The Vegan Experience for Older Women

In a publication authored with my colleague Alexus Lizardi, Older, Greener, and Wiser: Charting the Experiences of Older Women in the American Vegan Movement, we offer the first exploratory research on an underserved demographic: older vegan women. Minimal data is available on this group–most of it is relegated to subscriber feedback reported by The Vegan Society. 

Interestingly, our sample had not put much thought into what it means to be older and vegan. Some noted that they were aware of how older vegans are objectified in the movement if they were seen to “age well.” In other words, age is leveraged to promote veganism as a means to beat aging. For the average person who ages normally, they may find themselves invisibilized. Indeed, the vegan and vegetarian movement has actively dismissed key leaders thought to sully the movement with their prolonged illness and premature death (like founder of the American Vegan Society Sylvester Graham and founder of the British Vegetarian Society William Cowherd). 

Otherwise, our respondents noted that being older granted them a degree of confidence in their political choices. This is an important finding given the movement’s focus on young people and its concern with recidivism (many young people will revert to nonveganism should they lack social supports). Older people are more resolved in their decisions and are less swayed by social pressures. 

This could sometimes backfire. A few of our respondents felt they were rather isolated given their hesitancy to associate with non-vegans who they felt were hostile to their lifestyle. Older folks in general risk isolation as they age, leading us to consider whether older vegans were doubly burdened in this respect.

Some respondents also expressed concern with accessing medical professionals who took veganism seriously. As many of our participants were middle-class and living in the New York area, they were relatively privileged in this respect, but it was clear that more marginalized older vegans could find difficulty in this regard.

Lastly, many of our respondents noted that their gender definitely informed their veganism. They reported being compelled by the horrors of dairy production, something they could empathize with given their own reproductive journeys as female-bodied persons. We consider whether this awareness is due to the popularity of Carol Adams’ vegan feminist work in the movement. It is likely that greater acknowledgement of aging issues in the vegan community might increase activist consciousness to the unique challenges facing older folks in a relatively ageist society.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. 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 is a member of the Research Advisory Council of The Vegan Society. She has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute and has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Environmental Values, 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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Queer Appalachia and Vegan Activism


Photo Credit: Raymond Troumbly

By Z. Zane McNeill

People always assume that growing up queer in West Virginia was difficult, but I always tell them that I was bullied more for being vegan than being LGBTQIA+. I went vegetarian around the same time I realized that I had a crush on my best friend who was a girl. She was vegetarian too, and I was head over heels for her.  At 14, I went vegan after learning more about factory farming and the suffering that is connected to dairy and egg production. In high school and early college, influenced by Carol Adams, Josephine Donovan, and Alice Walker, I was an adamant believer that in order to be a feminist I needed to be vegan. This later extended to queer liberation as intrinsically intertwined with animal liberation.

In my early 20s, I found queer community in Appalachia thanks to the zine, artist, and activist project Queer Appalachia. Through their social media accounts, I found other queer southern projects that I  discovered, and subsequently collaborated and contributed to, like Bible Belt Queers, a community book project led by and for Southern queers, and Queering the Mountain, an art exhibition highlighting the work of Appalachian queers.  Inspired by these, I eventually started my own zine project called Marx in the Mountains, have been working on a community book project on queer(ing) Appalachia, and have recently released a collection highlighting queer vegan voices around the world under Sanctuary Publishers, a resource activism focused vegan book publisher.

People who weren’t raised in this part of the world tend to not fully understand the way in which Appalachia is not simply a place. ‘Appalachia’ is in and of itself a contested definition. Appalachia is a space containing around 25 million people, or around 8% of the US population. It stretches through thirteen states following the Appalachian mountain range from New York to Alabama. Beyond a stretch of land, it is an area historically comprised of marginalized people—Indigenous folk, immigrants working for the coal companies, and other impoverished people tied into a form of serfdom in late-stage capitalism. In What You’re Getting Wrong About Appalachia, Elizabeth Catte explains that Appalachia is “a political construction, a vast geographic region, and a spot that occupies an unparalleled place in our cultural imagination.”[1] She herself is hesitant to label the concept of Appalachian identity and usually works with those who self-identify as Appalachian instead, as historically who self-identify as Appalachian instead, considering that, historically, who counted as Appalachian was decided by those in power or with massive amounts of capital. It is more than a geographic region—it is an environmental space with a history of toxicity from natural resource extraction, a cultural construction fashioned by conservatives to support revisionist arguments of what ‘America’ is and what bodies represent ‘America’, and a politically contested space that pushes disadvantaged voices to the margins.

