Why Food Justice is a Feminist Issue

In an interview with Alternet’sHere’s Why Our Food Systems are a Central Feminist Issue,” I was asked to elaborate on women’s contributions to critical food justice and how current sexual politics inhibit or even invisiblize women’s contributions today.

Both the Nonhuman Animal rights movement and the environmental movement, I note, were established by women who strategically employed stereotypes about women’s proper role in nurturing and caring. This strategy was necessary to gain access to the public sphere in an era in which women were expected to remain inside the home and well outside of politics.

Unfortunately, this feminization persists in modern food justice efforts. Sociological and psychological research supports that environmental and vegan campaigns and products are less likely to find male support simply due to this feminization. This gender divide translates into a serious barrier to success given that men’s recognition is necessary for a movement to gain legitimacy in a patriarchal society.

Rather than celebrate women’s contributions to anti-speciesist efforts, the vegan movement has opted to elevate men in campaigning and leadership. This, to me, is indicative of intersectional failure. Patriarchal bargains are unlikely to liberate Nonhuman Animals given the historical relationship between sexism and speciesism:

… the fact that men have to be involved to bring legitimacy to a cause demonstrates that we still haven’t come to terms with the underlying ideological roots to oppression.

Readers can access the entire interview here.

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Corey Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology and past Director of Gender Studies (2016-2018) with Monmouth University. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016). Subscribe to Dr. Wrenn’s newsletter for research updates.

Is This What Vegan Looks Like?

In the June 2018 issue of Women’s Health UK, I was interviewed on the prevailing stereotype of angry vegans that has dominated British media in recent months. In the article, I clarify that, although most animal rights activists and vegans are women, patriarchal norms endemic to society and social movements push men (especially hegemonic ones) to the spotlight. It’s not an especially fair portrayal and neither is it representative:

Whereas women, who are well aware that their emotionality will be framed as “hysterical,” tend to focus more on mediation, education and community-building. It’s tragic that long-standing peaceful leaders in the vegan movement are suddenly being held accountable for the actions of an extreme few.

Readers can access the entire interview here.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and served as Director of Gender Studies with a New Jersey liberal arts college 2016-2018. She also served as council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association and was elected chair in 2018. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory.

Dealing with Sexism Requires Initiative

Perhaps one of the most crucial rational strategies for achieving animal liberation which I explore in my book, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights, is the firm rejection of sexism. In a movement that is mostly ranked by women but dominated by men, sexism becomes irrational in that it:

1. Counters social justice values
2. Disempowers 80% of the movement, and
3. Discredits the movement in the larger social movement arena.

Dealing with sexism requires initiative. Male-identified leaders must take their position seriously, and part of that serious consideration will entail ceding some or all of that leadership to marginalized demographics. Male leaders should take reports of sexism and sexual violence seriously and have absolutely no tolerance for it. It will take more than waiting for the marginalized to point out problems. Advocates with privilege must start identifying it and rejecting it themselves. They must create a strategy to prevent it from happening in the first place. Those in a position of power are those who must take the initiative to create a safer, just, and rationally consistent movement.

This is not to say that rank-and-file folks will not be involved in this goal as well. Neither is it only men who should pay attention to this problem. Advocates of any gender must take these reports seriously and support one another.

For further reading and inspiration, check out our essay, “Tips for Male Allies.”


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology and past Director of Gender Studies (2016-2018) with Monmouth University. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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Someone Else’s (Vegan) Shoes: Review of ‘Veganism in an Oppressive World’

By Julia Feliz Brueck

Understanding comes easiest when it arrives from a place of having walked in the shoes of someone that we can fully empathize with. However, to truly embrace a stance across social justice issues that is respectful and aware in the quest to create true justice for all, including nonhuman animals, we must come to the realization that we do not always have the same lived experiences or understanding of others that have walked in shoes different to ours. It is imperative that, in our efforts as activists, we humbly remind ourselves that sometimes our role is simply to follow under the guidance of those that know and understand their own oppression first-hand.

