Feminism and Vegetarianism

by Guest Blogger

Guest post by Sheila Jeffreys

In recent weeks I have participated in two feminist conferences, in Boston and in Ottawa. It was my great pleasure to be able to work and socialize with other radical feminists. 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. On a couple of occasions I felt that my vegetarianism was seen as a problem, a personal issue which was a real bother if it was brought up in public. Since then I have been stewing (in my own juices only) on this issue and consider that it must be raised despite the fact that there are great pressures on vegetarians to keep quiet lest they face the displeasure of their carnivore sisters.

Animal rights should be important to feminists concerned with violence against women. Violence is done to animals, i.e. they are tortured and killed, so that people can eat them. Yet many feminists who work to end violence against women eat animals and see no contradiction with their politics. I was concerned about cruelty to animals before I became a feminist. At age 14 I was a member of an organisation called the Society for the Protection of Animals in North Africa (SPANA) and received the newsletter of an anti-vivisection society. SPANA was mostly concerned with violence against donkeys. I had no pets myself, except a budgerigar when younger, stick insects, newts, goldfish and stag beetles. I wanted a dog but my parents were not keen. But I was outraged about cruelty to animals, and agonised by the photos of rabbit eyes on which cosmetics were tested. I became a vegetarian some time later, about 1970 when I was 22, as a result of moving in a hippy crowd dedicated to eating wholefoods and vegetarianism for ethical and health reasons.

So, when I started reading feminist books and became an activist, in 1971, I was already a vegetarian. But as my feminist politics developed I was surprised to find that feminism and vegetarianism were not considered to be joined at the root. My concerns about cruelty to women are integrated with my concerns about cruelty to animals. I can’t make the separation.

Feminist arguments about the connections between animals and women are many and compelling. Carol Adams and other feminist animal liberationists have made impressive analyses of the ways in which women and animals are treated and the way that the oppression of each is interlinked. Meat eating is associated with masculinity, as Adams makes clear in the Sexual Politics of Meat. In Australia men put the steaks on the barbeque, and deal directly with the blood. Women make salads in the kitchen. Men may make no other intervention in cooking, but dealing with the blood of dead animals in this way is seen as manly and a clear exception. Men in the US and Australian culture also hunt animals and birds. They hunt pigs and go duck hunting, though they can get enough food from the supermarket. The thrill is in the killing and the blood. Men ‘fish’ too, and I find that deeply problematic. Fishermen are responsible for campaigns to prevent the preservation of marine environments. As Andrea Dworkin makes clear, in Pornography: Men Possessing Women, men make connections between hunting animals and hunting women, and this is clear in their pornography. It is clear too in the stalking, and sometimes killing of women by men.

Adams also points out the very direct connections between violence against women and violence against animals. Links are now clearly recognised by animal welfare societies, police, social workers, and feminist theorists, between the way in which boys torture animals and their later violence to girls and women. Men who are violent to women also torture the animals the women love in order to punish or control. Some men train up dogs that menace the women in the household and can be turned against them. Dogs trained to be aggressive bolster the masculinity of their male owners, particularly in the practice of dogfighting. Fascinating new research seeks to explain the increased rates of male violence against women and children in the communities where industrial slaughterhouses are placed in the US in terms of the brutalisation of the male workforce (Amy J. Fitzgerald, Linda Kalof and Thomas Dietz (2009). Slaughterhouses and Increased Crime rates. Organization Environment 2009 22: 158)

But women and animals are connected in other ways too. Women are animals. We should understand our connections, as animals with reproductive systems, with the ways in which the reproductive systems of female non-human animals are farmed, as in the factory farming of sows. Reproductive technology techniques to which women are subjected were developed on female non-human animals in captive breeding programmes. The animals in the captive breeding programmes may be tortured by being kept in small ‘sow stalls’, for instance, so they may not adequately nurture their young.

For feminist vegetarians, the main reason for not eating meat is likely to be the recognition that women and animals are connected. Women and animals are connected in men’s philosophy. We are all seen as brute beasts, non-intellectual, part of nature, there for men’s disposal. Men breed both human and non-human animals through the holding of women, as well as female animals, in captivity. In the case of women this takes place through violence, compulsory PIV sex and compulsory reproduction, as well as through forced and child marriages. The determination to eat ‘meat’, and Adams points out that using this term allows carnivores to dissociate what they eat from the live animals that are killed to produce it, requires that animals and women should be separated out. Women should not be killed for eating, but animals of less worth, such as cows and sows, may be. I am unable to make this dissociation. Whilst other animals are treated with such violence I do not expect women to be spared from cruelty. I consider that our fates are linked.

There are plenty of other reasons for ending the eating of animals. There are health reasons aplenty with meat associated with cancer of the colon and a host of ailments. Also the meat industry treats the animals with antibiotics and growth hormones which create health threats to those who consume them. Abattoirs and the process by which ‘meat’ is produced engage in unhygienic practices which threaten human health. The methods of production and killing spread e-coli, for instance.