When I was growing up in Appalachia, I was mostly bored but managed to pick up activism from my family. My stepfather was a well-traveled kayaker, and my mother was an HIV+ advocate in West Virginia.  They were both schoolteachers, and I was lucky to grow up in the fun environment of music and books. However, to the dismay of the stepfather, I was more interested in reading Twilight than Marx. During the invasion of Iraq, my parents brought me with them to protests. The military practiced their maneuvers over our town, so my stepfather mowed a peace sign into our backyard. He delighted in knowing military pilots would gaze upon his anti-war protest while they performed their exercises. Both of my parents had a lot of gay friends and I was raised in the queer punk and art scenes in Morgantown—an environment a lot of people would be surprised existed in the mountains. Truthfully, growing up queer in West Virginia shaped my identity and understanding of self. I don’t feel the same way about my gender or sexuality as someone from the city might.

Coming to terms with being queer and coming out was awkward, but that was really it. In high school, when I came out as bi, I didn’t face discrimination—but people loved throwing their cafeteria food at me, showing me frogs they dissected, and stepping on bugs in front of me once they realized I was also vegan. At the same time, however, my friends and I had a Vegetarian Awareness Club and got a two-page spread in the yearbook. So, I would say that growing up vegan and queer in Appalachia was a weirdly empowering and isolating experience that informed my work in various animal welfare NGOs and queer grassroots organizing. My day-to-day life was continuously impacted by poverty, lack of transportation, and devastation by corporate greed. An area gutted by addiction, natural resource extraction, and neoliberalism left shadows on my friends’ faces and cuts on their arms. A lack of employment opportunities pushed the privileged out of the state to the cities, further pushing the marginalized into their homes with needles and pills. Being queer only makes sense to me with this as a backdrop. Constant violence has seemingly queered us all who are “from around here”.

I have seen progress as the years have passed, which is exciting in itself. In 2017,  Queer Appalachia released the zine Electric Dirt, and since its release, a community of LGBTQIA+ folks from Appalachia, the South, and the Rust Belt has sprung up around it fighting to show that the discourse surrounding Appalachia leaves queer, Indigenous, Black, POC, femme, and leftist voices out. Queer challenges normative generalizations about the culture of Appalachia and explores how queer folks define themselves and the region “within the intersections of coal mines and class, race and religion, food justice and colonialism.” Queer Appalachia, as an overarching work, has benefitted the marginalized folk of Appalachia, giving a wide-ranging audience to those too often denied a platform. Yet, despite this progress, I still felt alienated by some of the content produced by the LGBTIQA+ Southern and Appalachian community. I was disappointed that collectives focused on the intersections between queer life, the opioid epidemic, the carceral system, Indigenous and Black liberation, and leftist organizing but did not also embrace animal welfare and veganism. This continued to shadow my experiences growing up queer and vegan.

In Appalachia, corporations see people as expendable, just as nonhumans are seen as objects to be used. I felt strongly about the work of scholar-activists like Dr. Breeze Harper, Adams, Julia Feliz Brueck, and Aph and Syl Ko who have illustrated that nonhuman oppression is inherently intertwined with our own. Specifically, Feliz Brueck coined the term ‘consistent anti-oppression’ to describe how marginalizations are inherently connected and should be equally fought against, which makes sense to me.

Fueled by this framework, I approached Feliz Brueck, who also runs Sanctuary Publishers, about an anthology that would invite folks who identified at LGBTQIA+ and vegan to meditate on how their identities intersect, how being LGBTQIA+ affects their vegan activism, and what they would like to say to non-vegan LGBTQIA+ folk. The end result, which was recently released, was a book project that includes over 25 contributors—activists, scholars, artists, and writers who identify as LBTQIA+ and vegan—who explored the interconnections between social justice groups, building bridges between movements, and dismantling hierarchies between oppressed groups through consistent anti-oppression in this volume. In the book, known activists like Jasmin Singer speak about their initial work with AIDS Awareness, while scholar Margaret Robinson discusses how veganism ties into her decolonization as a two-spirit person, and Shiri Eisner speaks to her journey of coming out as a bisexual, genderqueer Mizrahi vegan. However, the focus is not on known activists, and that’s what makes this book and the work of Sanctuary Publishers different. Voices often denied a platform are able to have one if they choose to in written form.

