Saturday, March 31, 2012

Vedge Restaurant: Swoon-Worthy Vegan Cuisine 
This week I ate at one of the best restaurants anywhere. It's Vedge Restaurant in Philadelphia. 
The meal was truly swoon worthy. Some might call it transporting, but I prefer awakening. It isn’t taking us somewhere; it is letting us be alive, here and now, with this food. 

The menu descriptions themselves strike me as so lyrical, they are worth quoting. The photos were taken with an iPhone and can only suggest the incredible feast for the eyes that we experienced as each different course appeared before us. (Thanks to Vance Lehmkuhl for being my dinner companion and photographer!)

homemake pickles, rye points, smoked mustard
[incredible smoked mustard!]

Vedge is celebrating: here is what we can do with a plant based diet. Here are the senses you can awaken.  Come and let us speak to your sight, smell, taste.

roasted maitake mushroom, celery fritter and remoulade, truffle mustard

fresh hearts of palm, garbanzo crepe,
curried gold lentils, green harissa

grilled seitan, black lentils, grilled leeks,
smoked romesco
Vedge has what they call the "dirt list"--fresh farm vegetables prepared in luscious ways, like this green chard:

Vedge proclaims with every dish: here is something positive in a world that often seems alienating.  You can create.  You can go to the dirt and be inspired by what grows there. You can go to the dirt and know that from it is everything you need to be fully alive, tasting and consuming. Plant yourself here.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Marking Territory? More than Irony, Assault

This news just in: Apparently, the Iowa Farm Bureau placed a camera in its office, and that camera caught an Iowa Farm Bureau employee urinating on coworkers' chairs. Not just any coworkers' chairs, but four of the co-workers who were women. He was fired.

According to the DesMoines Register the women started complaining about stains on their chairs in October of 2011. But surveillance cameras weren't set up until February. Apparently, it didn't take long for him to get caught on camera. One wonders why it took so long to listen to the women's concerns.

Some might point out that this is akin to animals marking their territory. No. He was committing a secret assault on his co-workers.

Some would say that this reminds them of the scene in Woody Allen's film Crimes and Misdemeanors in which a woman reports being urinated upon by her sexual partner. This time, the assault was covert, not overt.

Animal activists have pointed out the irony that the Iowa Farm Bureau has been strongly committed to criminalizing the videoing of factory farms ("the ag-gag law"). Such videos by animal advocates around the country have exposed the reality of life for domesticated animals on factory farms.

It strikes me that urinating on the chairs of women co-workers is an expression of rage unleashed. The Iowa Farm Bureau employee thought he would be secretly humiliating the women. This is very disturbing.

Let's not point to the irony of the situation without also acknowledging the actual assaultive behavior that had been going on for six months.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

What’s Wrong with Only White Men Judging a Contest Defending Meat-Eating?

by Lori Gruen, A. Breeze Harper, and Carol J. Adams

This past week The Ethicist at The New York Times invited people to submit their defenses of meat eating. She created a panel of five judges who will evaluate these defenses. The panel consists of all white men. We’ve raised a discussion about why this is a problem, first by writing “The Ethicist” herself, then Carol in a blog, and there have been Facebook and Twitter discussions too.

Some people wonder why it is a problem that there are only white men judging this contest. We want to explain some of the reasons we think this is a problem.

As Carol has pointed out, there is an entire alternative tradition that explores issues associated with meat eating based on feminist insights, and, as she has argued for over 20 years, our culture is heavily invested in the identification of meat eating with manliness.

As an actual “ethicist” and someone in a white-male dominated profession, philosophy, Lori pointed out in her email to Ariel Kaminer (NYTimes’s Ethicist) that there is a campaign underway that seeks to draw attention to conferences that include only white men. The point of the campaign is to bring gender and racial biases, like those held by the NYTimes Ethicist, to light in the hopes of trying to enhance opportunities for all women and men of color who are significantly underrepresented.

As someone bringing a critical race perspective to veganism, Breeze always notes remarkable examples of the exercise of white privilege. She cites critical whiteness scholars such as Charles Gallagher and Peggy McIntosh who propose that white Americans are collectively unaware of how the center stage in which they might find themselves does not reflect the reality of those who do not exist in such white privileged spaces of inclusion (Gallagher 2008).

Kaminer has now admitted that the panel was inadequate in terms of demographic diversity and she defends her decision.