The eating of meat threatens the environment and the future of human life on the planet because of the contribution of meat production to global warming. Cattle create methane, and their slurry in feedlots pollutes the countryside. Fish farming pollutes the areas around the fish farms, wild salmon are threatened by the accidental releases of farmed ones. The depletion of fish in the oceans through hunting (called fishing to make it seem less objectionable) threatens the destruction of the chains of life therein.  In Australia the production of cattle for meat destroys native plants and animals. 300,000 are exported live yearly to Indonesia for halal slaughter in which they are kicked and pulled and punched to the ground so that their throats can be cut, as a documentary from animal rights activists on Australian television showed this year. The production of meat leads to the destruction of native forests, as in the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. It uses a great deal of scarce water supplies. Animal production creates harms to social justice by taking over the lands of poor people who generally eat little meat, whilst their lands and resources are dedicated to the production of meat for the rich in the West and for the developing middle classes such as in Indonesia. Meat eating is associated with prosperity and is aspired to in countries undergoing globalisation and westernisation. Though animal liberationists and feminists have made these arguments for decades, it is only recently that these facts have been taken seriously by such august and malestream bodies as the UN Intergovernmental Committee on Climate Change, which recommended in 2008 that everyone should have meat free Mondays for the sake of the planet.

Considering all of this, it is hard to imagine any good reasons to eat meat, and it is a constant surprise to me that any feminists involved in fighting violence against women and pornography would do so. It is the eating of animals that creates the divisions between feminists, not the ethical problematisation of this practice. There are huge pressures on the many vegetarian feminists to remain silent and not make a fuss. We are trained to this, and mutter amongst ourselves rather than saying anything, because of the considerable anger which can be directed at us. This is an issue, though, that must be raised. Eating is a political issue.

Sheila Jeffreys is an academic and writer, originally from London, who teaches in Australia. She has been a rad fem activist for 38 years.

33 Responses to “Feminism and Vegetarianism”

  1. Thanks for this post – it is thought provoking. I’m a feminist and lesbian and rapidly becoming a radical feminist (lonely pursuit though that is!). I know plenty about violence against women, including that I think animal shelters here in Australia receive government funding to take in pets so that women don’t have to leave them with violent husbands when they escape. So I’m not sure why I haven’t made the connection between eating meat (which I do) and feminism – real food for thought (sorry…). Thanks again.

  2. Animal cruelty and meat eating are separate issues. If the animal has had a good life, and we kill it humanely, then why have it go to waste? I eat meat daily and while I respect other’s choices and reasons for not eating it, I don’t accept the assertion that as women and animals are sometimes treated with similar contempt, that we are therefore eating ourselves and doing ourselves more harm.
    I eat meat under doctor’s orders, and I have also eaten my own poultry which I have killed and processed myself. I am a feminist and animal lover. All that might seem contradictory, but I believe that I can eat meat without sacrificing my morals. I can’t imagine why anyone would get angry at a vegetarian, unless that vegetarian was preaching to those who are not.

  3. Great piece. Although one who is really concerned with this issue should also take the additional step to being vegan. Just my two cents! 🙂

  4. A post that creates anxiety for me. Personally, I have stopped eating meat 20 times or so. Does this sound like Mark Twain and his cigarette habits?

    My animal friends are near and dear to me, but……

    Hypocrisy, thy name is Chonky.

  5. For decades I ate hardly any meat, chicken, or fish, after reading Diet for A Small Planet when it was first introduced. I usually ate such food as a guest, not wanting to inconvenience my hosts. I am against factory farming and agree with you about men and their industrial-scale food production. They are involved in every level of food production and I do think this is a fundamental issue for feminists, since the ability to control food is a source of power, and Monsanto is often thought of as the worst corporation on the planet. It is not just the violence toward animals, it is the violence toward the land itself as seen in their determination to control and ultimately destroy every bit of natural land they can. Violence is also in the strip mines and logging operations, and on and on. They have no empathy for the natural living systems that are essential to humans and animals.

    However, I now only eat meat and chicken produced locally on small farms where I know the farmers and their methods. I was diagnosed as anemic. Eating meat seems important for my health. Iron pills were a horror, and I tried them first, many types/brands. I like meat ok, and eat it in balance with vegetables, in fact I don’t have the typical American diet, comparably little meat. My guess is that genetically, I need some meat in my diet. I am also gluten intolerant, so there are many grains I cannot eat, and did eat a lot of grains/legumes as a vegetarian with a lot of ill health resulting, and likely some permanent damage. I am also allergic to some soy products and some other foods. I do think gluten-containing grains are a problem for many people, certainly for others in my family this is true. I figured all of this out on my own, but later read parts of Lierre Keith’s book on vegetarianism and it made sense to me. I didn’t read most of it, and so cannot say I agree or disagree with her whole argument, since I don’t know it.

    I see the issue as being one of large scale food production, or food production for profit, not eating meat per se, and not even hunting in itself. It is likely that native peoples hunted, including tribes of people that were not misogynist. They respected/revered the animal and appreciated the sacrifice. I also think that grasslands are important to the ecology of the planet and these evolved in the U.S., anyway, along with buffalo/bison. They are mostly gone due to grain/soy agriculture. A related issue is overpopulation. Agriculture is harmful in the way that it is practiced, and perhaps it is always harmful as farming. It is likely horticulture that is sustainable, only. We have overshot our ecological niche by a long way and there are no good solutions. GMO’s and artificial fertilizer/pesticides are horribly harmful, used to grow grains and legumes.

