The Gendered Politics of Veganism

 

A summary of my conference paper presented on 8 October 2023 at the International Association of Vegan Sociologists (IAVS) Annual Conference: Vegan Intersectionality

Lauren-Marie Kennedy
University of Dundee

Sociology, like much of feminism, conveniently forgets to mention nonhuman animals in much of the research/literature and since animals too can be socialised, this conference on Vegan Intersectionality, therefore, is extremely relevant and timely. Gender is another factor which contributes to social injustice issues, yet many may not realise the overlapping nature of human and nonhuman animal oppression in our culture, especially based on gender.

Women and nonhuman animals are often simultaneously exploited. As an example, a UK dairy product brand The Laughing Cow paints an idealistic picture of happy, ‘laughing’ cows who consume their own produce with smiling friends. Interestingly, female voiceover actors are preferred for these kinds of advertisements and this is something The Laughing Cow take full advantage of. It is not enough for the dairy industry to exploit the female cows used in the production of The Laughing Cow products, they must also use the female human voice-over to promote a product  which, ironically, takes away women’s voices and choices.

The animal rights movement is not perfect, however, and chose to be single-issue focussed which has in turn harmed its female volunteers, especially. Vegan women are essentially treated as a ‘gateway’ into veganism, a temptation for a (mostly heterosexual) male target audience to try and test to see if they would consider switching lifestyles. Common campaign slogans such as ‘eat pussy, it’s vegan’ and ‘vegans taste better’ clearly indicate that the vegan female body is being commercialised by the movement as an edible ‘way in’ to veganism, which should be more harshly criticised than it currently is.

Contrary to popular belief, vegans do not generally place themselves above anyone else and we choose to live in a way which reflects exactly that – rejecting unnecessary and archaic ideas of species hierarchy. The mainstream media would have us believe otherwise though and perpetuate ignorant views about the lifestyle which studies  show contributes to public perception (Greenebaum and Dexter, 2018; MacInnis and Hodson, 2017; Merriman, 2010; Wood, 1994/2013). The fact that most of the popular UK newspapers report about veganism negatively (MacInnis and Hodson, 2017, p. 738) and that women may experience harsher discrimination for their choosing to be vegan are among the findings from recent studies  on this topic (Merriman, 2010, p. 423). Sadly, the evidence is growing and I am already seeing this in my own Master’s thesis research which is highlighting how vegans and non-vegans perceive veganism and gender expectations/stereotypes.

I would like to note my gratitude and appreciation to Corey Wrenn and all who organised and took part in this event. It was a joy to be an honorary vegan sociologist for the day and speak at such an interesting and important conference. Together, I hope we can make the world a better place by educating others on vegan issues and taking back our own narrative, which has been distorted and warped by non-vegans in the media who are sadly afraid of change.

 

Presented at this conference were ideas which inspired my dissertation-turned-book, ‘The Gendered Politics of Veganism’. I have only touched the surface in this summary blog post and would strongly recommend checking out the conference and my book to learn more.

 

 

Bibliography

Greenebaum, J. and Dexter, B. (2018) ‘Vegan men and hybrid masculinity’, Journal of Gender Studies, 27(6), pp. 637-648. DOI: 10.1080/09589236.2017.1287064.

MacInnis, C.C. and Hodson, G. (2017) ‘It ain’t easy eating greens: Evidence of bias toward vegetarians and vegans from both source and target’, Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 20(6), pp. 721–744. DOI: 10.1177/1368430215618253.

Merriman, B. (2010). ‘Gender differences in family and peer reaction to the adoption of a vegetarian diet’, Feminism & Psychology, 20(3), pp. 420–427. DOI: 10.1177/0959353510368283.

Wood, J.T. (1994/2013) ‘Gendered media: The influence of media on views of gender’, Gendered lives: Communication, Gender and Culture, 7, pp. 31-41. Available at: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Gendered-Media%3A-The-Influence-of-Media-on-Views-of-Wood/e6ee0a6d1f5a53ba148f37af50b1ebaefedcb56a.

