Thursday, August 6, 2009

On being an unethically meat-eating feminist


Daisy's semi-recent post on meat-eating and Michael Vick hit me where I live:
Will somebody please explain to me how a bunch of meat-eaters can judge Michael Vick?...

...Yes, eat eat eat that meat, endless profit-driven commercials for Hardees, Burger King and McDonalds, all while calling Michael Vick a BAD MAN. It's some of the most illogical mass-insanity I have ever witnessed.

All I can manage to say is: how dare you.

And before you say anything: YES, IT IS THE SAME.

EXACTLY THE SAME.

Ohhhh nooooo, the carnivores say, we LIKE TO EAT BIRDS. So, it isn't the same thing as dogfighting. We have said so!

Actually, it might be worse. At least the dogs get a fighting chance. The birds are raised to die.

Ohhhhhh nooooo, the carnivores say, WE MUST EAT.

Yes, I am fully aware that we must eat, but I haven't eaten meat in well over a decade now. I am alive and well and typing. YOU DO NOT NEED TO EAT MEAT TO LIVE AND BE HEALTHY.

Ohhhhh noooo, the carnivores say, there is sadism and unsavory pleasure taken in dogfighting.

Really?

There is also unacknowledged SADISM in putting an animal in your mouth and ripping it to pieces, chewing it up (GROSS!) and going MMMMMMM (instead of retching) when this is not necessary to live and is only for the pleasure of your palate. How is your deliberate ripping, slicing and cooking of birds, God's creatures (not yours!), any different from sport? It's all about entertainment of one kind or another. How is the entertainment of your palate supposedly superior to the entertainment provided to Michael Vick and his friends? The only difference is that one form of sadism is culturally acceptable and one is not...

...And BTW, if you like your meat? You refuse to give it up because the pleasure of your palate is more important than animals? THEN LEAVE MICHAEL VICK ALONE. The meat-eating culture that devalues animals CREATED HIM. If you want respect for animals, you must have respect for them all, not just the cute ones that obey you.

She has a point.

Let me begin by saying: I love meat. I love steak. I love chicken. I love fish. I love burgers. I love spaghetti sauce. So does my partner, and we thoroughly enjoy cooking and eating meat together - or ordering General Tso's. It's not a good habit, and I've tried to give it up multiple times - but I always fail, and I've come to the conclusion that I'm not ready. Like serious tanners love bronzed skin and the relaxation of he bed enough to take the cancer it guarantees, I love it enough to take the guilt that comes with it. I do feel guilty, and my dilemma hurts. But not as much as giving up a big, juicy, medium-rare steak.

(And for that matter, it doesn't hurt as much as it hurts the animals I eat.)

I'm not only a meat-eater, I'm an unethical meat-eater. I buy, like, Kroger steaks and chickens. I support a system that exacts unnecessary cruelty on animals - breeding them to be weak, giving them a pathetic kind of life, and then delivering the low-quality product to me, wasting needless amounts of gas and energy in the process.

And there are options to mediate this - I could buy less clothes and spend the money I save on visiting local farms, like Polyface farms. There are a lot especially in my area of Virginia. I'm poor right now, but I'm never too poor to try and make small changes. And I'm making a couple little ones - I'm trying to cut back on my meat consumption from nearly daily to (ideally) two or three times a week, and red meat no more than once a week.

Now, I don't have a huge problem with meat-eating philosophically. Humans are omnivores, which includes carnivores. It's the food chain. And attacks against meat-eaters are not waged as harshly as they might be in feminist conversation because of the awful, misogynistic, racist tactics of groups like PETA. Vegetarianism and animal rights have been given a bad name by their shameful tactics.

However, I'm not going to pretend like it's something that gives me the moral high ground - I will cede that definitively to vegans and vegetarians, whose commitment to ethical living is certainly more thorough than mine. (That's not what it's about for vegetarians, of course - I just want to give them their due.)