    I feel much grief at what is happening to the planet. It may be irreversible at this point, and if not, within the foreseeable future. Vegetarianism has been put forward as a solution, but I disagree that it is a solution. It is possible that there is no solution to the multiple crises of our time. I think it is difficult to face that our planet may be dying and there are no solutions.

    I believe that the optimal attempt at a solution would be to put women in charge of everything. Take the power away from men immediately, prohibit their having any power at any level, and let women figure out new ways of doing things. I’m not sure if it would be enough or in time, or if that would work, but I do think it’s the only possible (though unlikely) solution.

    I am also not anti-vegetarian, not even anti-vegan, if that is what a person chooses. I do think that this is an issue that could cause dissent among feminists, and I appreciate your acknowledgement of that. I hope it does not cause division and I’m sure those who hate women will use it if they can. Talking about it, reasoning together, seems important. I do think that food is a feminist issue, and not just who cooks it. Thank you for your post on an important topic.

  6. Fabulous essay, Sheila. I’ve been a vegetarian (and now vegan) for about 8 years now, and it is very much tied to my feminism.

    Over that time, I’ve also noticed a parallel between people who refuse to listen when feminists talk about men’s violence (ex: “watching porn is an individual choice!”) and those who also don’t want to hear vegetarians or vegans talk about the violence done to non-human animals (ex: “eating meat is my individual choice!”). Not surprisingly, it tends to be men who don’t want to hear about any of this. It’s all about masking harm by claiming it just has to do with a personal choices about “products”, when of course it is not that simple at all. A woman doesn’t just make a patriarchy-free decision to become a prostitute one day, and female cows don’t just walk on over to the local agribusiness to sign up for repeated, forced impregnation to keep them lactating until they are no longer useful. Men have strong interests in perpetuating both of these systems, and the links between these forms of violence are quite apparent, as was outlined in this post.

    And, for what it’s worth, I don’t demand that everyone become a vegetarian *right this moment* or even at all. But for those who are able to do so and are aware of the harms caused by the meat and dairy industries, I see no reason why one wouldn’t at least try to eat more plant-based foods.

  7. As usual the patriarchy creates a maze of horrors that are really complex to find your way out of. There are also so many issues that can create controversy and divide women at a time when solidarity is so important. I don’t eat much meat, it’s personal preference, and I do believe that violence against animals is linked to violence against women.

    However the problem with radical vegetarianism is that we’re saying is that we oppose the inhumane treatment of animals, but the inhuman treatment of all those illegals who pick our crops, not so much. A vegetarian diet requires an incredible amount of human labor, mostly women’s labor, mostly exploitive labor. A person cannot be a vegetarian without benefiting from some privilege. In a natural setting where you are forced to either grow your own food or to to out and gather it, the labor required is phenomenal and it becomes nearly impossible to consume enough calories to compensate for the amount of work you are doing. People probably started eating meat because of that. It’s a lot easier to catch a fish then it is to plant an acre of potatoes and wait for them to grow.

    I love tofu. I’m just weird that way. But when I eat it, I’m aware of the genetically modified beans, the copyright on the seeds, the land that was likely stolen to grow them, the low wages of the workers who pick those beans, and the incredible amount of labor that goes into making soy milk and eventually tofu. Ever made it? It’s a pain in the ass. In the end I get a product that cost about 2 bucks. Also, poor as I am, I am aware that actually being able to chose what I want to buy is a real privilege. When you’re dirt poor, you buy what’s on sale, which often winds up being an 89 cent pack of hot dogs.

    So you see, patriarchy doesn’t make your moral choices easy. We have a huge illegal population that lives in substandard conditions, a whole agricultural industry that exploits them. I guess my point is, women shouldn’t get caught up in judging each other, in shaming each other, in pretending as if one choice is morally superior to another. Some women eat meat because they genuinely like it, but the vast majority of women around the globe eat meat because they can’t afford not to.

  8. Hi, thank you for raising this subject, Ms, Jeffreys. It has always seemed to me that as my consciousness was raised regarding injurious treatment of women, it also was raised bit by bit regarding the situation of animals (and children, BTW). It seems to me that as we see more clearly and sanely what women’s true situation is that we become sensitized to these other beings whose suffering is silent and severe.

    While I contribute to PETA and other similar organizations, my own attempts to become vegetarian, like Chonky’s, have been unsuccessful. I do try to eat organic meat and avoid beef, lamb and pork, as it is just too obvious how intelligent and aware these animals are.

    I do agree that the treatment of both women and animals (and children) is related. None of us are considered fully human.

    I have so often wished that there existed a well-protected place I could live with women only, free of insane religious and other belief systems, and help each other learn to cook and live non-violently.

  9. Thank you, Sheila! I was vegan before I was radfem but I cannot separate the two issues in my mind now. I hope that you have converted some meat-eaters with your well-written piece.