Fat Veganism in Spain and Latin America: Insights from Fat Activists towards Body Liberation Beyond Species

 

By Laura Fernández
Universitat de Barcelona
laurafernandez@ub.edu / lauferagui@gmail.com

 

Following the tradition of situated knowledge from feminist epistemologies (Harding, 1988; Haraway, 1991) and considering Aph and Syl Ko’s argument that veganism and animal advocacy will necessarily be shaped by those who talk, think, and act towards this horizon (Ko and Ko, 2017), this research invites us to collectively think about veganism and animal liberation from an embodied, political perspective of those who ally with oppressed nonhuman animals and at the same time experience structural oppression due to their weight and body size (Rothblum and Solovay, 2009; álvarez castillo, 2014; Wrenn, 2016). This means exploring something like a fat vegan activist standpoint.

This exploration is done from a collection and discourse analysis of eight works (including text and pictures: book excerpts, blog posts, fatzines, and conferences) produced by fat activists in Spain and Latin America where nonhuman animals, anti-speciesism, and veganism were explicitly mentioned. These materials address speciesism and veganism issues together with fat liberation, as an intertwined struggle (the author herself having participated in some of them). The main goal of this research is to explore how grassroots fat activisms have integrated animal liberation into their own emancipatory struggle.

The research first presents a literature review and contextualisation of fat activism in Latin America and Spain, considering key concepts and ideas such as:

  • Fatphobia (álvarez castillo, 2014; Piñeyro, 2016)
  • Healthism (Crawford, 1980)
  • The health-industrial complex (Oliver, 2016)
  • Diet culture (Harrison, 2018)
  • Anthroparchy (Cudworth, 2005)
  • Animalisation and zoomorphism (Wrenn, 2016)
  • Situated Spanish and Latin American fat activisms including the idea of a “genealogy other”, with a decolonial and South-to-North activist Flow (Masson, 2017)
  • Fatosphere (e.g. Casadó-Marín and Gracia-Arnaiz, 2020).

The results of the discourse analysis of the fat activists’ materials shed light on how these activists are questioning the binary thinking that structures the world (human/animal, male/female, culture/nature, West/East, thin/fat, etc.). They also emphasise interconnection and interdependence in their writings and drawings, considering the traditional ecofeminist notion that we need each other to survive and flourish and that individualism is a mirage. Fat activists also reclaim animal insults such as “cow” or “whale” associated with their own bodies, typically presenting animalisation as a strategy of inferiorisation of fat bodies (thus assuming that having a nonhuman animal body is something negative, which of course is not). Fat grassroots activists also refer to its veganism from a fat vegan embodied perspective, discussing important notions such as the equation between veganism and thinness, and thinness with health. Their discourse shows that they advocate for a critical and solidary fat liberation that questions the notion of nonhuman animals as food and argues that true body liberation can only happen if we take into account all bodies, including nonhuman bodies.

Considering these important materials from grassroots movements, the research discusses how the interconnection between speciesism and fatphobia can challenge hegemonic understandings of both forms of oppression. Furthermore, grassroots activists in Spain and Latin America have a radical core and intersectional sensitivities against all forms of oppression in addition to speciesism and are also concerned with aspects such as decoloniality, queer feminism, the fight against ableism, or anti-capitalism. From this analysis arises the notion of critical emancipation, which has to do with a form of bodily empowerment that includes nonhuman animals and rejects their commodification as food.

In summary, fat activists bring two political and ethical proposals of great value: on the one hand the advocacy for a more inclusive veganism away from diet culture and healthism, where all sizes and bodies fit. On the other hand, the commitment to interspecies-caring fat activism, where nonhuman animals are considered individuals oppressed by bodily control and exploitation who deserve our solidarity and action.

This is a summary of the talk presented at the Annual Meeting of the International Association of Vegan Sociologists, 2023.

 

If you are interested in this topic and would like to read more about it, you can check the full version of this research in the chapter of the book Feminist Animal Studies (edited by Erika Cudworth, Ruth E. McKie, and Di Turgoose, Routledge, 2023).

 

References

alvarez castillo, constanzx. 2014. La cerda punk. Ensayos desde un feminismo gordo, lésbico, antikapitalista y antiespecista. Valparaíso: Trío Editorial.

Casadó-Marín, Lina and Gracia-Arnaiz, Mabel. 2020. ‘“I’m fat and proud of it”: Body size diversity and fat acceptance activism in Spain’. Fat Studies, 9, pp. 51–70. https://doi.org/10.1080/21604851.2019.1648994.

