Should feminists be vegetarian?
The idea that feminists ‘should’ or ‘should not’ be anything is contentious. Of course when one says you ‘should’ be anything, we are bound to become defensive.
The idea that feminists ‘should’ be vegetarian, though, is, I’ve recently discovered, something of an issue. This issue is key for, but not limited to, ecofeminists. Sheila Jeffreys wrote:
“It is a joy to be in agreement about the need to abolish such practices of violence against women as prostitution and pornography, because such agreement is so rare in the malestream world. But this great feeling of sisterhood and togetherness was marred by disagreement over an issue that I consider to be of great importance, the eating of animals.”
I’m curious to know what thoughts feminists have on this debate. Until recently, it had never really occurred to me that feminists should or should not be vegetarian or vegan, simply because they were feminist. There are, of course, many good reasons not to eat meat, but the necessity that feminists, in particular, should take on speciesism as part of their fight, was new to me.
Interestingly, there are many who strongly believe that feminists who don’t include ‘speciesism’ in their anti-oppressive analysis, are hypocritical. I know many, many feminists who eat animal products (myself included) and while, certainly, I support veganism and am mostly vegetarian at this point, though am relatively disinterested when it comes to taking this on as an identity (I try to avoid meat if possible, which is most, but not all of the time and I don’t buy it at the grocery store or cook it at home, but I sure do eat a lot of cheese….), I wondered what kinds of arguments were being made around this issue.
I think, for the most part, feminists who do eat animal products are mostly unaware that an argument that says, yes, feminists should be vegan / vegetarian, even exists and meanwhile, there are feminist animal rights activists who say that feminists who eat meat are, in their silence, complicit in animal oppression.
In an effort to further explore these issues and debates, I interviewed Kathryn Paxton George, the author of “Animal Vegetable or Woman: A Feminist Critique of Ethical Vegetarianism” and of an article entitled: “Should feminists be vegetarian?” and produced a show on the topic.
George found, in her research, “deep male biases of the traditional arguments for ethical vegetarianism” and makes the argument that there is a certain level of elitism behind the idea that women and feminists should be vegetarian.
On a personal level, it was my deep distaste for PETA, because of the ways in which they exploit and objectify women, as well as their generally useless promotion of “lifestyle activism,” best described by Joanne Costello, that brought me, unintentionally, into this debate. PETA, as part of their supposed campaign to “save the animals,” literally cuts women up into pieces of meat in their efforts to end animal suffering. It would appear that, while deeply concerned about the objectification of animals, they are totally ok with the oppression of women, perpetuating the global dehumanization of women by making them into sexualized objects for consumption. It was, in part, because I was so critical of PETA’s campaigns, that I was told it was “ironic” that I would be “frustrated with those who don’t seem ‘to get’ why” oppressing women in the name of environmentalism is unnecessary or contradictory, “given [my] seeming unwillingness to commit to more seriously opposing speciesism.”
Carol J Adams, the author of, among many other titles, “The Pornography of Meat” and “The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory,” certainly sees the connections between the way we cut animals up into body parts, turning them into objects for our consumption , and the way in which we cut women up into parts in order to treat them, not as whole human beings, but as sexualized bodies or body parts. I spoke with Carol J Adams, who is, obviously, very critical of PETA’s tactics, about these connections back in August.
While I do, indeed, see these connections, I’m not sure that it is, actually, necessary for all feminists to actively oppose speciesism. Is it “ironic” that feminists are frustrated with PETA tactics if they aren’t also fighting animal oppression? Is it necessary that feminists take on speciesism as a cause?
Some think so. Sheri Lucas is one of those who wrote a response to Kathryn Paxton George’s piece, defending the feminist-vegetarian connection. She wrote: “Despite the goal of ending all forms of oppression, most feminists do not include the oppression of nonhuman animals within their praxis.” She also said that this wasn’t due to lack of awareness.
Are feminists simply disinterested in including the “oppression of non-human animals” in their discourse? Should they be interested?
Lucas writes: “the question of whether feminists should be vegetarians is paramount, as the eating of flesh is considered the chief cause of oppression to nonhuman animals. It is the form of oppression that feminists are most apt to support and condone, especially in heavily industrialized countries.”
It’s one of the few things I don’t have an opinion on. I am undecided. What are your thoughts? Are we hypocrites to criticize PETA’s sexist campaigns, while unfazed by our love of cheese?
Should feminists be vegan? Should they be vegetarian? Are feminists who don’t include speciesism in their practice hypocrites?
Listen to both of my interviews with Sheri Lucas and Kathryn Paxton George, below (apologies for the not-so-great audio in Lucas’ interview, due to bad cell phone reception):