We find it ironic that the NYTimes Ethicist would ignore diversity when she herself was brought into this position because of the Times’s recognition that diversity is important.

Admitting her awareness of the lack of demographic diversity is also an interesting position, because she is naming her “awareness,” yet she has chosen to go with the choice of judges, nonetheless. (Although we might take issue with the particularities of the different views of the judges she chose, that is not our point here.)

Kaminer suggests that she often pays attention to women, just not this time. But a commitment to respecting differences while creating opportunities is what feminism and anti-racism is about. Justice demands that the same people not be disproportionately disadvantaged while members of those groups who did nothing to deserve their higher status continue to benefit from their moral luck.

Kaminer reported that she chose fame over diversity. Famous people, as she knows, brings name recognition and a built in following. This is just how “implicit bias” works. As philosopher Jenny Saul recently wrote in the Washington Post "implicit biases are unconscious associations that result largely from living in a society where certain stereotypes are widely held. ... So, we grow up in a world where the majority of the big famous achievers are men and we come to associate being famous and achieving a lot with maleness"

Choosing fame (or more accomplishments) over diversity is certainly the excuse that many people use when they attempt to justify hiring only white men. Where is the "ethics" in that? How ethical it is to admit you are aware but choose to go along with the status quo? To be ‘aware’ and be able to have the choice to go with the status quo/fame is a privileged position. Her decision becomes, then, not as much about ‘diversity’ as it is her making the choice to keep “The Machinery of Whiteness” intact (See Steve Martinot 2010). It’s also what Eduardo-Bonilla Silva and Tukufu Zuberi (2008) call a “white logic” or “white framing” of reality and social facts that are masked as ‘universal’ or ‘general audience’, but is in fact a way that the white [male] status quo dictates what are relevant social ‘facts’ and what are not. This framing of ‘reality’ creates the illusion that voices outside of the white male norm are worthless or won’t sell enough papers.

And just how does one become famous or a highly recognized “name”? The self-fulfilling quality of fame for privileged white men has been shown over and over again. They are the ones who the media turns to as “experts.” According to “The Status of Women in the US Media 2012” from the “Women’s Media Center”: Studies of newsmakers’ gender show women are less likely than men to be the subjects of news stories.
  • The Media and Gender Monitor (2011) reported that, globally, "24 percent of news stories are about women.”
  • “In 2010, NPR reported that only 26 percent of its news sources were women.”
  • “King (2010) found that women were the minority among reviewers and authors reviewed in 3 literary journals.
  • Romm (2011) conducted a “rough count” of literary magazine editors and concluded, “…for now the gatekeepers of literary culture- at least at magazines- are still primarily male.”

You can read the full report here.

Bitch Magazine recently carried an article on “Missed Connections: What Search Engines Say About Women” by Safiya Umoja Noble. She reported on an exercise she conducted in class in which students were asked to do a google search for “black girls.” One time the top hit was, “”; another time, “ This morning “Black Girls Gone Wild” was the third from the top. Search for “women’s magazines” and no feminist magazines appear. Noble concludes, “Search engine results don’t only mask the unequal access to social, political, and economic life as broken down by race, gender, and sexuality—they also maintain it.”

And, in her role as gate keeper, so does Kaminer maintain unequal access. She also fails to recognize that using normative white male figures starts a different kind of masculinist competition, in which men then can argue with each other in a self-enclosed way (the “Singer” approach vs. the “Pollan” approach, for example), rather than widening the circle.

White men are constructed as 'experts' and 'objective'— unlike non-white racialized men or women who can't be 'objective' or are not as 'famous' as them. And so the cycle of prejudice continues in which white male elite perspectives dominate the production of social facts.

So, what is this contest really about? Is it about ethics and the billions of animals that end up dying to become someone’s dinner or is it about getting some of the most famous white males in this field to attract large numbers of readers/contestants? The latter would equal more exposure and upward career mobility for Kaminer and the Times and for the men on the panel. Perhaps the Ethicist may want to consider naming her social location and how her choice benefits her versus it being a choice to create a more ‘broad’ and ‘objective’ panel of judges. Naming her social location may not be a bad thing, as transparency would help her readers understand this contest and its context better.

Perhaps Kaminer just isn’t aware that there are women, and men of color, who have much to contribute to this discussion many of whom have an equivalent high public profile as the white men she chose. Here’s the complicated thing—we three women, and we aren’t alone—are not without a public profile in the area where ethics and food overlap. But there are also really high profile women like Barbara Kingsolver, Alice Walker, Ellen DeGeneres and many others who might have been asked.