  10. Yes, there’s a link between how women are treated in the patriarchy and how animals are treated. But we’ve come a long way in this debate since the connection between feminism and eating meat was first brought up 30 years ago. Many of us became vegetarians solely because of the way animals are treated in the meat industry (and I’m including beef, poultry, and pork within that). But it’s just not that simple. Thank you, KatieS and yttik for providing insight into some of the many complexities of this issue. Just for another example, this article is about eating meat only. What about the other choices vegetarians make — do those get a pass?

    Dairy farms are some of the worst animal abusers — so you have to either give up dairy or go organic and free range. Then you have to be honest and ask yourself: why is it ok for the animal to be indentured its whole life so I can have milk and cheese, but not ok for it to live relatively freely (in the case of free range meat animals, such as bison) until it’s put to death humanely? Ok, so no dairy for feminists either. What about fish? We’re destroying our oceans and every living thing in them — clearly we shouldn’t be eating fish either. Eggs? Even so-called free range chickens don’t live complete lives and what they do have is significantly constrained. So eggs are out for feminists, too. Now we’re at a vegan diet with no animal products whatsoever, if we’re really honest about giving up those things that are harming animals.

    But is that really a solution? The agribusinesses that control the vast majority of soy, corn, and wheat production across the globe are destroying the living planet as surely as any other industry and exploiting vast numbers of humans in the process. Vegetables and fruits? Same thing. So that means going local. One of the biggest problems in major urban centers (where people are being encouraged to live by progressive thinkers because it’s less damaging to the planet’s ecosystems generally) is that there are no places to buy real food, let alone large enough tracts of land for growing enough grains to feed everyone. OK, so we’ll support regional farms. That use diesel-based machines so they can plant and harvest enough food for everyone in the region.

    And around and around it goes. This subject needs a far more nuanced discussion about all the issues that humans and their food bring up.

  11. What a treasure Sheila Jeffreys is – I can’t think of another feminist writer who can write so broadly or w/ so much depth.

    And I am tired of being silent! 20 years in different forms of vegetarianism and now a raw vegan with much better health than in my 20s (I’m 48) when I was a chicken and fish eater. There is enormous pressure to remain silent, to be coy about my
    food choices, to never, ever offend anyone.

    I I do not think they are separate issues at all, feminism and meat eating. You don’t have to be vegetarian, you can eat what you want, but you’re not looking deeply if you don’t see the connection.

  12. My best health has come from parcticing Natural Hygiene food combining, both as a cooked vegetarian and now a raw vegan. Lots of folks get in trouble because of toxemia ( foods that don’t combine, and not eating with the cycles of the body). And while I do believe and respect other people’s choices, I’m tired of being harrased by meat eaters!

  13. Noanodyne: Couldn’t have put it better. Excellent comment.

  14. Lierre Keith’s The Vegetarian Myth is a very good read. Being harassed by puritans is my problem. I am reminded of Monique Wittig’s book Lesbian Peoples material for a dictionary, where she conjures the image of Amazons drinking mare’s milk and eating horse meat raw dripping with blood. I sort of thought of Kali ma and the life and death, regeneration cycle of everything. Yes, domesticated animals need to be treated with respect, but in the wild, well have you ever seen death?

  15. yes, the thing about individualist arguments is that there are as many of them are there are people. i eat meat, its my “individual choice” to do so, and yes i have my reasons too. shall i bore you all with them? yes? okay i will. 🙂 i was a vegetarian for many years (part of that was done vegan) until i moved into the dorms in college, and all (or essentially all) control was taken away from me, regarding food choices. i was vegetarian at least 50% for health reasons, if not more (the sexual politics of meat was my first political read, and i was involved with PETA and greenpeace too) and in the dorms, the beef stew or vegetable soup with little bits of meat in it was far and away the healthier choice, when the vegetarian or vegan option was a variation on triple-fried eggplant sandwich on white bread and fries! possibly with american pasteurized processed cheese food! YUM! years later, i developed severe food allergies to many fruits and vegetables (eggplant and potatoes both are right out, not to mention dozens of other vegan/vegetarian staples including wheat, corn and even brown rice) and meat and dairy are on the short-list of things that DONT make me violently ill. so i eat them, and i will continue to.

    i think the point is that its impossible to remove ourselves completely from patriarchal systems, no matter how badly we may want to. noans comment illustrates this well. like medicine, religion and law which are intertwined and interdependent on each other, patriarchal food systems are a web that its impossible to distance ourselves from, as a group. as a human group, and perhaps especially as a female group, for any length of time, across time and place, this is currently not possible. we can feel badly about it, or try to and even be relatively successful at mitigating the harm to ourselves (or to animals), but thats all it is. we can even increase our own suffering for the cause, but what good is that going to do? like me eating vegetarian staples i know i am allergic to, for example. or further limiting my own already extremely-limited and difficult to manage diet.

    like dworkins concentric circles of sexualized oppression, women are trapped within the system and theres no way out, except to destroy the system. individual choice, no matter how principled is not going to change anything long-term for very many people at all. extreme cognitive dissonance is the result, and i think a lot of women suffer from this in many contexts, including food and eating, and feeding families and children. being aware of whats causing the dissonance is better than being unaware of it perhaps, but thats all it is. isnt it?

    i do agree that we should be able to discuss it though. no reason not to.

