35.2: The Sexual Politics of Meat

The cover of Dandelion volume 35 issue 2
Publish Date: 2010
Managing Editor/Layout: Emily Carr
Assistant Editor: Kathleen Brown
Contributing Editors: Tyler Hayden, Cara Hedley, Drew McDowell, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Aaron Giovannone, Stephanie Davis, Claire Lacey, Marc Lynch

Just over a decade ago, in an article titled “The Banality of Evil,” Ed Ayers wrote: “The greatest destruction in our world is not being inflicted by psychopathic tyrants or terrorists. It’s being done by ordinary people–law abiding, churchgoing, family loving ‘moral’ people–who are enjoying their sport utility vehicles, their vacation cruises, and their burgers [italics are mine] and are oblivious to where those pleasures come from and what they cost.”

Inspired by the life & work of vegetarian feminist theologian & animal rights activist Carol J. Adams, this issue of dandelion hopes to be an antidote to the self-deception that is regularly practiced when ordinary, moral, conscientious people participate in the widespread Western tradition of the consumption of mass-produced & factory-farmed meat.

Eight years before Ayers penned “The Banality of Evil,” Adams published her provocative book The Sexual Politics of Meat, which is being republished this year. Of an essentially exploratory character, Adams’ theory motivates people to ask deeper questions about their real wants & needs when it comes to the production & consumption of animal flesh. With its triple exploration of sex, politics, & meat, Adams’ theory also encourages us to think about the discursive sleight of hand that has rendered women and animals objects–rather than subjects–of history.

Adams brings together issues of gender & issues of animal rights in order to model an attentiveness to the political & ethical dimensions of the discourses that dis-place women & animals from being fully physically present. She asks us to consider, for example, how terms like “chick,” “hamburger,” “bitch,” & “veal” relegate the actual woman or animal to some periphery backdrop role.

Adams reminds us of the self-deception that is regularly practiced not only when ordinary, moral, conscientious people eat meat but, more importantly, when these very same people–& I include myself in this category–consent to labelling women with negative terms that, as Adams discusses in her interview, “derive from domesticated female animals: cow, pig, sow, chick, hen, old biddy.”

The taboos against speaking out against the culture of meat eating are subtle, strong, & complex. Often, being nice–even being intelligent–means going along with the communal deception.

Though, for example, I have now been a vegetarian for over half my life, I have never discussed the ethical system informing this choice with my grandparents, who farm beef cattle. Not once have we talked about the difference in our lifestyles. Part of our reluctance to speak is, of course, respect. But we do ourselves & the larger world real damage when we go along with this taboo of silence. It takes courage & confidence to enter into this dialogue with anything approaching common sense.

& yet–we all know that the consumption of factory-farmed animals & the continued discrimination against women in the workplace are danger signals that should rivet our attention & bond us to collective action. But it doesn’t. Why?

The texts collected here echo that question: why? Like Adams’ theory, they are essentially exploratory in nature. They are not alarms or sermons–which tend to make us shut down, stiffening our resistance to what seems to be too overwhelming, too complicated, too out of our control. The theory of sexual politics of meat is, after all, both complicated & overwhelming. At issue is a collective suffering. The animals we eat are suffering. The earth is suffering. Our very culture is suffering.

The critical challenge is not to critique the institutions & taboos that make this suffering possible but rather to offer strategies for social repair. To think positively about how we might change our habits, how we might make the world we live in the world we want to live in, not simply the world that already is. Indeed, the most remarkable feature of both Adams’ theory & the work collected here is not that, through a discursive sleight of hand, we are mistreating animals, but that we are beginning to wake up, as if from a century-long sleep, to the possibility of a whole new relationship to the creatures with whom we share this planet.

– Emily Carr, 2010


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