Friday, July 12, 2013

The Sexual Politics of Meat Meets the Sexual Politics of the War on Women

In the "No Comment" Division of Vegan-Feminist archives, lo and behold we now get to add this.

Kirsten Bayes tweeted this image to me last night.

Of all the things that are so achingly wrong with this, I keep thinking about how they decided on the bucolic image of a cow and her calf in a pastoral setting. Haven't these Democrats kept up with milk production? If the calf is getting the mother's milk, human beings aren't. This is not the way "livestock" live today.

Many vegan-feminists have been saying for years, "we are for the reproductive freedom of all female beings." It is not enough to say, "don't treat women like cows." Let's also say, "Don't treat cows like 'cows.'"

Mary Sue Savage summarizes the vegan-feminist position eloquently: "We must also address speciesism and question the way cows are treated and seen in this world (why a group would think that was a good example to make their point) and why it's deemed okay for human animals to violently control non-human animals reproductive rights. It's essential for us to acknowledge the connections between the reproductive freedoms of women and non-human animals and it's connections to patriarchy, capitalism, and other forms of oppression."

The radical right want to turn back the clock. When I look back to a year before Roe v. Wade, this is what I find:

That's me on the left, from a march in New Haven, captured for the Yale Daily News. 

It is obvious that women have always had abortions; that the women's community developed a variety of ways to end an unwanted pregnancy; what has been variable about abortion is not its existence but its legality or criminalization. 

Ethicist Beverly Harrison wrote, "The habit of discussing abortion as if it were a 'discrete deed' is a way of formulating the abortion issue as a moral question abstracted out of, and hence irrelevant to, the way it arises in women's lives."

But, of course, that is the point: when individual lives disappear as though each one does not matter, we are left with absent referents. The fact is, the "livestock" image above keeps actual cows as absent referents, while using their oppression metaphorically to try to awaken (needed) political action on behalf of women of reproductive years. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The sexual politics of meat and powerful political women

A menu designed for an Australian Liberal National Party fundraising dinner to benefit candidate Mal Brough expressed misogynist attitudes toward Australia's Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

Here it is:

Many news media have covered this story, and Gillard herself has responded and called it "sexist." Yes, implying any woman should be reduced to body parts and likened to being dead pieces of meat is misogynistic. Patriarchal politics likes consumable women. They are women whose power is limited and constrained, or in the case of powerful political women, fantasized as limited and constrained. But, that is not all that is going on. 

The imagined fragmentation of women--powerful political women or not--is part of the sexual politics of meat. Meat is sexualized, women are seen as meat. Meat, after all, has no power. It is the opposite of power; it is what happens to someone who has no power: they are treated like pieces of meat (as happens to 9 billion land animals in the US each year alone).

In The Sexual Politics of Meat, I say “if meat eating is a sign of male dominance, then the presence of meat announces the disempowerment of women.” And one way to try to disempower a powerful political woman is to imply that she is nothing but meat.

But why are people so surprised? This is business as usual; the sexual politics of meat needs constantly to be reiterated, reimagined. Apparently you have to keep doing it, you have to keep participating in the construction of maleness through the sexual politics of meat.

Such references are nothing new. In fact, in the early 1990s, a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Fort Worth advertised a "Hillary Clinton Special" along these same lines.
What is surprising is the surprise that has greeted this most recent example of the sexual politics of meat. After all, it is all around us. Representations of dead animals as women, and associating women with dead parts of animals is just business as usual for many advertisers, some fraternities, some male comics. My collection of examples is now well over 1000 images and references.

Indeed, this ad just appeared in Israel:

This isn’t the first time the misogyny against Julia Gillard has been expressed through speciesism. Last year, David Farley, CEO of Australian Agricultural Company, Australia's largest beef cattle company, announced its plans to build a slaughterhouse that specializes in killing older cows, when they are no longer “productive.” Farley said, “So, it’s designed for non-productive old cows—Julia Gillard’s got to watch out.”

The fate of domesticated animals becomes a potent symbol of negation. Out of the day-to-day suffering inflicted on female animals, arises a contempt that those who suffer for us are beneath our notice; the result is that names associated with the female reproductive system become insults: Cow, pig, sow, hen, old biddy, bitch. All  have negative connotations…terms for women derived from females who have absolutely no control over their reproductive choices.

I took this photograph on my way to a Hillary Clinton rally in a very wealthy area of Dallas during the 2008 primaries:

That powerful women evoke these kinds of reactions is a reminder that this is not a post-feminist world. It is a sexual politics of meat world.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Veganism is a State of Mind

Last week I gave a talk at the inaugural Cleveland VegFest. My talk was entitled "Veganism is a State of Mind."