Crawford, Robert. 1980. ‘Healthism and the Medicalization of Everyday Life’. International Journal of Health Services, 10(3), pp. 365-388. https://doi.org/10.2190/3H2H-3XJN-3KAY-G9NY.

Cudworth, Erika. 2005. Developing ecofeminist theory: the complexity of difference. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Haraway, Donna. 1991. “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective” In Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, 183-202. New York: Routledge.

Harding, Sandra. 1988. “Is there a feminist method?” In Feminism and methodology, 1-14. Indiana University Press.

Harrison, Christy. 2018. What is diet culture? [Online]. Available at: https://christyharrison.com/blog/what-is-diet-culture.

Ko, Aph and Ko, Syl. 2017. Aphro-ism. Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism and Black Veganism from two sisters. New York: Lantern.

Masson, Lucrecia. 2016. “Un rugido de rumiantes: apuntes sobre la disidencia corporal desde el activismo gordo” In Contrera, L. and Cuello N. (Eds.) Cuerpos sin patrones. Resistencias desde las geografías desmesuradas de la carne. Buenos Aires: Madreselva, pp. 99-108.

Oliver, J. Eric. 2006. Fat politics: the real story behind America’s obesity epidemic. New York: Oxford University Press.

Piñeyro, Magdalena. 2016. Stop gordofobia y las panzas subversas. Málaga: Baladre y Zambra.

Rothblum, Esther and Solovay, Sondra. 2009. The Fat Studies Reader. New York and London: New York University Press.

Wrenn, Corey Lee. 2016. “Fat vegan politics: A survey of fat vegan activists’ online experiences with social movement sizeism” Fat Studies, 6, no.1: 90–102.

The Anti-Anthropocentric Capacity of Mainstream Vegan Discourse

 

By Louis Arthur Gough

 

Introduction

Anthropocentrism – the normative (in Westernised societies, at least) notion that the human animal is in fact transcendent of animality and superior to the rest of existence, specifically the professed ‘archetypal’ human subject (white, cis-male, heterosexual, neuro-typical, able-bodied, property-owning, etcetera) – constitutes a foundational delusion undergirding interconnected human to nonhuman animal, intra-human, and environmental oppressions and exploitations. Thus, as worded by Crist and Kopnina (2014), ‘[q]uestioning anthropocentrism… is a fertile way of shifting the focus of attention away from the problem symptoms of our time… to the investigation of root causes’ (pp. 387-388).

This questioning – or better yet, repudiating – of anthropocentrism is, I believe, veganism’s most crucial capacity. It goes without saying, however, that not all manifestations of veganism exhibit this capacity. In a recent study (Gough, 2023) published in Relations. Beyond Anthropocentrism, I conducted a critical discourse analysis of three leading (for better or worse) vegan advocacy organisations with the aim of appraising their anti-anthropocentric vigour. Given the inextricability of nonhuman and intra-human oppressions, and the requisite need to decentre the ‘archetypal’ human, the intersectional aptitude of said discourse was also scrutinised. As expected, the results – a selection of which I outline below – were mixed.

 

Anti-Anthropocentric Discourse

Much of the organisations’ output challenged the anthropocentric status quo. ‘Human narcissism’ – defined by Calarco (2014) as an ‘incessant attention to and rotation around exclusively human existence’ (p. 416) – was undermined by endorsements of veganism that centred nonhuman animals, nonhuman individuality, nonhuman interests, (potentially) beyond-human relationships, and nonhuman self-ownership in defiance of the egomaniacal fantasy that other animals’ bodies and secretions exist for human benefit.

The illusory human/animal dichotomy was also subverted. On occasion, the organisations refused the speciesist conventions of the English language, extended typically human-centric indefinite pronouns to include, for example, our nonhuman ‘neighbors’; whilst anthropocentrism’s moral hierarchy was undercut, most obviously, by a direct contrasting of the human pleasure and nonhuman suffering resulting from the production of so-called ‘animal products’. This latter effort, I argue, both foregrounds the ‘absent referent’ (Adams, 2015) and discredits human interest in the exploitation of nonhumans.