What struck me - and made me defensive - about Daisy's post is her assertion that non-vegetarians are not animal lovers. This hurt me, because I deeply love my pets. Thurgood is my co-worker in my home office (see at left), and he and August are like mine and J's children. We constantly coo over them, worry about them, pet them, photograph them. I adore them, and they are animals, so I must be an animal lover. Right?

Not really. I don't love all animals - I love individual species. Dogs, cats, and other domesticated animals are great, but I want to eat less cute animals. I don't really advocate for their right to a healthy life, as I do other oppressed bodies.*

I'm not an animal lover. I'm an animal eater, and a pet lover. It's not a feminist choice, but it's the one I'm making now. Hopefully, in the future, I'll be able to mediate my meat eating in a less hurtful way. But right now, I'm voting the wrong way with my dollars and my stomach, and I need to change.

I'm not going to refrain from commenting on animal rights when I see something that makes me angry or clearly displays injustice. However, I'm going to try to mention my failings and be mindful of the fact that I am significantly failing in this area. Until I start making real progress towards treating animals fairly in my offline life, I need to cede to the judgment of people who are doing it right.

*Edited slightly for clarity.

25 comments:

  1. Fantastic post, every time I got defensive and thought of a comeback of 'it's not the same!' proportions I realised the similarities between feminism and criticising the sexism around us and the meat industry. You are spot on, animal eater, pet lover.

    I'm not actually anti eating animals but I am against factory farming conditions so am trying to eat less but ethically sourced meat.

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  2. Thanks for the link, this post mostly got ignored! :P

    I wonder why?!

    :D

    Your essential fairness is a breath of fresh air throughout Blogdonia!

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  3. @Jaimie: Thanks!

    @Daisy: Haha! I just emailed you asking you to take a look at this. I was also surprised there weren't more comments - I checked back a couple times to see what others would think. I'm glad you like - I was nervous (I always am before posting, though.) :)

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  4. I'm a Jewish feminist omnivore, and I want to point out that there is an ethical way to eat meat -- buy kosher! The slaughter of animals in Judaism is as humane as you're going to get, not to mention that kosher animals must be vegetarian fed (no carnivores allowed in our diet!). There are lots of kosher meat companies, and though there was a recent scandal at one of them (which prompted a great outcry and denouncing of this company as un-kosher), you can do research and find out which ones have the ethical criteria you're looking for. For chicken, I like http://www.empirekosher.com/index.htm (I don't really cook beef much). I know a lot of non-Jews who prefer kosher meat because they find the quality to be higher. Just a thought!

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  5. Great post, but I do need to add one caveat. For some of us eating meat is not a choice.

    I am extremely anemic and my body refuses to process iron supplements. Sure I can get iron from other sources, but my body takes to red meat far better than dark leafy greens or other sources, which I also eat in mass quantities.

    In fact, I have had a vegan western doctor and vegan acupuncturists encourage me to eat more red meat than I do.

    I try to buy the most ethically raised beef, but will continue to consume red meet, so that I can actually function and not sleep for three days as I did when I became a vegetarian. Just sayin'.

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  6. Stephanie, I'm anemic too (though I doubt I have it as badly as you). This might be why I have such a hard time giving it up. Thanks for chiming in - very valuable contribution.

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  7. RMJ

    The argument is bunk, and one shouldn't be afraid to call it out as such. Making animals suffer because you enjoy their suffering isn't the same as (essentially) being indifferent to their suffering. And even here, while individual animals suffer as a result of humans being omnivores, animal species that we eat are generally widely successful as a result of that. I'm not sure I can honestly and unqualifiedly say that eating animals is bad for them. "Liberation" of food animals is just their death (and then going forward, their failure to be born), killing them to make ourselves feel moral (this isn't entirely true, but is certainly true of farmed animals). I don't think that's a remotely moral position. Comping PETA, is your cat really better off if PETA euthanises it, than it is as your slave?

    At the end of the day, we (as humans) draw circles around our own lineage and define those close to us as "too close", and "not too close". The distinction is anthrocentric, and fairly arbitrary; every one of us has eaten at least 10 000 animals yesterday, and probably more like a hundred thousand or a million.