  16. anyway, what *i* would like to talk more about are the links between mens violence against animals and their violence against women. i think thats a compelling topic and its not one i was all that interested in when i was a vegetarian/vegan (i was more interested in environmental and animal rights aspects). the fact that men who go on to abuse women, started with torture and killing of animals for example. now that im a feminist, that one piques my interest greatly. go figure.

  17. Thank you, Noanodyne. I appreciated your post. I do hope we as radical feminists can look at this from all sides. I’ve thought lots about this, so here goes more:

    It is very complex in one way, and simple in another. I believe that we should think about the complexities of our food system. I’m an organic gardener, so grow some of my own food. Some summers I have eaten most of my diet from my garden for parts of the summer and have preserved some food for winter. A lot of work, but I also had a job while doing this. I have an abiding respect for the soil. Our lives and the lives of all plants and animals are tied to the soil and air and vegetation. I think of this web of life with awe. This is my spirituality I also think that animals, including birds, have much greater intelligence and consciousness than we have understood.

    However, I also think that it is part of life to eat, and in the past, for humans to be eaten sometimes. If a plant or animal lives as it should and dies humanely, then I don’t have a problem with eating it. I eat non-industrial beef, chicken, and eggs. They are available to me, and for the time being I can afford them (barely). I do use industrial milk products, some local, because they have outlawed raw milk sales in much of the U.S. so it is not available. However, I don’t think that this makes a material difference, I don’t think it changes a single thing in the big picture. However, I try to do what fits my health and what my conscience tells me. That means local and free-range food whenever possible.

    When I say I don’t think it makes a difference, what I mean is that the whole food system is riddled with oppression. It’s going down the tubes right now with climate change, disappearing soil, extincting species, etc. If you control land and food you can control people. The problem is male dominance in its many variations. Agriculture and patriarchy have a long history. Agriculture destroys land that was once communally shared. This goes hand in hand with ownership of women and passing land to sons etc. If you read the Judeo-Christian Bible you can find a history of this. Land domination by males, animals owned/dominated by males, and of course, women owned/dominated by males. I don’t know the history of Asia, but it appears to have happened there, too. Globally it is now a European dominant culture, but that’s more recent. It was wherever males made patriarchy, the white European part came later. If the Chinese get their way it will shift to Asians, but no improvement there for women. Patriarchy has always used, abused, destroyed land and animals and women. There is no doubt about this connection.

    I contrast that with deep bonding to the specific place where you live. To finding ways to eat that will not degrade ecosystems. The patriarchy would like us to believe that hunting and gathering were horrible and grueling lifestyles. Not so! Some decades ago someone studied the Kung people and found a much easier lifestyle based on their understanding of how to live in their environment. Not a shining example of matriarchy, but the point I’m making is that objectively measured studies of time worked, health, and calories showed that it was an easy lifestyle with a good lifespan (if you made it through childhood) and good health despite living in a relatively inhospitable environment.

    Of course it will be a much harder lifestyle today than even the Kung had when those studies were first done (1950s?). Most of the world’s soil, water, air, is degraded, and species have disappeared, including the species of microorganisms in the soil. Not much to hunt or gather. But not much of a future in industrial farming either. From what I understand, intelligently designed local horticulture along with hunting and some gathering stood the test of time as sustainable in North America for thousands of years prior to European invasion and influence.

    Becoming vegan or vegetarian will not make one bit of difference unless the patriarchy stops destroying the planet. In fact, the patriarchy will use food choice to lie to people with education and conscience to divert them from revolution, they will use food choice as a wheat, corn, and soybean marketing ploy, they will use it to divide groups people that may present a threat, they will use it. Replacing the patriarchy is the only possible solution. That’s what I meant by one part is simple. (Not easy, just simple). Cause and effect.

    The complex part is what to do next. How do women develop systems that honor the web of life given the environmental horrors that are already emerging (and have been in some places for quite some time)? How do women “restore” ecosystems that contain climate change, amounts of water, polluted air, excess CO2, extinct species, and way, way more? What kind of cultures would we evolve that reclaim the natural world and connections with the soil, the air, the water, plants, animals, humans? How do we deal with large dead zones, large toxic zones? There’s much more complexity, an infinite amount of complexity. I’m not optimistic about this. But it’s a mistake to ignore it. Hope lies in trying even if you feel there might not be hope.

    Free women are the key. A world with women in power. That’s the only way it can work. That’s my view on it, and I know there are complexities that others see, too.