I said that the nonvegan mind approaches veganism often with anxiety and a fear of scarcity.  In their reactions, nonvegans tell us that they judge a plate by the presence  (or absence) of animal products. (In The Sexual Politics of Meat I propose that the presence of animal products symbolizes the patriarchal world.)  Remove animal products and nonvegans fear facing an empty plate.

The nonvegan scarcity model can be heard when people say, “Where do you get your protein? Where do you get your calcium? I couldn’t live without meat.”

The reasons for these anxieties are cultural and personal, influenced by what nonvegans think vegans eat: unseasoned, uncooked tofu and iceberg lettuce salads.

Often nonvegans see us in situations where vegan food is scarce. In fact, they may have been the ones that created those circumstances. They take us to restaurants where the only thing we can get is a baked potato or an iceberg lettuce salad. They assume they will be miserable as vegans so they want to see us being miserable to confirm them in their failure to act on their ethical intuition.

But when we can control the environment we live with an abundance of choices. (And there’s nothing wrong with baked potatoes or salads either!) That’s because we haven’t emptied our plates. We have rearranged our plates. In fact, most vegans find that their food choices have greatly expanded.

In Living Among Meat Eaters, I coined the Adams maxim: People are perfectly happy eating vegan meals as long as they don’t know that’s what they are doing. As long as they don’t realize we have rearranged their plate, they can approach a vegan meal without suspicion or anxiety.

In Cleveland last week, I observed that we don’t even know what vegan cooking is capable of because it is so new. Certainly, the past ten years have seen the emergence of incredible dishes from talented chefs. This week I received in the mail yet another proof of how incredibly inventive vegan cooking is: a new book, Vegan Secret Supper by Mérida Anderson. Wow.  

Many of us are fascinated by the new vegan cheeses being developed. Among the cheeses Anderson has created are “baked hazelnut cheese,” “coconut cashew cheese,” and “pine nut parmesan.” Many of Anderson’s seem do-able by the average cook! 

Watch out, those who eat in my home, your plates may soon be bursting with “hazelnut-crusted portobellos with carmelized fennel parsnip mash, radicchio marmalade and balsamic port reduction,” “pine nut Caesar with lavender balsamic croutons and crispy oyster mushrooms” or “coconut fettucine alfredo with seared brussel sprouts and cherry tomatoes.” Come on over and fill your plate! 

Veganism is this state of mind.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Holy Paws

After the death of Snowball, the rabbit, I needed a spiritual practice that accessed my grief and helped me with it. I decided to write a prayer a day. Eventually, my publisher brought them out as "Prayers for Animals." My friend Pamela Nelson had the wonderful idea to do "An Animal Prayer Rug" which was reproduced on the back cover. She had not read this prayer when she created this painting; but she intuitively included paw prints.

Today, I just heard from someone who had been sent this prayer. It's thoughts were perfectly timed for me this morning.

Are your angels really hovering in the sky? 
Because I think I just saw one walking by 
Leaving paw prints in the snow 
Cloven tracks in the mud 
A slug trail on the sidewalk 
Hoofprints . . . 
How near they are. How holy they are. 

 —Carol Adams

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A. A. Gill's masculine anxiety. The Sexual Politics of Meat in Vanity Fair

Speaking on college campuses each semester and showing The Sexual Politics of Meat slide show means that I am constantly updating the slide show.  Sadly, this updating isn't hard in our culture. However, it seems as though every few years a writer discovers for some national magazine or newspaper that men like meat, that this is natural, that evolution explains it, and gee whiz, isn't this just so fascinating? I am always amazed that a magazine has paid for this tired idea.

I first discussed the relationship between masculinity and meat eating in the mid-1970s. When The Sexual Politics of Meat came out in 1990, my first chapter examined the myth that men need meat. That this myth helps to perpetuate false gender distinctions goes without saying. But since 1990, regressive reassertions of the idea that men need to eat meat keep making their appearance, reminding us that the news cycle is limited and that cannibalizing earlier ideas is always a part of "news-making."

It is also a reminder that one way our culture responds to feminist successes is by celebrating meat eating as manly behavior.

Why this need to keep lifting up men's masculine ways? Is masculinity so unstable that it requires daily consumption of dead bodies to reassert itself? Apparently, yes, at least according to A. A. Gill in the May Vanity Fair. He writes, "What does steak say to us and about us? Well, it’s manly. If food came with gender appellations, steak would definitely be at the top of the bloke column."