Growing up queer and vegan in Appalachia was an experience that challenged metronormative stereotypes—happily queer in the holler, organizing Earthlings showings in West Virginia, and going on queer dates to a vegan-friendly co-op. Yet, I find a special kind of comfort knowing that those in other parts of the world from different cultures and life journeys understood me in a way that I had not felt before. Since embarking on the road to publish the queer vegan anthology, I found myself validated in both these identities—being vegan and queer—and in recognizing that they were always inherently connected to me, and that being vegan has informed my queer activism and vice versa. Queer vegans across the globe share this sentiment, perhaps because we have historically faced an otherization that has led to our own violence and marginalization.

I hope that vegans recognize the importance of embracing a veganism that is consistently against all oppression in an effort to ensure we recognize that the movement has work to do regarding how we avoid marginalization of others at the expense of nonhumans. I also hope that non-vegan LGBTQIA+ folks, especially my friends in the queer Appalachian community, recognize that our marginalization extends to others through our daily choices, and that in order to fight for our queer liberation, we must also fight for nonhuman animal rights.

[1] Catte, Elizabeth. What You Are Getting Wrong about Appalachia. Cleveland, OH: Belt Publishing, 2018, 10.


Zane McNeill is an independent scholar-activist from Appalachia. Their newly published book Queer and Trans Voices: Achieving Liberation Through Consistent Anti-Oppression edited by themselves and Julia Feliz Brueck explores the interconnections between social justice groups in order to consistently and effectively achieve liberation for all.

You can read more on intersections of queer activism and veganism in Queer and Trans Voices, available for purchase through Amazon website or Sanctuary Publishers Instagram.

The Hunt: Masculinity & Fox Oppression in Britain

By Madelaine Couch

On Boxing Day 2018, I joined a hunt gathering.

Never in my life would I expect to say those words. Never in my life would I support hunting. I was an observer to document and tell a story.

I had just spent Christmas in a small West Country town. As usual, it was a day filled with eating, opening presents, drinking alcohol – the expected festivities. The following morning on Boxing Day, as it turned out, the town centre held a hunt meet. Fox Hunting.

I was curious to see what it was all about, because throughout my whole life I have stood against hunting for sport. I have opposed blood sports and I always will. Causing unnecessary suffering for man’s pleasure seems sadistic to me. Cruelty is not an act I condone.

Rich Hardy is a storyteller, campaigner and investigative journalist. He has spent the past twenty years documenting the plight of animals around the world. He has spent time with fur trappers in America, Spanish bullfighters, exposed the rabbit fur industry, the broiler chicken industry, factory farms, followed live exports and told the story of primates kept in labs. Listening to interviews with Rich Hardy, he is a humble man who has dedicated his life to exposing cruelty and suffering, in an attempt to change laws and our behaviour towards animals.

Rich Hardy states that when spending time with many of these people who commit atrocious acts of cruelty towards animals, most of them are ordinary people in the world. They may go home to families, support their community and go to church. Some of them are respected figures in their towns and villages. Yet, beyond the human world, they can inflict profound
cruelty on another being. The sad fact is, this is quite common.

And this is the challenge. Because ultimately these people are not ‘other’. If we categorise people who do these things as ‘other’ and an ‘enemy’, we dehumanise them and remove their responsibility. We need to understand that there is a potential in this world for people to act in such ways. We need to educate and tell the stories in order for people to learn and understand the truth. Because most of the time, people don’t know the truth. The true stories are often kept behind walls – behind closed doors. They are intentionally covered up so intensive farming, blood sports and animal suffering for profitable gain can continue. The stories need to be told.

We walked into town on a crisp Boxing Day morning. I was surprised to see how busy the street was. In front of me stood a crowd of men and women in tweed jackets and hats, alcohol-induced rosy-cheeked men – their wives fashioning tall boots and neat hair do’s. I’d never seen anything like it.

As the huntsmen arrived with their immaculately groomed horses and rugged hounds, people drank mulled wine and chattered over Christmas cheer, the hunt leader in his Beauchamp blazer stood out in a street full of hunters. In his red fox-hunting jacket, he spieled about supporting hunting and fighting for the rights of hunters. I felt like I’d been flung back a few hundred years. Echoes of racism, sexism and white male patriarchal ideology hummed through the streets. This world seemed alien in the 21st century.