As we understand the interconnectedness across oppressions and the need to work with one another to achieve our collective goals, we must accept that activism may mean taking a seat and supporting rather than taking center stage. It simply isn’t possible to have first-hand experience on every single oppression that affects individuals due to the various degrees of intersecting identities, which determine the level of oppression that one faces. These oppressions and their effects as real and impact the animal rights movement, as they follow vegans that are from other marginalized group even when advocating for nonhumans above themselves.

It wasn’t until recently that my own experiences led me to this understanding and helped me acknowledged that my perceptions or opinions on issues that do not affect me directly simply don’t hold any weight over those from communities affected directly. As a consistently anti-oppression vegan activist, my role outside the shoes that I have walked in is a supportive one. My AHA! moment came from a collection of experiences that one day just clicked on their own. Seeds that had been planted, one day gave root and flowered into the type of activism in which I partake in today. My role, outside my own community and issues that directly affect me, is to listen, learn, and raise the voices of those that do not have my same privileges due to hierarchical systems of oppression.

While I am an AfroBoricua, as a Puerto Rican born and raised with Brown skin and African as well as Indigenous roots, I will never understand first-hand the experiences of Black women, who experience anti-blackness across all cultures. My lighter skin privilege means that I don’t directly experience this type of oppression even though I understand what it is to experience colorism and racism. Something as mundane as a conversation with a Black person about their hair, flipped a switch. While I was able to draw parallels in which the ways my own “frizzy” and wavy hair is looked down upon under a culture heavily influenced by white supremacist standards, I stopped and listened. I learned that Black people are unable to freely wear their natural hair and may be even fired or denied a job for wearing protective hairstyles, such as locks. This brief interaction with an online stranger helped me understand that, individually, we simply experience different realities in the way our bodies are policed and even in the accessibility to basic resources that we have access to, including healthy foods and even clean water despite being oppressed by the same institution.

There have also been instances in which I was forced to walk into shoes that I had not imagine I would be forced to walk in. Being born and raised on an island and then moving to the mainland US in an area populated by communities that looked like me afforded me safety. Therefore, it wasn’t until I moved to Europe that my inability to blend in catapulted me into the blatant xenophobia that communities face around the world. Most Europeans cannot even point where Puerto Rico is located on a map, and most have never met a “Latinx” person. This means that, as a Brown-skinned person, I am ambiguous enough to them to erroneously assume that I am either a refugeed African, a refugee from Syria, or even a Romani – or someone from any other country where the local assume Brown people must come from. Most often, I am assumed to be from all marginalized communities of color (or at least considered “tanned”) commonly found here. Despite also having Spanish (European colonizer) roots due to the colonialism that plagued my island, I am automatically recognized as an outsider. I’ve been shunned and excluded in my attempts to become part of the local community, so I have learned what it truly feels like to experience xenophobia simply for looking different based on the color of my skin and my non-European features. Being fluent in two languages (English and Spanish) hasn’t been enough to keep me safe either. Having a thick accent in French has made me realize the extent of xenophobia awarded to those even trying to fit in by learning the local language and customs. Interestingly, refugees have been the most welcoming, never delving into incessant questions about my ethnic or racial background. Seven years on, and I still do not have any personal relationships with the locals. Being unwelcomed has meant that I am often left out from mundane events, as well as community resources and access to services that I do not even know how to reach. This has made me stop to consider what it must be like for those with even less privileges, resources, and support than my family and I have – within Europe and even back in the US.

This all directly affects how I am able to advocate for nonhumans. For vegans of color (like myself), safety becomes a real issue when the local vegans do not recognize their racial biases either, and thus, do not provide a safe environment where I can freely advocate for nonhumans without having to worry about experiencing racism, xenophobia, and other forms of discrimination from group members themselves. Unfortunately, the reality is that white vegans are not immune to their own racial biases.

There have been many more moments and life experiences that have forced me to think beyond my own shoes and my own struggles with oppression. I began thinking about all the experiences from childhood to present time that I have not had and those that I am not even aware are a possibility because they are simply not how I experienced the world based on my intersecting oppressions and whatever privileges I do have. This led me to resolve that, especially in my activism, I need to be aware and admit that I will never be privy to the experiences of all people that I truly want to find justice for, and no matter how well-meaning I may be in my activism, I could end up silencing those I am trying to help.

