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Reading recommendation #4: The Sexual Politics of Meat

The feminist movement and feminist critical theory encompass multiple aspects of our daily lives and, if we stop to think, we can find machismo and patriarchal patterns basically in all of our daily activities as women. The vegan and vegetarian movement is rarely associated or related to feminism, yet, as I stated before, it has much more to do than we can think.

In The Sexual Politics of Meat (Bloomsbury, 2015), first published in 1990, the author Carol J. Adams exposes us a vegetarian feminist critical theory, relying on a variety of sources that include various authors, feminists, historians, advertisements, and others.

In her work, Adams provides a wide variety of cases in which it is possible to detect the relationship between the two movements – feminist and vegan. To make an example, the culture and gastronomy of Ethiopia is based on the fact that women cook two different dishes: one with meat, for men, and one without it and with a lack of important proteins, for women. In popular culture, when a woman plans to become a mother and wants a girl, she is told to eat legumes, nuts, and grains. On the other hand, if she wants a child, she is suggested to eat a lot of meat. Throughout history, in multiple cultures, women have been forbidden to eat meat. For example, in Indonesia, meat is exclusive to men and is distributed in relation to the number of men in the household. We can find examples like these all over the world and in all cultures.

Adams defends that cultures with a plant gastronomy are more egalitarian. If we take Spain, which is a country where the meat trade generates abundant income, as a case study, the centrality of the meat market on its economy is not, according to the writer, independent from other patriarchal aspects of its socio-economic structure, such as the gendered division of work, with women mainly carrying care work, the worship of a masculine god, and so on.
At the level of collective imaginary, meat is highly linked to maleness: the figure of the hunter has always been mostly male, so that in cultures where alimentation is mainly based on meat the idea of food is strictly related to the “male” realm. On the contrary, in a culture where the main food is vegetables, which have been cared for and collected by women throughout history, the connection between food and femaleness is stronger, since women take a core role as the alimentation of the others depends on them. Moreover, there is no culture with plant-based alimentation in which discrimination based on gender occurs when distributing food, as it happens in the case of society in which alimentation is mainly meat-based.

Meat consumption, which is – as stated earlier – to virility, is also connected to male violence. In the book, Adams presents two manifestos by women survivors of sexist violence in which the attacks began because they had prepared vegetables instead of meat, since they stated that it is not men’s food. The male students who murdered classmates in the 1990s in different cities were almost all hunters, and it is no accident. It is impossible that violence towards oppressed groups does not exist in societies where living beings are tortured and mistreated.

Adams exposes us the concept of the absent referent. This means that an animal goes from being considered a living being to being simply eaten when it is dead, with which the animal disappears, the living being is replaced by meat for consumption. Language creates realities, and saying “hamburger” instead of “shredded dead cow”, or “beef” instead of “newborn cow” has been done to make it sound better, more acceptable and respectable; dead animals turn into steaks, ribs, or hamburgers. Relating this concept to women, for example, the concept of violación (rape, violence) is used to describe other aggressions that are not sexist, using something patriarchal suffered by the vast majority of women, making them an “absent referent” and using their experiences to talk about other oppressed groups. Society views animals and women as objects of consumption and possession. In slaughterhouses, animals are “products” and workers are inert tools; in a rape, the woman is treated as an object that neither feels nor suffers.

Vegetarianism goes against the dominant patriarchal culture, as eating meat is associated with male power and virility. The consumption of meat is an activity of male domination and patriarchalization. With which, veganism and/or vegetarianism should go hand in hand with the feminist struggle. Speciesism and sexism oppress animals and women based on domination and a figure of superiority:

Vegetarian feminism actively declares that there is an alternative global vision, one that celebrates life rather than consuming death; one that is not based on resurrected dead animals but on empowered people.