    What Vick did is morally inferior to me eating a sausage for lunch. That position isn't inconsistent.

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  8. @Brian - I appreciate your continued readership and commentary - I've really enjoyed what you have to say on other posts. But I don't really see much relevance (or coherance) in your comment - I don't understand most of it enough to even counter it.

    If you have an issue with Daisy's post, you need to take it up with Daisy, not me. She's having a great conversation with DieselSandwich over there right now, and I'm sure she'd welcome you. I didn't say she was 100% right and her thoughts are my thoughts. I said she has a point, and has influenced an ongoing shift in my attitude towards my meat eating.

    And for the sake of clarity: no one here - not me, not Daisy - is saying anything positive about PETA. PETA sucks, and I said so explicitly in the post.

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  9. I'm also against factory farming, but there isn't much available where I live by the way of poultry ( I don't eat red meat unless it is wild venison) but I always get wild fish.... or we fish ourselves, and my fiance is a wonderfully ethical hunter and I always feel much better about eating that meat, because I know the animal had a decent life, there are numerous laws in place so we don't wipe out a population, and my fiance is an excellent shot, so the animals dies quickly 99.9% of the time. Funny thing is though, I get a lot of flack from people who eat meat about how barbaric hunting is, when I think they have it totally backwards.

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  10. Err, sorry.

    I mean, farm animals lives depend upon them eventually being eaten, or us exploiting them in other ways (e.g. milk, honey, wool). Their alternative isn't freedom for these animals, it's their death, and their not being born in the future. PETA is an excellent comparison because in their quest to liberate pets, they euthanise them large scale, as there's nothing else you can do with them. Declining to eat meat doesn't make the lives of these animals better, it takes away their lives entirely. They don't benefit, the only result is that you feel better about yourself, and realistically at their expense. I don't think that's moral at all. For some reason, that position makes me reluctant to spout off on a vegan/vegetarian blog.

    My allusion to how vegetarianism/veganism doesn't put a dent in the number of animals we eat, since they're almost entirely microscopic and found in everything anyways is kind of an aside, but it is important to note that the distinctions between what lives we take to feed ourselves isn't nearly so clearcut as 0th century biology would have us believe.

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  11. Pretty much anything I could say in response to this post I already said on Daisy's blog. XD

    My health is first and foremost my concern.

    If someone can offer me affordable (because my partner and I are a bit poor) vegetarian options to make up for our atypical protein needs and get through both of our separate digestion issues then I will gladly switch to vegetarianism.

    After all, meat isn't sustainable as an agricultural resources, especially with the steady loss of potable water.

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  12. Oppression is oppression is oppression. I'm a feminist because I'm against oppression, and I'm a vegan because I'm against oppression. When you consume any animal products, you're continuing to exploit and oppress them by using them solely for human purposes. They derive no pleasure from being killed ("humane", kosher, free range, and factory farmed animals all have the same end result).

    To make a feminist argument that you might understand: Dairy cows are directly exploited for their reproductive organs. They're forced to carry a pregnancy, then their calf is taken away within 24 hours (often immediately) after birth so s/he won't steal the "precious commodity" of milk. This really upsets the mother, who can be heard bellowing for her calf for days after (how would you like it if your child was forcibly taken away after birth and you never got to see them again?). And as soon as she can be, she's inseminated again so her milk supply won't run out. This is how dairy cows spend their entire lives, which are considerably shorter due to this vicious cycle.

    This of course happens to all mothers in the animal oppression business, because to have more animals being born to be eaten, you obviously have to have someone giving birth to them.

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  13. Fuchsia, thanks for stopping by. But is this directed at me or at the commenters?

    If it's at me, I think you missed the point of my post, which is: consuming animal products - especially the way I do it - is not a feminist act. One of the points of this blog is to examine the ways in which I fail as a feminist and am complicit in oppression.