The crowd gathered and the man in the red jacket gave a speech.

‘First and foremost, can I just say a huge thank you to your town council for putting up with us yet again. This is one of our great traditions at Christmas time and it’s a lovely spectacle to see the hunt in the town square. So, for those of you that live here, thank you all very very much.’

A lovely spectacle isn’t the phrase that came to my mind. I genuinely felt fear for the foxes in the day that lay ahead. A large pack of rough looking hounds ran through the crowd whilst the sound of horns rang through the street. These dogs were large. They looked edgy, aggressive. People had brought their pet dogs out for the morning meet, and every single domestic dog confronted by a hound behaved with fear and aggression. Each pet dog
growled, hissed and barked at these hounds – because they were terrified of them.

‘It’s extraordinary that it was fifteen years ago now that I suspect many of you here faced a long trek to London to march in support of hunting. And of course, our voices were ignored and our politicians stabbed us in the back when they took the decision to ban hunting. But the good news is that we are still going and we have found a way to hunt within the law. And so, hunting, as we know it today, is still alive and well.’

Fox hunting was banned in 2004 in England and Wales. Since the ban of hunting, hunts invented an activity called ‘trail hunting’. Hunters claim to simply follow a pre-laid trail instead of chasing a fox. However, years of evidence shows that these ‘trail hunts’ are used as a cover for illegal hunting – and they continue to hunt foxes.

On the League Against Cruel Sports website, it states that more than eight out of ten people are opposed to hunting, including those in rural areas. Most people understand the cruelty of fox hunting and don’t condone it. The way we treat other sentient beings reflects the society we live.

There is the argument that fox hunting is about ‘pest control’, but hunts have been caught capturing and rearing foxes so they can be hunted. During one case, The League Against Cruel Sports investigators rescued and released foxes that were found locked up, near to a hunt meet. A few months later, monitoring the same hunt, their investigators were attacked, one resulted in a broken neck. For people to do this to human beings for rescuing a fox shows the level of violence and aggression that is tolerated in these blood sport cultures.

‘But it is alarming that just on the radio today, I heard, that it’s not enough now for them to take away our sport and then fine us if we break the law. They now want to put us in jail as well. And therefore, please, your support for this sport has never been more important. We do need to stand shoulder to shoulder. And so, what is also really lovely for us in the West Country for us to see, is the way that National Hunt Racing supports hunting.’

At that moment, I felt appalled to live in the West Country. My heart pounded, adrenaline pumped through my body. His speech was so loaded with talk of ‘rights’ and ‘being stabbed in the back’. His tone was aggressive.

What about the suffering inflicted on British wildlife – foxes and their cubs? Not to mention the other animals that are often injured and harmed if they come into contact with the hunt.

Other animals and wildlife have been known to be killed during a fox hunt.
I saw footage recently of a huntsman throwing a dead fox into a river and kicking one of the hounds. It was disgraceful and disgusting. The lack of compassion for another being was so evident. The aggression was rife. Perhaps for many supporters of hunting, there’s a pleasure in power and control. Man’s dominion over animal.

Hunt supporters say the sport is not cruel – claiming the hounds kill the foxes outright. And the fox does not anticipate death. And alternative ways to kill a fox would cause more suffering. They argue that hunting is a tradition and keeps the British culture alive.

Ban supporters argue that the sport is cruel. If there is a problem with foxes in an area shooting is more humane than hunting. Yet, foxes are not pests. These sports are old. We should have moved on from those times.

As the hunters and hounds left for the hunt, I asked a man in the crowd why he supported hunting. What is the point of it? Why does he condone it? He told me it was a tradition that he didn’t want to see lost and that it’s a part of British culture. As I continued the debate with him, co-incidentally he waved to a neighbour and cut the conversation short. I wasn’t being aggressive. I was trying to have a civilised, calm conversation. But he wouldn’t go there. He wouldn’t converse with me about it. Perhaps, deep down, he knew hunting was wrong.

So, the argument of tradition – what about bear baiting and bull baiting? These were also traditions. How can we be proud of many British traditions when they are so loaded with violence? I looked around me and saw white faces, tweed jackets, old husbands and wives, a history which I was not proud of. And fox hunting was another badge on that jacket of patriarchal dominion. Power. Elitism. Aggression. Control. A connection between blood sports and the ideologies of racism and sexism rang loud and clear.

