, er, a middle way?

19 comments:

  1. It makes me very sad to hear that this sort of thing is going on, and in academia, to boot. Thank goodness you have the patience and fortitude to deal with it, Carol.

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  2. there is a big repression / oppression against animal rights activist students as well as faculty in the academia ... i can at least talk about social work department on both in undergrad and grad levels in Canada ..

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    1. Ngày nay trên thị trường nội thất có nhiều thương hiệu sản phẩm nội thất khác nhau như Hòa Phát, The City….với nhiều mẫu mã sản phẩm cũng như chất liệu nhằm đáp ứng tất cả nhu cầu của khách hàng. Nên khi bạn có nhu cầu mua bàn làm việc giá rẻ tphcm hay những sản phẩm nội thất khác bạn sẽ dễ dàng tìm được nhà cung cấp cho phù hợp với nhu cầu của bạn. Và hôm nay chúng tôi giúp bạn cách chọn mua được mẫu bàn làm việc cho văn phòng tốt nhất:
      Về hình thức, những mẫu bàn văn phòng giá rẻ tphcm hiện nay trên thị trường cần có kiểu dáng sang trọng, mẫu mã mới lạ, độc đáo kèm theo màu sắc đột phá dễ dàng tạo cảm giác thân thiện, thoải mái cho người dùng. Thiết kế kiểu dáng của bàn không cần cầu kỳ chỉ với thiết kế đơn giản, gọn gàng, chất liệu gỗ tiêu chuẩn mang lại sự an toàn cho người sử dụng.
      Giống như chất liệu làm các nội thất khác như bàn giám đốc cao cấp, vách ngăn di động. Về chất liệu, bàn được thiết kế với chất liệu cao cấp, chất lượng phù hợp với khí hậu nóng ẩm của Việt Nam, đồng thời một số loại bàn còn có khả năng chống cháy, chống mối mọt, ẩm mốc. Mặt bàn thường được làm từ chất liệu gỗ công nghiệp cao cấp như melamine, laminate, MDF… với nhiều tính năng bền đẹp, chắc. Cạnh bàn thiết kế kiểu uốn con tạo nên sự mềm mại cho người sử dụng và tránh bị tổn thương khi va chạm vào góc nhọn. Ngoài bàn ra thì ghe van phong tphcm cũng là thiết bị không thể thiếu trong văn phòng làm việc của bạn và cách chọn mẫu ghế như thế nào để có sự kết hợp hài hòa giữa bàn và ghế, không gian nội thất văn phòng. Tạo cảm giác thoải mái cho nhân viên trong thời gian ngồi làm việc tại công ty.

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  3. This is troubling and disappointing, and destructive to important progress made by ecofeminists and animal advocates. I appreciate your well-articulated response as well as the wonderful set of comments posted on Rudy's original post. It is heartening to see such a well-researched and educated set of responses from people working for animals.

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  4. Thank you for your enlightened response to this. I hope more research goes into the book, as it seems she has neglected to fully explore some of the most fundamental vegan issues.

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  5. I agree that there is resistance to teaching about animals in academia. I had my first experience with this recently as a graduate student. I designed a course for a teaching seminar on society and animals. Many of my peers were receptive but many were not and I was retalliated against in a later class by a peer. The student was incredibly offended that I would suggest speciesism as an interlocking oppression with similar roots to racism, classism, and sexism. I am grateful for your voice Carol Adams, thank you for speaking out!

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  6. Nicely done, Carol! I especially like the line: "animals don't want to be eaten, and if we listen to them, they are telling us so." Thank you!

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  7. Yes, thank you, Carol for your response! Like "Anonymous" above, I, too, experienced resistance to teaching and discussing animals and speciesism in my graduate courses (in sociology and women's studies). Resistance was particularly strong at a recent conference at a world-class university (which shall remain nameless). After presenting a paper on interlocking oppressions within the culture of dogfighting, a few well-known professors interrogated me; they took great offense to what they termed my "leveling" of oppressions. (This despite the fact that I had discussed the uniqueness of each form of oppression and made clear I was not homogenizing them.) The professors all voiced opposition to animal cruelty, but essentially argued that "animal rights" has no place in feminist theory, especially not intersectionality analysis.(To be clear, I was arguing from an animal-inclusive ecofeminist perspective, not an AR position.) I can't say I was particularly surprised by their response, but that sort of reception is always disappointing.