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  14. I got that, but it doesn't look like a lot of people do, so I was expounding on why. I came to feminism on one path and veganism on another (and many other anti-oppression sentiments) but now that I'm where I am, I don't see how one could work without the other. But many people don't think of it that way (for example, I'm one of two vegans working at an abortion clinic. A few more are vegetarian but even they fail to acknowledge the link).

    I like your blog because it does challenge everyone to rethink things in terms of feminism and oppression. We can never achieve an absolute perfect state of being, but I'm certainly trying to be my best, and always reevaluating. So thank you.

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  15. Hey! Just linked in from Shakesville.

    I like the fairness of the above argument, but like many others, have to point out:
    For some of us, eating meat is not an option, and is not merely for the pleasure of eating it. If I do not eat meat, but instead, eat all the vegetable substitutes I like (and some of them are pretty tasty) I get sick to the point where I cannot do my job or enjoy my time off. This happens within a couple of weeks and does not go away until some form of meat is back in my diet.

    There is no pretty way to kill an animal, but unless I want to put the animals' welfare (and as some have pointed out, that argument is thorny) above my health, I continue to eat meat.

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  16. I think Fuschia's comment is actually quite fascinating because I know so many vegans who, for the same oppression reasoning, come from the pro-life angle.

    As much as I can nail it down, it comes from a feeling that we can not interrupt life's processes, whether that is producing milk from cows or terminating a pregnancy.

    As for the original rant, even if you do agree that eating meat is immoral and/or unethical, there is no way you could possibly consider every and any abuse against animals moral equivalents. For me, the argument falls apart right there; that type of all or nothing attitude does not work for any situation in life.

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  17. I'm a Jewish feminist omnivore, and I want to point out that there is an ethical way to eat meat -- buy kosher! The slaughter of animals in Judaism is as humane as you're going to get, not to mention that kosher animals must be vegetarian fed (no carnivores allowed in our diet!)

    I'm sorry, but this just isn't true. There are numerous cruelty concerns with kosher butchery, as a visit to the wikipedia page on shechita makes quite clear. I'm not saying it's worse than other methods, but it's cutting the throat of a conscious animal which remains conscious as it bleeds out. I'm only being such a wet blanket because I hear this argument a lot (I live in Israel) and I think it's very problematic.

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  18. I really loved your exploration of this issue. Eating meat is a huge ethical inconsistency for me as well (especially since I also speak out about animal rights issues) and it's something I really struggle with.

    I don't really have any brilliant ethical insights to add to the discussion here (or on Daisy's post), but I wanted to thank you for writing this; it's inspiring me to actually sit down and try to hash out my thoughts on the issue, instead of just feeling guilty about my (admittedly low level) meat and animal product consumption.

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  19. I'm going to point out (to the other commenters) that it's really important to not engage in classist privilege or abled or healthy privilege when demanding people address the oppression inherent in animal slaughter.

    Some of us are too poor to afford the synthetic and alternate protein sources that make up for the difficulties in getting natural plant sourced high protein foods and certain vitamins. (If I remember correctly one of the B type vitamins is literally present in absolutely no currently discovered plants and is only available in meat or synthetics. Sixwing, this might be the issue for you actually.)

    Expecting us to become even more destitute or become homeless (I can barely cover my bills and this job is temporary) is extremely classist and an element of class oppression.

    There are disabled and health challenged folk (those with disorders, digestion issues and health problems, or whom have disabilities that are worsened by vegetarian and vegan diets) who may require meat in their diet (like my partner) to reach health requirements. Expecting them to cut meat out of their diet (and damage their health further or worsen/flare up their conditions) is also pretty ableist, healthist (?) and an element of health/abled privilege.

    It's great to fight oppression but don't further other forms of oppression while you do it. We need solutions that can work for the poor and health challenged too.

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  21. Just a link of interest from Feminist Review:

    http://feministreview.blogspot.com/2009/08/vegetarian-myth-food-justice-and.html

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  22. Oh, thank you Lauren. I'll look into getting my hands on that book.