I’ll never understand the psychology behind supporting violent sports. Fox hunting. Bullfighting. Deer hunting. Many supporters of these sports also say they respect and wish to protect British wildlife in general. Have they ever heard of hypocrisy? How bold they stand in an ocean of duplicity. We must keep telling the truth because that is all this world has.

This article has been inspired by the work of journalist Jo-Anne McArthur who is the founder of We Animals, the photographer Sam Hobson, the primatologist Jane Goodall and wildlife presenter, Chris Packham.


Maddy Couch is a writer and artist whose work examines themes relating to compassion for animals, wildlife protection, and the relationship between humans and animals. Her images feature in The Curlew Magazine and homes around the world. She has exhibited in Bristol, London and New York. Maddy has written for travel companies and VizArt Film. She is currently writing her first book and working on her 1000 Rescue project, creating 1000 artworks to raise awareness of animal and wildlife rescue worldwide. Maddy grew up in London. She received her BA from Brighton University, where she studied philosophy and history. She spent much of her twenties volunteering internationally for animal rescue, wildlife and community projects. She currently lives in Devon, with her
fiancé and two rescue cats. Maddy has also lived in Cornwall, Bristol and Taiwan.

You can find Maddy’s work on her website, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Veganism Is A Feminist Issue: Some British Considerations

Gordon Ramsay leaning over a cutting board full of vegetables

By Antonia Georgiou

In a society that has thrived upon the degradation, humiliation, and eroticised subordination of women, it is no surprise that other beings considered as ‘lesser’ in the capitalist hegemony are exploited and abused for mass consumption. Capitalism habitually reduces women to the sum of their parts, be it through normalised misogyny in the media or advertisements designed to titillate. This is intrinsically tied to the objectification of animals. The culture of misogyny naturalises depictions of violence and female discomfort as being erotic, glorifying the threatening as arousing. Subsequently, the culture of meat has normalised violence against non-human animals – the worst kinds of torture imaginable – and glamorised the gruesome outcome through attractive packaging and enticing marketing ploys.

Therefore, veganism is a feminist issue. In her book The Pornography of Meat, Carol J. Adams explains the concept of the ‘absent referent’: ‘We do not want to experience uncomfortable feelings about violence, butchering, suffering, and fear. This is the function of the absent referent—to keep our ‘meat’ separated from any idea that she or he was once an animal who was butchered, to keep something (like hamburger) from being seen as having been someone (a cow, a lamb, a once-alive being, a subject.)’. Accordingly, Adams argues that ‘nonhuman animals become absent referents through the institution of meat eating. Through socialization to sexual objectification, women become absent referents as well.’

The meat industry is adept in its subterfuge, selling murdered flesh by convincing consumers to separate the cruelty of the slaughterhouse from the finished goods. Once the dead animal is packaged up it is no longer a once sentient being, but a product. A chicken stops being a creature with feelings, who suffers from the same pain a human would, but a breast, a leg, a thigh. Advertisers depict meat with pornified glee: the KFC website boasts of ‘Our simple, succulent 100% chicken breast fillet burger’ beneath a gaudy image of oily, fried chicken.

These images belong in the canon of what is known as ‘beauty sadomasochism’. Coined by Naomi Wolf in her 1990 book, The Beauty Myth, the concept of beauty sadomasochism is highly salient to the meat industry. Beauty sadomasochism ‘claims that women like to be forced and raped, and that sexual violence and rape are stylish, elegant, and beautiful’. Likewise, the grinning, winking cartoon chicken adorning numerous chicken shops invites us to tear at its flesh; the carcass is beautified, eroticised. The morbid sexualisation of meat parallels the depiction of the female body in advertising: the female body as an acquiescent, inert, available product for the male gaze is comparable to images of the passive, lifeless limbs of animals for human gratification. Women, like pieces of meat, are viewed as objects to be consumed and spat out.