 

Anthropocentric Discourse

The reinforcement of these same expressions of anthropocentrism was, frustratingly, evident too. Whether through a health, human-oriented environmental, or self-absorbed ethical lens, the notion that we ought to stop exploiting other animals primarily for our own benefit sustained the narcissistic centring of human interests. As did the overshadowing of the direct victims of ‘animal products’ in favour of more ‘attractive’ – from a human perspective, of course – species impacted indirectly by mass nonhuman animal (ab)use. Also of note was the organisations’ deification of ‘compassionate’ vegan practitioners, out ‘saving’ the lives of myriad ‘voiceless’ nonhuman beings, which perpetuates what Lilia Trenkova (qtd. in Brueck & McNeill, 2020) calls a ‘toxic human savior complex’ (p. 315); and an emphasis on the apparent ‘human-likeness’ of victimised nonhuman animals, which plays into the very criteria underpinning much historic and ongoing oppression (human and nonhuman) in the first place.

Moreover, regular references to ‘humans’ and ‘animals’ amounted to missed opportunities to reject the insidious human/animal dichotomy, whilst the associated moral inequalities of anthropocentrism were left unchallenged by the organisations’ human-directed scales of moral urgency between cases of exploitation – whether based on the conditions of said exploitation, such as factory versus ‘family’ farming, or the perceived ‘intelligence’ of the oppressed nonhuman beings in question.

 

Intersectional Awareness & Incompetence

As with above, intersectional aptitude was inconsistent. Oftentimes, the organisations exhibited intersectional awareness by presenting nonhuman animal rights as a component – rather than the final component – of social justice. In this connection, attention was drawn to overlaps between human and nonhuman injustices, such as the ransacking of ecosystems and indigenous communities to support Western demand for ‘animal products’, and egregious worker exploitation within slaughterhouses.

On the other hand, uncritical representations of veganism as ‘easy’ overlooked the experiences of the economically and locationally restricted, whilst celebrations of ‘vegan cappuccinos’ exalted frivolous consumerism and in turn dampened veganism’s radical propensity. Intersectional potential was further blunted by the discriminatory and colonial character of specific demonisations of non-Western practices and – perhaps most frustratingly given the amount of criticism this strategy has received – comparisons between nonhuman and human oppressions which, by exploiting the latter in an attempt to underscore the former, do little to challenge either of them.

 

Conclusion

Persuaded by the Foucauldian position that discourse dictates the perceived respectability – and even intelligibility – of ideas and behaviours, this study treats discourse as inherently ideological, playing a fundamental role in the formation and perpetuation of social conventions. This includes the exploitation and consumption of nonhuman life. ‘Changing culture is centrally a matter of changing language’, Fairclough once stated (2000, p. 122), thus our fight against the interconnected oppressions of anthropocentric culture must – in significant part, at least – take place on the level of language. As Nguyen (2019) persuasively contends, ‘we cannot eradicate speciesism if we continue to tolerate it in the very words we speak’ (p. 121). An offshoot of a much larger analysis I am conducting as part of my PhD, this study endeavours to contribute to the rejection of anthropocentrism contained in rhetoric concerning a practice that is indispensable to our moving beyond the arrogant and delusion destruction of human supremacy: veganism.

 

Read the full article here in Relations: Beyond Anthropocentrism.

 

References

Adams, C. J., 2010. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. Twentieth Anniversary ed. New York: Continuum.

Brueck, J. F. & McNeill, Z., 2020. Queer and Trans Voices: Achieving Liberation Through Consistent Anti-Oppression. [s.l.]: Sanctuary Publishers.

Calarco, M., 2014. Being Toward Meat: Anthropocentrism, Indistinction, and Veganism. Dialectical Anthropology, 38(4), pp. 415-429.

Crist, E. & Kopnina, H., 2014. Unsettling Anthropocentrism. Dialectical Anthropology, 38(4), pp. 387-396.

Fairclough, N., 2000. New Labour, New Language?. London: Routledge.

Gough, L. A., 2023. Veganism’s Anti-Anthropocentric Capacity: A Critical Analysis of the Advocacy Discourse of Three Prominent Vegan Organisations. Relations. Beyond Anthropocentrism, 11(1), pp. 9-28.