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  23. Diesel, while it's true that there are truly some people who cannot live on a vegan diet (this is true for one of my best friends, she's had health problems since she was born), they're few and far between in reality. A lot of people use that reason without exploring all the options or trying a proper vegan diet and attempting to get all the vitamins in.

    And honestly, eating vegan is way cheaper than eating meat. Beans are an excellent, super cheap source of protein. The processed meat subs are definitely very expensive, but you don't have to buy those. Believe me, I can barely afford to buy food either (and most of the time I can't at all, usually when one of my cats has health problems), but there are definitely ways of doing it really cheaply while still being healthy.

    B12 is, yes, pretty rare in vegan sources... with the exception of nutritional yeast. A tablespoon a day gives you more than your daily requirement (and it takes 7 years to use up your body's store of B12 so you definitely wouldn't feel those effects after a few weeks). At bulk bins, it's usually priced at about $7/pound, but that one pound could easily last months and months if you only use the one tablespoon a day (me, I love it so I use it a lot more than that when I can afford to).

    There are lots of resources for living as a vegan with very little money. You just need to look around.

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  24. It really doesn't matter how rare a given group of people are. The fact is, they are out there.

    Which is why applying a blanket morality statement when people might not be able to afford or be healthy on a vegan diet is a problem.

    As someone who can't digest many of these cheap sources of protein in vegan diets and someone who has searched high and low for vegan and vegetarian options for myself and my partner (who has significantly worse health and money issues) I find myself a little resentful of what seems to be a bit of a condescending attitude on your part.

    Assuming that someone hasn't looked or is using poverty and health as an excuse is an exercise in classist and ableist privilege. Just like claiming that a Person of Color just needs to work harder to get a job or that we could just close that wage gap if we were more aggressive in the work field. I know I get tired of explaining to every damn person I meet that I don't have the money to afford this stuff right now and I can't digest the things I can afford. I'm tired of explaining to every damn person I meet that yes, I have looked around, I've talked to vegan advocates and vegetarian diet experts on these things. I'm tired of being questioned and constantly challenged about my money issues combined with my health issues. I'm tired of people trying to pretend that I just am one of those immoral meat lovers when, tastewise, I prefer the vegetarian options. I know for a fact my partner is tired of it too. I've used nutritional yeast. I've tried hemp milk. I have looked into all sorts of options, vegan and vegetarian and I can't even reach vegetarian status because cheese makes me and my partner ill.

    So next time you feel like saying, "you just need to look around", check your class/abled privilege and think to yourself, "what if she has looked around? Maybe it would be better to offer some of the solutions that worked for me instead of a vague self righteous pronouncement that is just smugly insulting and not helpful."

    If I seem a little pissed about this, it's not because you're coming off horrible in and of yourself, it's because you are one among thousands of people who think they know how my digestion issues and financial problems work better than I do. And I'm damn tired of it.

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  25. Carol Adams in her book “The Sexual Politics of Meat” reveals the parallels between the treatments toward woment and animals. She likens the ways a moral agent is turned into meat and how women is reduced to sexual objects.[2] Early feminits of 19th century claimed what was directed at them as an insult. They held that enemy of the world was the rational materialism and heartless science. Opposing the atomistic individual ideal of liberalism, feminists of later periods tried to envisage an organic concept of life and collectivity of man and nature. According to ecofeminist vegetarians pain and suffering must be prevented irrespective of race, sex, or species. Emprically women have predominance in animal rights activisim. This is explained by the arguement that women’s experiences with structural oppression and domination draws them closer to environmental egalitarianism. Due to the way women are socialized they ophine more relationally, can feel emphaty with animals.

    Adams assert that when an animal is killed for consumption it is made invisible. People don’t think of eating a dead animal which is victimized through instrumentalizing in a means-ends reasoning. I concur to her claim that consuming the animal flesh is analogous to broken women body which is fragile to beating, raping, prostitution and pornography.

    from greencare: http://ecofuture.net/osquee/2009/07/24/sexual-politics-of-meat/http://ecofuture.net/osquee/2009/07/24/sexual-politics-of-meat/

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