    It was a terrifying experience in many ways -- presenting in a small room with well-established academics who were flabbergasted, and, in some cases, angered by my work -- but also rewarding. I was grateful to have had the opportunity to be the lone voice for animals at this anthropocentric conference. And, as always, I was grateful to Carol J. Adams, Josephine Donovan, Greta Gaard, Lynda Birke, and other vegan feminists for their powerful, pioneering work. It inspires me to push forward with my advocacy, even in the most difficult of moments. Although scared at that conference, I didn't feel alone. I felt the spirit of other feminist vegans; feelings of solidarity and sisterhood surrounded me, like a hug, and gave me confidence to speak. Thank you again, Carol J. Adams!

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  8. @anonymous (both of you)--I am sorry for the difficulty you have each experienced. the conference sounds challenging, to say the least! I find some feminist reject our work and they have NEVER read them! I don't get that! Good luck to both of you. Keep a journal and at some point you might want to write up your experiences.

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  9. Thank you, Carol!!!
    A much needed and articulate response to this particular body of work.

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  10. I am completely agree with this article we need to take care of the animals and well if the first steps is just woman,ok go get somebody needs to start

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  11. I am completely agree with this article we need to take care of the animals and well if the first steps is just woman,ok go get somebody needs to start

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  12. Thank you, Carol! I feel precisely the same way about Rudy's book.

    Happy New Year,
    Alyce Miller

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  13. PS---If you go to the U of Minnesota website, where Rudy discusses her book, you might note that even her written remarks are full of misinformation, not the least of which is her claim that animal advocacy groups require that their staff be vegans and that this is the reason these groups alienate potential supporters. I'm not sure how she can get away with this nonsense, but it's infuriating, to say the least, because it's damaging and untruthful.

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  14. Interesting that you mention that meat eaters tend to be upper class in western societies. Considering that only about 3% of the population in the US supports veganism, (your numbers, not mine), does this mean that 97% of the US population is upper class? Not from where I stand.
    With re the veggies being lower class in other societies, it certainly does not apply to India, where vegans seem to abound, or so we all are lead to believe. On a closer look, Hindu Castes are intimately linked to land ownership in India. Dalits and other lower classes are indeed expected to eat meat, whereas the uppers (Brahmins or Brahmans), are the certified vegans. The Brahmans own most of the land in India, and seem to have no problem in exploiting the rest of the castes for their own benefit, the exploitation of their own women included. Is that yet another example of brutalization by vegetarianism, the same brutalization vegans ascribe to meat eaters? Re women, note that arranged marriages, the ultimate control over women, is enforced especially amongst Brahmans, who care a lot about losing the property of the land, but very little about women's rights. Ever heard of honor killing in India?. The Brahmans, i.e., the local upper class and vegans, are the ones that perpetuate this interesting practice. Brahman women are expected to arrive virgin to the wedding nite, and widows are not allowed to re-marry. So much for veganism going hand in hand with feminism.

    Carol, your dedication to being a vegan-feminist seems a tad tainted by your inclination to being a pop start in your own lunch time.
    Your problem is that you are too smart for your own good. You could not be religious being so intelligent, but since you carry the religious gene, Richard Dawkins' style, you ended up adopting another irrational posture to satisfy your inner need to pray every nite while keeping an apparent rational posture which of course cannot be taken seriously. (Your efforts to stay within the pro-choice ranks despite Animal Rights being so fundamentally pro-life are the best example you could have ever produced of how hollow (desperate) your intellectual discourse is.) I suggest that you read Michael Martin 1973 work "A critique of moral vegetarianism" to see how illogical many of your vegetarian claims are. Some of your followers could try and do the same thing (I mean, try and read Martin's work). Just Google it, after you Google "Honor Killings Brahmans".
    Your truly,

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    1. Read what she actually wrote: "And in the Western world, it was actually mainly upper class humans and royalty who ate much meat at all. There has always been a politics to meat. And especially in the United States, where, as I argue, meat eating was democratized."

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  15. Sick animals, sick people :(
    We live in a sick world...

    http://www.live-counter.com/animals-killed-worldwide/

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