Veganism and feminism are harmonious causes. This is no truer than in the case of the dairy industry which is built upon the exploitation and enslavement of cows and hens for their reproductive organs. Just as women’s bodies are commodified in the capitalist industry so are the bodies of non-human animals. Take the defenceless cow who spends her days attached to the automatic milking machinery that steals her calves’ milk. Her organs are services to be utilised and consumed until she herself is no longer of value and cast aside, butchered, murdered. Surely there is nothing more degrading, more heart-breaking, that the image of the helpless bovine mother, strapped and captive in the confines of the cold metal pumps and vacuums, with no possibility of escape? One would have to be made of the same steel as the sterile milking machinery to remain unmoved by such abuse. But the sad fact is that this level of animal abuse has been so normalised in our culture that people can indeed look at the suffering of these animals with apathy. Capitalistic exploitation hardens the human spirit and erodes compassion, whereby humans seek gratification by any means, at any cost: capitalism thrives on self-centredness.

Recently there has been a slew of criticism levied at vegans. Contrary to the belief of the critics, veganism is not arrogance. At the core of veganism is compassion. Such fervent derision of compassion is intrinsically tied to objections against the supposed feminisation of society. When M&S announced that their Percy Pig range of sweets would now be gelatine free, there was outrage from the vegan-bashing contingent. The power of capitalism misleads people into believing that the pig gelatine in their sweets is somehow separate from the cuddly cartoon pig on the sweet packet.

It is telling that one of the most prominent purveyors of anti-vegan vitriol is Piers Morgan. Morgan bestowed upon the Veggie Percies the same level of ire that he reserved for actor Daniel Craig when the James Bond star was spotted carrying his baby in a sling, a gentle act of parenthood deemed emasculating by Morgan. Similarly, Morgan was incensed when he discovered that chef Gordon Ramsay had, like Daniel Craig before him, not only carried his baby in a papoose but had begun expressing vegan sympathies, too. Ridiculing Ramsay on Twitter, Morgan grumbled, ‘Gordon Ramsay, the caveman of the kitchen, has now become a vegan-slavering, papoose-carrying numpty… You know why he can’t carry his own child? Because he’s eating vegan food. He’s not strong enough any more (sic).’

The fallacy that Morgan so vehemently espouses – of veganism being indicative of the feminisation of society – is characteristic of what philosopher Jacques Derrida termed carnophallogocentrism. Carnophallogocentrism is the notion that carnivorousness is inherently linked to masculinity and thus male sexual prowess. The concept of the emasculated male living on plants is directly interconnected to misogynistic discourse, as animals are viewed as yet another means of phallocentric conquest.

Ultimately, ‘toxic veganism’ is a myth, as is the propagation of the irate, misandristic ‘feminazi’: both are spawned from the same hegemonic system, which is mindful that there is money to be made out of the miseries of those regarded as subaltern. Perceptions of the self-righteous, middle class, white vegan are mere distractions from animal welfare, as people refuse to confront their harmful dietary choices. A carnivorous diet is not a simple personal choice when said choice involves a victim. A person’s right to eat meat does not trump an animal’s right to live. No animal should be oppressed and made to suffer because of humans’ selfish need for creophagous satiation.


Antonia is a London-based writer with degrees from Queen Mary University and UCL. She is culture editor at New Socialist where she writes primarily on film from a feminist perspective. A lifelong feminist and animal welfare advocate, her other areas of interest include mental health, disability rights, and an end to austerity

Can Choice Feminism Advance Vegan Politics?

C. Lou Hamilton, Veganism Sex and Politics: Tales of Danger and Pleasure. HammerOn Press, 2019.

Hamilton’s Veganism, Sex and Politics offers an approachable feminist spin on modern veganism in the West while tackling the difficult conundrums and compromises sometimes associated with vegan-living in a non-vegan world. The book is aimed at non-vegans who may be sceptical of the white bourgeoisie veganism which is stereotypically depicted in the media, but it also speaks to seasoned vegans who may lack familiarity with critical feminist perspectives as they relate to relationships with food, consumption, and nonhuman animals. To that end, environmental debates, the limits of organic and “humane” production, white-centrism in vegan activism, and the reluctant reliance on speciesism in disabled and queer communities are analysed in Hamilton’s blend of autobiographical musings and theoretical explorations.

At times, however, this critique pays only lip service to leading theory without substantially engaging it. For instance, while Hamilton rehashes the discourse on “dreaded comparisons,” repeating the arguments already well-articulated by Kim Socha (2013), Breeze Harper (2010), and Lee Hall (2010) with regard to resisting the highly problematic tradition in the vegan movement of comparing the institutionalized violence against animals to that which is also imposed on Africans under slavery and Jews under Nazi persecution, Hamilton stops short of extending this critique to the systematic exploitation of women. Hamilton only briefly refers to the work of Carol Adams (2000) with an unsubstantiated suggestion that her “anti-pornography feminism” obscures women’s agency and satisfaction with sex work.