The Ethicist resorted to the default -- which is always the white, male, middle class norm or body that supposedly represents a 'broad' category of opinions. These are people who will never be the exploited within the food system. Ethically, it is important to say this and name it and its implications when judging ethics. She chose judges that are at the top of the social hierarchy in the United States. Those of us who seek to expose the racialized and gendered construction of knowledge production within the traditional white Eurocentric canon are socially placed “outside the system that keeps whiteness safe as the cultural center" (Warren 2003, 22)

What might “the Ethicist” have done instead? She could admit, “I asked others for names, and, falling into the same trap I am now defending, they all recommended white men.” Or, “I’m new to this field, and didn’t realize there were any feminist and anti-racist issues to meat eating that might make such a choice even more suspect. My bad.”

The fact is that ethical discussions about eating animals are permeated with sexist and racist perspectives that have operated as normative. The Ethicist simply continues in this tradition. We invite her to use better judgment.

works cited
Gallagher, Charles A. ""The End of Racism" As the New Doxa." In White Logic, White Methods: Racism and Methodology, edited by Tukufu Zuberi and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, 163-78. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2008.
Martinot, Steve. The Machinery of Whiteness : Studies in the Structure of Racialization. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2010.
Noble, Safiya Umoja. “Missed Connections: What Search Engines Say About Women.” Bitch Magazine. (Spring 2012). 84: 37-41.
Warren, John T. Performing Purity : Whiteness, Pedagogy, and the Reconstitution of Power. New York: Peter Lang, 2003.
Zuberi, Tukufu, and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva. White Logic, White Methods : Racism and Methodology. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008.

Homophobia and the Sexual Politics of Meat

In Germany, an ad campaign that was going to say "tofu is gay meat." Really? REALLY?

Yes, The Sexual Politics of Meat! Thank you everyone who sent it to me--it's going in the Sexual Politics of Meat slide show along with the other examples of homophobia and assumptions of the "manliness" of heterosexual meat eating men.

I couldn't say it better than Jeff Mannes, so let me quote him here:

Jeff wrote: "This phrase ["Tofu is gay meat"] is more than just funny or homophobic. It's sexist, it's speciesist and it shows how much, homophobia, sexism and other discriminations are linked together and how strong they are based upon the exploitation of animals.

"Masculinity (which is a key factor in the construction of homophobia, transphobia and sexism) is - in our minds - deeply connected to meat eating. This is so because masculinity is connected to power, to strength and therefor to the power over others, in this case over animals. And how could you better demonstrate your power over someone by eating his or her flesh? Therefor meat eating is strongly linked to masculinity. "Real men eat meat." If he doesn't, he's a pussy or a fag. Based upon this you have the sexual politics of meat. Meat/Animals is/are - often in advertising - sexualized as being a sexual object for heterosexual men to consume and/or women are shown as consumable objects like a piece of meat. The discrimination of women and the exploitation of animals go hand in hand and, as a result, so does the discrimination of homosexuals, bisexuals, intersexuals and transgender."

"Please read Carol Adams' 'The sexual politics of meat' to really understand how this works. It will open your eyes and give you a completely new and much more complete and deep insight into the phenomenon of sexism and homophobia."

Yes, the ad never ran.

Yes, this was a couple of years ago.

But in terms of the cultural context for thinking about sexuality, it is as though attitudes regressively reformulate the basic associations of the sexual politics of meat.

That is one reason I keep an archive of these images, to be able to trace how they appear and re-appear; how the ephemera of one year actually reveal a rather depressing genealogy of stereotypes.

Nothing like eating a dead animal to affirm masculinity. How many different ways does Western culture reiterate this point? Let me count the ways! Oh wait, I have.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Sexual Politics of Ethics

Dear Ethicist,
Someone who I thought I admired decided to hold a contest. She was interested in the kinds of ethical arguments meat eaters would make to defend their meat eating. Meat eaters have officially been asked to articulate and defend what they are doing! Generally, meat eaters are allowed to be unaware of their reasons. But, now, they are being asked to explain.

I am writing not because of the contest but because of whom she picked for judges. You see, Dear Ethicist, all the judges are white men. Who in this year, 2012, would pick a panel of all white men? (Unless you are Republicans organizing a hearing on contraception).

click here to read the rest of the blog