  18. This is such a difficult topic and I want to thank sheila for raising the connections. I became vegan before I became a radical feminist and I do see the issues as very connected. There is a book called “An Unnatural Order” by Jim Mason that actually argues that all oppression is rooted in the abuse of animals, it is quite a convincing argument and would mean that in order to liberate women we need to also transform our relationship with animals too. I respect Lierre Keith as a radical feminist but her work against vegans is really confusing and very badly researched. Here is a great review of her book from a dietician (who is also an ethical vegan) http://www.theveganrd.com/2010/09/review-of-the-vegetarian-myth.html. There was also a recent study on protein sources that pretty much shows that vegan sources of protein are the best choices for the environment – http://breakingnews.ewg.org/meateatersguide/eat-smart/. I do not think it is wise to downplay the very real nutritional challenges of a vegan diet, it can be difficult to maintain iron levels for some women, and you do need to be mindful of taking b12 for example. But nutritional deficiencies happen largely with omnivore diets, so I don’t think that is something that should restrict women from becoming vegan, we need to be careful with nutrition no matter what we eat. I think it is offensive to imply that Sheila’s link between vegetarianism and radical feminism is somewhat dated and unsophisticated. More and more research emerges that really supports the connections. Yes food production is an ethical nightmare most of the time, and organic, locally produced food can be expensive – yet I subsist on a very very small income and can be vegan and also eat organic, locally grown fruit and vegetables. It is just a matter of what I value the most and where I choose to spend my meagre funds. Thanks again Sheila for bringing this topic up, the discussions can be difficult and Ive found many feminist react very defensively to my veganism (even though I never attack women over their choices the very fact that I am vegan puts them on the defence!) but many younger radical feminists that I know are all either vegetarian or vegan, so there are many radical feminists who support your views.

  19. The problem is violence. Whether it’s done to women, animals or the land, violence is done by men and as radical feminists we must not consume it. We must resist violence in all its forms. When the term ‘stallion’ is used to describe a man who successfully conquers women in large numbers and the term ‘bitch’ is used to degrade women, can there be any doubt?

    Men rape animals. Forced impregnation and reproduction is brutal whether done to animals or humans – and it is done to both. Turkey breasts are so unnaturally large due to the hormones used to fatten them up for Christmas that they can’t physically make genital contact to mate naturally. So the female turkeys are forcibly inseminated with a syringe containing male turkey sperm. They are held down, impregnated and then forced to reproduce in factory-farm conditions.

    Across the animal industry mothers and babies are forcibly separated. Female animals are forced into a cycle of reproduction – eggs, milk, babies. Men decide when they will be raped – either by impregnating them with syringes or by the bull/stallion that is kept expressly for that purpose.

    This is the story of colonisation. These are the tactics of war. This is patriarchy.

  20. This is such an emotional issue because it’s a survival issue. This is one of the issues that has too often destroyed international Feminism.
    Why the criticisms of Lierre? Do you know about the death threats she gets and how three cowardly men in masks physically assaulted her for daring to speak about her ideas for saving the earth?

    Her book is brilliant and explains so much — from how soy (even organic) is carcinogenic and destroys the thyroid gland (see Soyonlineservice.nz for more info) to how we could possibly save the earth — all from a radical Lesbian Feminist perspective. She gets death threats for two reasons: Speaking out on behalf of omnivores and against trannsexual cooption of our movement and culture.

    I have never harassed a vegan or vegetarian, but I have seen and experienced terrible treatment for daring to be an omnivore. I have been told I was not a Lesbian or Separatist for daring to eat what I know to be healthy.

    Of course I am against any animal suffering, but I do not believe that plants feel less. “The Secret Life of Plants” showed how they feel, and remember (including a person who they witnessed injure another plant.) I don’t like having to kill other sentient beings to live, but that is how most life exists on the earth. I am also against the monoculturing of grains, beans, etc. that is destroying the last of the forests. Lierre describes how living as many indigenous cultures did — being omnivore hunter and gatherers — is the best for the earth and for humans also. Then we fit into eco-systems instead of destroying them. I believe that the beginning of agriculture was the beginning of human overpopulation, with its accompanying armies, war, enslavement of women and other people, class divisions, etc. — patriarchy. And human’s brains shrank.
    Lierre also describes the damage that long-term damage to physical and mental health that happens from being vegan, which she herself is permanently disabled from. She describes the “vegan rage,” which I agree has done so much damage in our communities. I don’t know of any long-term vegans or vegetarians who aren’t seriously damaged. And there have been far too many suicides.

    Yes, Noan and Katie, why is this the issue that seems to be the most important? I have seen the racism and classism in how veganism is often presented. (I do have vegan friends who are NOT like that, but they are rare.) What I’ve witnessed is that this is an issue that politically aware feminists who are extremely privileged can use to bully and dominate other feminists when they have no other issue to use. Otherwise, why isn’t there the awareness that in poor parts of the world, the boys and men take what little meat there is and the girls and women are denied it? I have known feminists who starve their carnivore animals into terrible disease and death because they would not feed them meat. Or they feed them meat but tell us not to eat what we know is best for us.

    Of course everything I buy to eat is organic, from free-range animals and closer to sustainable agriculture.

    Besides Lierre’s book, I really recommend Paleosister’s Blog.

  21. First off, I love Radfem hub and the discussion here! Thank you for making this site.

    The industrial treatment of animals- the destruction of mother Earth – oppression of women – war – yes it’s all vey related, it’s the result of men with no empathy and understanding of the world around them. Which again leads to the question that you never is allowed to ask, what the hell is wrong with men, such a huge amount act like psychopaths!