Thus “choice feminism” (the reduction of collective struggle into a buffet of consumer and lifestyle options from which each individual may pick and choose) is introduced to reframe widespread violence against women as either a) blown out of proportion by Adams and her ilk or b) inaccurate given that women “choose” to work in prostitution and pornography. Adams’ theory, furthermore, is described as a disrespectful and clumsy attempt at intersectionality given that women supposedly participate freely in and benefit from Western sexual politics unlike Nonhuman Animals in their respective spaces of oppression. Such a provocative claim would require greater engagement with Adams’ work as well as some scientific evidence, as, firstly, the majority of women (and girls) enter sex work out of economic duress or active pimping and, secondly, sex slavery remains a leading form of bondage globally (Jeffreys 2009). Sex work and sex slavery, for that matter, are the most dangerous fields of “employment” with exceedingly high levels of threat, injury, and death.

Celebrating the agency of a small percentage of persons who enter and remain in the sex industry of their own free will obscures culturally normative misogyny (as well as heterosexism and cis-sexism as LGBT minorities are disproportionately represented in this industry). With regard to vegan politics, choice feminism’s campaign to legalize and normalize prostitution makes for an awkward analogy for other animals. How Hamilton can suggest that institutionalised speciesism should not (or could not) be regulated and reformed to liberate nonhumans while also failing to extend that same logic to women and girls is puzzling and unconvincing. Both sexism and speciesism rely on the pleasurable consumption of feminized and oppressed bodies by the patriarchal dominant class.

Hamilton’s pro-prostitution position likely stems from their commitment to queer politics which, while arguably problematic when used to protect and legitimize male entitlement to feminized bodies, do hold relevance in challenging hetero-patriarchal society’s stigmatization of feminine and queer sexuality and its desire to control bodies deemed “other.” To that end, Hamilton provides and interesting analysis of “fur” and “leather” in the LGBT community. Both products are shaped by class, gender, and colonial relations, making their disruption difficult, but Hamilton suggests a re-envisioning through vegan alternatives which pay homage to nonhuman identities and difference.

Although Hamilton seeks life-affirming species-inclusive alternatives in these cases, their presentation of disability politics is decidedly human-first. In the feminist tradition of challenging androcentric scientific authority, Hamilton encourages those living with disability and illness to become their own experts and engage in speciesism at their own level of comfort. True, the science as an institution has been a source of considerable oppression for marginalized groups and agency over one’s own body and well-being is critical, but Hamilton’s prescription risks fanning scientific distrust to the point of recklessness (particularly in light of the success of the anti-vaccination movement). Further, by encouraging individuals to become their own medical expert and self-experiment with the consumption of other animals, veganism seems to dissipate into a postmodern soup of individual subjectivity and increasing uselessness as a form of political resistance. Given the normative attitudes of cynicism and apathy in the Western vegan movement toward science, Hamilton’s position, while geared toward affirming the individual experience with disability, may be a precarious one.

Hamilton evidently adopts the myth promulgated by professionalized Nonhuman Animal rights organizations that vegans somehow ascribe to an unrealistic level of purity. This strawperson argument, however, lacks validity. In the age of competitive nonprofitization in the social movement arena, the pure vegan stereotype is engaged to legitimize the compromised approaches to animal advocacy (namely, reforming speciesist industries or promoting reducitarianism). These soft tactics are effective for fundraising but run counter to veganism’s political aims of total liberation, thus necessitating some semantical negotiations and vegan stigmatization (Wrenn 2019a). Few, if any, vegans expect faultlessness, and, indeed, The Vegan Society has always, from its founding, emphasized practicality over perfection (Wrenn 2019b). In the case of disability and illness, no one would reasonably expect patients to become martyrs and forgo treatments developed through vivisection or medications containing trace amounts of animal products.