He continues in this vein, "A steak feels, looks, and tastes like winning—a direct connection to our bipedal ancestors. The original reward of victors." Actually, our earliest bipedal ancestors were probably scavengers--eating insects and the remains of dead animals left by carnivores. But that doesn't sound as glorious to someone into killing. Such ridiculous rewriting of anthropology is a reminder of the 1960s pop anthropologists who celebrated "man the hunter." 

At first, reading a quote from his column in "The Dish" I thought I was reading a joke, someone taking the ideas that mythologize meat eating and manliness, lampooning them to show how ridiculous they are. But no, that is not the case. A. A. Gill, who reported shooting a baboon "to see what it would be like to kill someone," apparently has a real need to be bloodied by his food and his actions. Menstrual-envy? Understandably, some might think that. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Sexual Politics of Meat: Barbecues

A World Barbecue Contest that is part of Memphis in May has been criticized by the Memphis Area Women's Council for its sexist imagery.  Here's the poster:

Nothing like a barbecue competition to bring out the sexual politics of meat. Barbecues generally do this in multiple ways: inscribing masculinity in the role of the barbecuer, and inscribing femininity upon the victim of the barbecue. 

In The Sexual Politics of Meat Slide Show I examine several examples of this kind, in which the reference is to the consumption of a woman's body. Often a very full-bodied dead female is evoked--someone who in the posing communicates she wants to be consumed. The depictions often encourage the discussion of female body parts. 

I think we should start calling this what it really is: hate speech. The fact that this image is "retro" in its reference to poster art from decades ago only proves that the intent was to reproduce a woman's body:

This is something I also see again and again. "Hamtastic" is posed in a position I refer to in The Pornography of Meat as the "rear-entry pose" in pornography.

"Ursula Hamdress" who I show in the second chapter of The Sexual Politics of Meat is posed like a Playboy  center fold.

This constant recapitulation of the visually consumable woman layered upon the literally consumable dead pig is a feminist issue. And so is the fetishism of the consumption of (and competition over preparing) a dead body whose defeat is inscribed throughout the event.  The comments in response to a letter to the editor in Saturday's Memphis Commercial Appeal raising the issue of the image are sad proof of The Sexual Politics of Meat. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

African Bean Soup

Yesterday I made African Bean Soup and was tweeted a question about what to reply when someone says "Hitler was a vegetarian." What these two experiences have in common is that both are discussed in my book Living Among Meat Eaters.

New vegans--you become the target for meat eaters because you strike them as so earnest; and your earnestness makes you vulnerable. You want to answer their questions. Better, fix them a big bowl of African Bean Soup.

Meat eaters think they are so original when they come up with arguments like "Hitler was a vegetarian" or "what about plants."  When you've heard this for the one hundredth time, you wish they could find some new argument. You could point out that Hitler wasn't a vegetarian, but that takes you down the path that they know for sure he was. You could say, well so was Gandhi, but they don't care. You could say, well Hitler was against smoking, does that mean I should start smoking so I'm not like Hitler? But why step into their illogical justification for eating an unjustifiable diet?

They are so defensive and anxious. Really, help them just relax.

People are perfectly happy eating vegan food, as long as they don't know that's what they are doing. That's why this recipe is in my book, Living Among Meat Eaters. This is such a hearty, tasty soup, everyone loves it. I learned it from Jennifer Raymond author of The Peaceful Palate. When she sent this recipe to me, she wrote "Mmm!" next to it.  I added "Great!" She kindly allowed me to include it in Living Among Meat Eaters.

African Bean Soup

·      3 tablespoons soy sauce
·      1 onion, sliced
·      2 small sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and diced (about 2 cups)
·      1 large carrot, thinly sliced
·      1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
·      1 red or green bell pepper, diced
·      1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
·      3-4 cups vegetable stock. 
·      1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans
·      ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
·      1/3 cup peanut butter (I use ½ cup)
·      1-2 teaspoons curry powder
1.     Heat ½ cup water and the soy sauce in a large pot. Add onion and sweet potatoes. Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes.
2.    Stir in carrot, celery and bell pepper. Check the water, if the pan is almost dry, add a little more water. Cover and continue cooking another 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3.     Add the tomatoes, stock, garbanzo beans, and cilantro.
4.    Blend the peanut butter with 1/3 cup of water than add it to the soup along with the curry power. Stir to mix. Bring to a simmer, then cover and cook ten minutes.

My variation today: I added chopped kale when I added the cilantro. I did not have enough vegetable stock but figured the peanut butter and tomatoes and curry would provide lots of flavor. They did.