Nguyen, H., 2019. Tongue Tied: Breaking the Language Barrier to Animal Liberation. New York: Lantern Books

What Sociology Can Tell Us about Empathy for Animals

Photo Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Corey Lee Wrenn, PhD
University of Kent

Empathy for Animals is a Core Human Value

Humans across the globe share their homes with dogs, cats, rodents, and other animals. We call them companions, pets, or even family members. Thousands of pounds are invested in these animals with regard to food, treats, toys, clothing, kennels, healthcare, and even birthdays and funeral services. Clearly humans deeply care about other animals. At our core, we have empathy for animals other than ourselves.

Exploitative Economies Distort Our Empathy for Animals

So why do so many humans stop short of extending this compassion to animals categorized as food, clothing, or labour? Sociology offers a variety of explanations according to theoretical perspectives. Many sociologists, however, point to the economic structure of a society and the commodification of nonhuman animals. David Nibert has argued that our switch to a hunting economy not only created a society newly structured around the oppression of animals (speciesism) but it also created a society divided by gender. The transition to agriculture entrenched speciesism further with the advent of domestication. This also introduced class division since agriculture allowed for surplus goods (and unequal distribution).

By the late 1500s, early capitalism and colonial expansion spread and deepened speciesism across the globe (and, in doing so, introduced racial division as well). Today, in late-stage capitalism, speciesism (animal agriculture in particular) is more intensive than ever. It is rapidly normalizing in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and other previously colonized spaces as a result of Western coercion. These are regions where plant-based consumption was once normative. The loss of traditional foodways is not only harmful for nonhuman animals identified as “food,” but the global poor identified as their consumers. Social stratification, in other words, is rooted in the adoption of speciesism as a primary economy both past and present.

Distorted Empathy for Animals Includes Humans, Too

Notice how human oppression codeveloped with animal oppression. This intersectionality is key to the sociological understanding of speciesism. Species, race, class, gender, and other social categories are economically functional. They ensure that unpleasant jobs will be filled and that labour may be exploited for low cost (or for none at all). These categories also represent social difference and tend to facilitate conflict and discourage cooperation. For sociologists, this tendency is politically relevant. A divided society, after all, is more easily manipulated by the dominant class in support of its own interests.

The most fundamental social division is that between humans and other animals. It is this animalization which separates those who are marginalized from those who are centered in society with regard to social recognition and allocation of resources. Women are animalized, people of color are animalized, humans with disabilities are animalized, homosexual people are animalized, ethnic minorities are animalized, and non-binary and trans humans are animalized. Even nonhuman animals themselves are animalized.

This is because “animal” is a social category imbrued with symbolic meaning. Just like race really has more to do with power, prestige, and access to resources than it does with one’s actual skin color, species is also not so much about one’s biological makeup (i.e. if one has hands or hooves, skin or scales). All groups, whether human or nonhuman, that are labeled “animal” are described as physically and cognitively inferior to the dominant class and can be denied rights accordingly.

Unteaching Empathy

True, nonhuman and human animals are indeed biologically different. But there are many more commonalities between the two groups. Why do we emphasize difference over sameness? I have described a society that is fundamentally in conflict. In order to maintain such a volatile system, powerful ideologies must be introduced and enforced through institutions and socialization. Psychologists point to a variety of cognitive and emotional mechanisms for managing the discomfort humans feel when faced with contradictions in their empathy toward other animals. Sociologists, however, are interested in how our empathy for some animals and our lack of empathy for others is learned (or, more accurately, is taught).

We are taught by our parents that some animals are for petting, some animals are for admiring, some are pests we should kill, and others are food we should eat. Doctors (who generally lack nutritional training) teach us that eating animals and drinking nonhuman breastmilk is good for us. We are taught by our teachers, museums, and zoos that nonhuman animals are ours to exploit. Mainstream media (which long since converged in the 1990s under the ownership of a handful of powerful billionaires) programs us that animals are objects and our using them is good for the economy. We’re being taught these lessons from childhood throughout our life course.

Reclaiming Empathy

Fortunately, if speciesism is something that is learned, that means it is something which can be unlearned. Sociologists are also interested in how social change happens and how social justice can be achieved in a society that is fundamentally unequal. Although the system may be rigged against us (and nonhuman animals), individuals can resist the erosion of our empathy by choosing food, clothing, and entertainment which does not harm other animals. Individuals can also work to create a more inclusive, peaceful world by getting active in our communities and putting pressure on policy-makers. It is possible to reclaim our empathy for animals.