I believe when someone from a marginalized group that I am not part of tells me about their experiences with oppression. To question them on something I do not experience and to disregard their experiences would be to invalidate them and add to their oppression. Thus, at this point in time, addressing root issues, including actual accessibility to veganism, and focusing on how to solve these issues within my own community has taken priority in my work. I have also made a commitment to raise the voices of those whose experiences are truly foreign to my understanding of how injustices affect them.

And what about nonhumans? The same understanding should, of course, be applied to an oppressed nonhuman group whose shoes we will never be able to walk in. We don’t speak their languages nor understand what it is like to experience life as they do. However, we can all agree that at the very minimum, differences in life form and in our abilities to communicate are not justifiable factors (and never were) to continue upholding supremacist-fueled abuses and oppression upon nonhuman animals. This is what unites us as vegans. However, the acknowledgement that supremacy is still an issue even within humans and within the animal rights/vegan movement is vital. The acceptance of this knowledge is imperative for nonhuman justice. Why? Because human oppression is tied-in to nonhuman animal oppression. ALL Supremacist mentalities must be abolished if we are going to move towards true liberation for all.

How do we do this? We can start this process by recognizing that advocating for nonhumans is not the same as advocating for human groups. While nonhumans are not currently able to guide us, marginalized people, whose shoes we will never walk in ourselves, are able to lead us on their own issues. By educating ourselves, taking a step back, and letting vegans from their own communities lead on issues that affect them directly, including the forms of nonhuman oppression that their cultures partake in. The book Veganism in an Oppressive World: A Vegans-of- Color Community Project edited by Julia Feliz Brueck was published to help vegans understand what this means and how to implement this understanding into helping the mainstream vegan movement evolve into one that is actually aware and most importantly, effective.

Get a copy via Sanctuary Publishers or on Amazon.

 


Julia Feliz Brueck is the founder of Sanctuary Publishers, a vegan of color owned and run vegan book publisher with the aim of giving back with every book and supporting marginalized communities. Julia is also the author of Baby and Toddler Vegan Feeding Guide and Libby Finds Vegan Sanctuary. She also works as a published illustrator and recently launched veganismofcolor.com in an effort to connect people of color to vegans of color. Connect with Julia via Facebook or juliafeliz.com.

What is Intersectionality?


Mainstream theories of social inequality frequently compartmentalize experiences, but inequality rarely works that way in real life. Instead, individuals are comprised of many different identities at once, and these identities will interact with one another in unique ways.

Furthermore, multiple systems and institutions are simultaneously at work in a given society. So, for instance, simply focusing on race as an identity and white supremacy as an institution ignores the fact that race will be experienced differently by people with different genders, ages, sexualities, abilities, and nationalities.

This schema is known as intersectionality, and it is a concept that emerges out of Black feminist thought.

In animal studies, vegan feminists employ this framework to argue that one’s life chances will be shaped, not just by one’s race, class, or gender, but also by their species. Vegan feminists also recognize the influence of an additional system….human supremacy.

For animals, we want to be thinking about how historical constructions of race, class, gender, and other identities shape how animals are thought about and how they are treated. Female-bodied animals, for example, are more likely to be exploited in the food industry given their ability to produce breastmilk, eggs, and babies. In another example, some animals that are associated with communities of color, like pit bulls, are more susceptible to punitive and often lethal breed restriction policies.

Meanwhile, for human justice theorists, it will be important to recognize how human oppression is always shaped by processes of species inequality. For instance, women and people of color have historically been animalized, and this animalization is inseparable from the oppression they face today.

Given that species, class, race, gender, and other identity categories are all historically constructed using similar mechanisms (such as animalization, objectification, sexualization, depersonalization, denaming, and so on), it is important to apply an intersectional perspective to achieve a more accurate understanding of oppression for nonhuman animals and humans alike.

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies with a New Jersey liberal arts college, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory.

How to Hate Fur Without Hating Women

Words and illustration by Vita Sleigh
Content warning for discussion of misogynistic actions and behaviors in the activist community.