    However, it makes me very upset when vegan/vegetarian diet is promoted to women as an ethical alternative. I believe very few people can thrive on a vegetarian diet, and that most of us need animal fat and protein to be healthy. It’s what our foremothers lived on! I feel very strongly about this issue as I was a vegetarian for 10 years – ate all the healthy stuff, beans fruits, whole grains – and I was always ill in colds, depressed, and developed eating disorders. My story is quite common; my veg* female friends all shared the same problems. Eating disorder and depression that worsened through lack of proper nutrition.
    I love animals but female humans are also animals, mammals who need proper nutrition to live healthily. And I know that lack of proper nutrition is something that has and is used as a tool by men against girls and women to keep us calm and weak. In hunter-gather societies they have claimed the best cuts of meat for themselves, in “civilization” they have developed bony ideals that keeps us dieting. Starving. Food is a feminist issue, indeed!

  22. Thank you for starting this debate Sheila.
    As I learn more about feminism I’m learning about how the oppression of women influences every aspect of society and culture, how it permeates what we eat, how we dress, what we do for entertainment. Male dominance is the rot that infests everything it touches, and animals are another link in the chain.
    It’s possible that the oppression of women came before farming, because I do believe as Dworkin did that women’s oppression is the root core of all other oppressions, the original prototype, model upon which all slavery and subordination is based.

    I personally make a distinction between farmed animals and animals that were going about their business in the wilderness, living happily, before they just happened to be killed for food–such as someone going to the river to catch their own supper. I don’t see anything sadistic in that. And perhaps ultimately we’re talking about the systematic sadism of men when it comes to all living creatures.

    Ultimately, I believe that if a woman cares about the environment and about animals, then the best thing she can do is become a radical feminist. Joining a male-led environmental or animal welfare movement, (PETA, or environmental groups) is a waste of energy. I agree with everything KatieS says, especially,
    “Free women are the key. A world with women in power. That’s the only way it can work.”

    But food and the patriarchy are intertwined and there’s no getting away from that.

  23. Perhaps Sheila should preach the same message to aboriginal women in her own country and see what they say before she gets all “ethical” with white women.

  24. Sheila,
    What a great post. I just watched your talk on Kate Millett, that is fantastic. I’m 58. I’ve been a feminist for 42 years big smile. I think you’ve touched on THE most difficult points of contention right now, diet.

    I was raised with not quite enough food to eat in my family of 6 kids. So, when I moved out on my own I originally chose vegetarianism solely out of an economic basis because back in the day vegetables were cheap and meat was dear (just about opposite now). I thought it was a a lighter-on-the-planet diet choice, and I ate nothing with face for 16 years.

    Until. My children. Wanted food like “other families”. So, I cooked dishes my mom cooked, spaghetti with grass fed and hormone free beef sometimes, or alternately tofu. Sorry, vegeterians and vegans. Their father cooked two menus each night, one clean carnivore and one vegetarian but he’s still strict vegetarian. I found that the diet of pasta and rice with tofu/vegetables didn’t give me the energy as eating clean meat and good vegetables. I eat mostly truly free range chickens w/o antibiotics and that’s it mostly except some eggs. I still enjoy eating meatless meals and make a conscious choice to do so.

    Most people on the planet don’t have enough to eat. After watching a documentary online about the orphan food beggers in North Korea right now, subsisting on small bits that fall in the mud down from adult eaters at the public food stalls, ignored and tattered some shoeless with no adults paying attention and sometimes shooing them off. The terrible starvations underway elsewhere.

    That’s why I’m not all up at anyone about their dietary choice. A Tibetan teacher once told me how his ancestors lived on yak, it was virtually all there was during the winter to eat. Just having enough to eat is my priveledge and I wish all dietary preference groups could agree to work on ending world hunger together someday? Thanks so much for all your tremendous work Sheila.

  25. Thank you for this excellent post, Sheila.

    I would like to point out to other commenters that vegetarianism is not the reason for over farming, use of pesticides and degradation of are habitat. These effects are caused by bad practice and over population.

    Horticulture, sounds ideal for the future but it is unlikely that it could sustain present population levels, so advocating farming methods that would be inadequate to requirement puts us in the position of advocating mass starvation.

    We need to lower population slowly; this occurs naturally where women have the opportunity to either avoid PIV or have unimpeded access to contraception. All aid should be linked to the rights of women to fully participate in the running of society which would include the right to choose the amount of children they, not there husband, would like to have.

    I think all those who’s health and circumstances permit it, should eat as little meat as possible, but to me, quality of life for animals is more important than the inevitability of death. If animals are free, and their reproductive processes untampered with, that is more than most women can hope for.

    What I like and have always liked about vegetarians is that they make people think, about the ramifications of what they do to others, and that is very powerful. Vegetarianism may not be able to save the world, but it often leads people to feminism, and feminism can!

    For feminism to change the world we require allegiance between women, and those allegiances must be able to survive differences of opinion. So I would put maintenance of female alliances above other strongly held concerns, if only because I think it is the one means we have of solving them all.

  26. One trap that women often fall into in this debate (and most feminist debates) is this idea that women are entirely responsible for all the social ills in the world. So while we’re either attacking women for being vegetarians or for being omnivores, the menz just go right on eating Baconator triple pounders as if consuming all this meat were a celebration of masculinity or something.

