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I am a vegetarian, and well aware of the negative connotations that come along with being a vegetarian or vegan. I was generally inspired to be a vegetarian due to the pollution and animal abuse caused by the meat industry. However, since going vegetarian, I have learned even more about the vast array of reasoning to go vegetarian, both for humanitarian and feminist reasons.
You may be wondering how feminism has any correlation with what many people eat on a daily basis. What inspired me to start thinking about this intersection was a YouTube vlog by Celia Edell for Everyday Feminism. I think the video explains some different aspects of this topic very well, so if you are interested in learning a little more in depth, take a minute to watch.
Let me start by explaining that I am by no means trying to convert anyone to any type of diet, and by explaining my thoughts, it will be obvious how nuanced and complicated it is to choose to be a vegan or vegetarian. Although this is a choice that could be based on feminism, in my opinion, eating meat does not make anyone less of a feminist. I think many times it is not about being a feminist in the “wrong” or “right” way, but rather about opening discussions relating to many different, interesting topics to better understand different people and their choices. So, I hope to simply start some discussions.
One reason people choose to be vegans or vegetarians is because they see the abuse, rape, objectification, and dehumanization of animals as similar to how women can be treated in society. For example, animals are treated as products for consumption, the same way women can still be seen as objects to sell products, or as sexual bodies for the consumption of men. Additionally, female animals, such as female cows, must be pregnant in order to produce milk products, so to keep them pregnant, they are artificially inseminated starting at age one, and continue this cycle endlessly throughout their lives. When born, the babies are given milk replacers in order to live, which can cause a number or harmful effects for the baby and for the humans that drink the milk. It is conditions such as these where the abuse of animals can be seen as correlating to the abuse of women, and may even be compared to our society’s normalization of rape culture.
Another reason many people choose these diets is because of the vulnerability of animals, and their inability to essentially stand up for their own rights. For some reason, there is a perceived difference in the intelligence and importance of animals’ lives, as if simply because humans have the “upper-hand”, it justifies the mass abuse and mistreatment that goes on within food industries.
If you are skeptical, I am not by any means the only person talking about these issues. Some even compare the mass extermination of animals to the mass extermination of the Jews during the holocaust. Author Charles Patterson wrote Eternal Treblinka to discuss the horrific similarities in ideology between the dehumanization and mass murder of Jewish people and the systematic murder of animals. He focused on the enslavement and mass slaughter of animals for meat, and connected this to how people started using similar ideologies to dehumanize and degrade people that are considered minorities in order to justify their murder and abuse. Put more clearly, Patterson writes how horrific it can be when those in power start using skewed ideologies for multiple different kinds of groups in order to defend reasons for devaluing life. This was eye opening, and made me think about many more interesting connections when I started considering vegetarianism. These arguments only touch the surface when it comes to reasoning against the meat industry. I find it important to search deeply into these issues and truly discover the practices of food industries around the world to question if they are ethical, as well as to question if ideologies regarding animal life are healthy.
Let me make it clear that I am by no means trying to equate women with animals. I am only referencing these different ideas because I want to point out the similarities in oppression, and the atrocities that can occur when people dehumanize or devalue any group, whether it is based on religion, race, gender, or in this case, being an animal. I think it can be helpful to compare the ideologies that can be used to oppress many different kinds of groups in order to recognize these detrimental ideologies to therefore change them. Put simply, if we stand up for one oppressed group, recognizing these ideologies can help us recognize how to stand up for other oppressed groups as well.
With all this being said, it may be overwhelming and disturbing to hear about so much corruption. However, the most important thing to take away from this discussion is that as a feminist, it is much more complicated when taking intersectionality into account. Although it may seem like a no-brainer to some people to stop eating animals or animal products, to others, this may not be within their ability. If we truly think about the issue of food in an intersectional way, the ability to buy healthy, fresh and organic food is not an option for some people. The ability to buy certain foods or eat a certain way depends on a variety of factors, including economic class, location, or physical ability. Maintaining a certain diet is an extremely personal decision, so saying that every person, specifically women, should be vegetarian or vegan in order to “truly” be a feminist is simply non-inclusive.
In my opinion, there is no right answer on how to make distinct changes to the corrupt meat and food industries our world has created. My personal choice was to change my eating habits, but I think intersectional feminism also pushes me to not make assumptions about people who do not make this same choice. I believe that changing these industries can reduce poverty, decrease animal abuse, and decrease pollution while also helping to change mindsets about taking advantage of vulnerable minorities, including animals. However, I do not think being vegan or vegetarian is the only answer – people should research these issues and make decisions based on how they feel they can best contribute to change. Improvement can also be made by fighting for animal rights, supporting local and organic farming, and supporting feminism in general. My hope is that we can all see this corruption as a problem, and therefore open more discussions about how we can all makes changes in our own way. So no need to worry, you can still be a feminist if you eat meat!