At my first few Animal Save Vigils, I couldn’t help but feel an extra lurch of sickness (to add to the pungent smell of death and terrified screaming from inside) to see that the on-site vet for that slaughterhouse was female. How can she be supporting this? How is this sisterhood? I thought. I somehow expected better of her. My feelings of shock to see women involved in slaughter were matched (and raised) by other activists – gendered insults were leveled at female workers including the “bitch” who worked at reception.

This reaction to women’s exploitation of animals is common, and it is something I have been unpacking. It clicked and made sense when I read Brutal by Brian Luke. “Feminine gender roles typically include an expectation of responsiveness to the needs of others, while masculine gender roles often include an expectation of a willingness to override or disregard [their] sympathies for others”. In other words, we accept, or expect, cruelty from men, while holding women to much higher moral standards. From women we expect nurture, sensitivity and (motherly) care. Seeing a woman driving a truck of chickens to their deaths challenges something fundamental to our constructions of femininity and what it is to be a woman.

In his section about the masculine-dominated world of vivisection, that animal activists respond to female vivisectors with “an extra measure of repugnance, as if a male vivisector’s callousness is unfortunate but expected, whereas a female’s is both lamentable and deviant.”

We also see this attitude in campaigns against “fur” (the hair of other animals). While “fur” is, of course, disgustingly unnecessary and cruel, I have long since found the disproportionate focus of campaigns of organisations and individuals on this issue confusing (without even broaching the murky world of PETA’s sexist ads about the issue). Are the procedures of keeping animals for “fur” – squalid conditions, violently taking their lives and turning their carcasses into products – really so different from the similarly squalid conditions and murder to which we subject farmed animals for “meat” and their skins worn as “leather”? I would argue not.  (And, while we’re here – I do not subscribe to the argument that “fur” is more futile or wasteful than “leather” because “at least farmed animals are killed and eaten”. To argue this point is to suggest that the individuals’ death is somehow better if their mutilated body is eventually consumed or used. It is also to accept the view that animal bodies are products, and not violated, murdered corpses.)

I worry that the attitude to “fur” in the animal rights world is in a similar vein to the way the Yulin Dogmeat Festival and the consumption of dogmeat is, with racist overtones, disproportionately criticised by those in the West. Not to mention the even more overt racism and speciesism exhibited by those who pay for the same or similar to happen to pigs, chickens and cows. We are not being careful enough to prevent other prejudices, be they sexism or racism or any other -ism, from seeping in to animal liberation.

Notwithstanding the fact that traditionally men have purchased fur for women to wear as a symbol of the man’s wealth and status (and even today, in this postfeminist age, men continue to be the primary consumer purchasers of fur), fur is seen as a woman’s product…Fur and cosmetics have both been used to help implement a particular construction of gender roles, one in which women are held to be naturally and ceaselessly engaged in decorating and adorning their bodies to attract the attention of men

– Brian Luke, Brutal

This is a culture that insists women’s only talent is to be endlessly beautiful and glamorous in order to attract the attention of the (cis, straight) male gaze; and then berates them in the same breath as being vain and shallow.

It is true that, by grace of meat eaters’ own hypocrisy, it is easier for many people to feel angry at the issue of “fur;” unlike animal agriculture, they are far enough away from financially supporting the industry to be feel able to criticise it. However, that it has more of a public backing may also have to do with gender. “We have not seen men in leather jackets being accosted, verbally haranged and physically assaulted…Killing animals for sport, for science, for a steak dinner, or a leather jacket – that is not excessive violence, that is men’s violence. This society is certainly willing to intervene against women becoming manly through an overly direct connection to animal abuse, but it will not stop men from being men”.

Let me be clear. Women who buy “fur” should by no means be excused from bearing the heavy moral burden that someone had to die for their clothes choice. Female workers in slaughterhouses are far from forgiven, but to an equal extent that their male co-workers are not forgiven. It is about holding both genders to the same standards, and being aware of the context of our sexist society can help us to unpick the reactions we have to femininity and exploitation. It can help us to understand why red paint is thrown at women in “fur” coats, and not at men wearing leather or eating a hamburger.

 


Vita is an illustrator and writer. Her deep interest in gender politics pervades her work, as well as a firm belief in the transformative power of care and compassion.

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