    My point being, the one time I think we should pause and say, “what about the men?” is when we’re passing out shame and social responsibility. It’s far too easy for women to hold each other accountable, to act as if women are really the ones making the immoral choices that have led to all these problems. In nearly every debate that is untrue. For example, a woman “chosing” to work in porn may not be doing her sisters any favors, but she’s also not the one profiting, benefiting from the whole industry. She didn’t cause it. She’s not really making it continue. When they run out of consenting women, they just take the non consenting. Her personal choices have very little impact on the patriarchy. That’s a depressing reality, but I wish more women could come to terms with it because once we realize that women’s personal choices do not have the power to bring about social change, we’ll stop judging each other, unite, and really take over the planet.

  27. yttk, that was beautifully put. Since not all womyn thrive on a veg*n diet, it’s actually harming womyn to keep trying to force us on one. True, there are a small percentage who feel great as vegans, and a larger percentage who do well as vegetarians, but should the rest of us go around feeling fatigued and unable to accomplish any feminist work so that we have food that *appears* compassionate?

    I feel as though I repeat the same things on every blog I visit, so you may want to check out my blog, Paleosister, for more about my story.

    I know what it’s like to make jokes about “junk food veg*ns” and other people “just not doing it right,” because I was there. I was there, and incredibly militant and self-righteous about my veg*nism. For eleven years. And Carol Adams is an incredible woman who was the first radical feminist I ever met. She has stated it is her goal to bring feminism to the animal rights movement, rather than the other way around.

  28. Yttik, your point is central.

    I’ve been dissed as an omnivore far more than I ever was as a vegetarian. But I don’t dis or judge veg*ns and never have. I totally believe that veg*ns get dissed just as much as I have as an omnivore, too. It all depends. I depends on the culture around you. But, the biggest challenge for me is a gluten-free diet. It’s a tremendously difficult diet and quite limiting to my lifestyle, but I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut about the difficulty except for practicalities if I am buying food or someone invites me to eat (I just bring my own food). Strangely, I’ve had both vegan and the people who are into fermentation (associated with the Steiner movement) become downright rude about the GF diet insisting that I need to eat these grains and if I’d do things their way I could make it work. More rude than anyone about either vegetarianism when I was one or omnivory now. These aren’t feminists, just a few women who become really crazy and in your face when you don’t agree with their food choices. My point is that food seems to be a hot button issue within and outside feminism. Perhaps it is because food represents survival, as BevJo mentions.

    But I do think that as radical feminists we need to focus on supporting one, and also supporting other women (for me that means even the “in your face over gluten non-feminist women”). I really take to heart what Yttik said,” once we realize that women’s personal choices do not have the power to bring about social change, we’ll stop judging each other, unite, and really take over the planet.

  29. That should have been, “supporting one another”

    Sorry for the typos. WordPress doesn’t display very well on my computer and it’s hard to see what I’m writing sometimes, plus I’m typing/editing challenged in general.

  30. Do males do the kind of intense policing of each other’s eating habits that females do? Why do women do this with food with respect to each other? Trying to figure this out. Is it because we are ourselves, in various ways, food whereas that is not true of males? It feels to me as if females are constantly being devoured, while at the same time being held up as devouring monsters.

    Also: where does the intensely misogynistic PETA fit into all this? The fetishization of flesh?

    It’s fair for females to ask these questions.

  31. Sheila, I admire your writing very much. To see a woman stand up and say the things you do on behalf of women is absolutely a breath of fresh air.

    But, I find parts of this essay, especially the closing extremely problematic.

    You write:
    “It is the eating of animals that creates the divisions between feminists, not the ethical problematisation of this practice. There are huge pressures on the many vegetarian feminists to remain silent and not make a fuss. We are trained to this, and mutter amongst ourselves rather than saying anything, because of the considerable anger which can be directed at us. This is an issue, though, that must be raised. Eating is a political issue.”

    We have already heard from Gunborg that she is quite upset because she has attempted to be vegetarian and her body has rejected the diet. I could go on with the list of women I know this to be the case for, although I didn’t take their claims seriously in my vegan days. There is also pressure on us survivors of veg*nism (i guess i’m coining that phrase now :p) to just accept that we are making a morally second class choice. To smile when our friends wave a shaking finger at us when we eat a burger.

    But, do you know women who really don’t spend a good portion of their time time thinking about what they eat, like, every time they put a morsel of food in their mouth? Because most do, or have at one point, and are working like hell to get out of that state of self-policing.

    Who benefits from women policing one another?

    Even if we really were to assume vegan*ism is more ethical than eating any other way at all, what about does of us who suffer terribly on a vegan diet? Are female humans not also trained to be self-sacrificing, to put everyone but ourselves ahead of us? By “everyone,” I include all non human creatures, as well as male humans.

    I really do recommend Lierre’s book for those of you with a will interest in learning more about how agriculture works. She also wrote a good portion of the newly released Deep Green Resistance, which again explains the impossibility of planetary health on a purely vegetarian diet.

    I have said enough for now. But I needed to get that out, because I know I am not the only one who has experienced what I have.

  32. Paleosister, with respect, the phrase ‘survivors of veganism’ is an insult to actual survivors of things they were forced to endure: rape, torture and other forms of abuse. If we allow the term ‘survivor’ in a rad fem discourse (or indeed at all) to be ascribed to things like diet choices – and veganism is not an eating disorder however harmful you claim it is for your health – it loses its impact and that is a grave thing when fighting the patriarchy.


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