As such, Hamilton’s repeated beleaguering of veganism has the cumulative effect of decentering Nonhuman Animals, particularly in their effort to validate each person’s individual desire, comfort, choice, and ultimately human privilege of determining what counts as “practical.” To this point, it would be useful if Hamilton had extended their analysis beyond feminist theory and applied social movement theory to introduce much-needed evidence-based social science on movement identity politics and effective mobilization. At the very least, more clearly acknowledging how their own take on veganism is far from the widely-embraced or authoritative position would have brought greater credibility and consistency to Veganism, Sex and Politics. Vegan feminism is more of a matter of personal opinion, individual spin, and choice. The celebration of difference, agency, and pleasure-seeking must be matched with a commitment to solidarity, collective struggle, and some degree of sacrifice. Unfortunately, Hamilton’s anthropocentric narrative hesitates on how to effectively negotiate human diversity politics with the interests of other animals.

References

Adams, C. (2000). The sexual politics of meat. New York: Continuum.

Hall, L. (2010). On their own terms: bringing animal-rights philosophy down to earth. Darien: Nectar Bat Press.

Harper, B. (2010). Sistah vegan. Brooklyn: Lantern.

Jeffreys, S. (2009). The industrial vagina: the political economy of the global sex trade. New York: Routledge.

Socha, K. (2013). The ‘dreaded comparisons’ and speciesism: leveling the hierarchy of suffering. In K. Socha and S. Blum (Eds.), Confronting animal exploitation (223-240). Jefferson: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.

Wrenn, C. (2016). A rational approach to animal rights. London: Palgrave.

Wrenn, C. (2019a). Piecemeal protest: Animal rights in the age of nonprofits. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Wrenn, C. (2019b). From seed to fruition: a political history of The Vegan Society. Food and foodways 27(3), 190-210.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. 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 is a member of the Research Advisory Council of The Vegan Society. She has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute and has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Environmental Values, 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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Mariage et Patriarcat

Translation by Hypathie: Feminist and Anti-Speciesist Blog. The original English version of this essay can be found by clicking here.

Anita Magsaysay-Ho "Women Feeding Chickens"

By Marv Wheale

Le mariage est une institution ancienne, en même temps que contemporaine. Son aspect culturel réside dans sa capacité à appeler des aspirations telles que l’amour, le bonheur et l’identité. Le cérémonial du mariage lie ensemble des individus à la poursuite d’un avenir satisfaisant et comblé.

Vous ne pouvez pas reprocher à des couples de vouloir une vie merveilleuse, mais le mariage pose pourtant de nombreux problèmes. Je vais en examiner deux :

– Il occulte les inégales conditions sociales des hommes et des femmes ;
– Il dévalorise les autres relations intimes non sexualisées : amicales, fraternelles (entre frères et sœurs) et entre humains et autres animaux, en les renvoyant à un statut inférieur.

La politique sexuelle autour du mariage

Le mariage en tant que dispositif établi par la société dissimule les divisions de pouvoir entre hommes et femmes face à l’intimité qu’ils partagent. Plus simplement, les femmes n’ont pas un statut égal à celui des hommes même quand l’affection qu’ils partagent est profonde : l’assignation aux rôles sexuels / travail reproductif non payé / salaires inégaux sur le marché du travail / participation des hommes disproportionnée aux gouvernements / manque de représentation des femmes à la tête des grandes compagnies, dans la police, les cours de justice et l’Armée / le harcèlement sexuel, le viol, les violences conjugales et le meurtre / l’objettisation sexuelle dans la pornographie, les autres médias et la prostitution. Tous ces facteurs se mêlent à d’autres et sont aggravés par l’ethnie, la classe économique, le handicap, la taille, et l’âge.

Parce que le mariage obscurcit ces inégalités et désavantages, il rend plus difficile l’organisation contre le pouvoir mâle. La mobilisation d’énergie est divertie vers les “intérêts du mariage” qui engloutissent des tonnes de ressources matérielles et émotionnelles en quelque chose qui ne peut satisfaire nos désirs les plus profonds. Il est essentiellement contre-productif d’investir autant dans un but incapable de tenir ses promesses aux hommes et aux femmes en tant que groupes sociaux. De toutes les identités qui affirment la subordination des femmes au patriarcat, le mariage est une des plus influentes.

Les mariages LGBTQ+ en sont une réforme, mais ils ne peuvent pas préserver des sanctions d’une institution fabriquée par la société patriarcale. Toute amélioration du système finit par le légitimer. Pensez aux proclamations du capitalisme végane, aux mesures de bien-être animal, à la pornographie féministe, au travail du sexe…, tous hérauts de la libération. Ces mouvements contradictoires ne peuvent apporter de résultats en vue d’une émancipation. Ils sont tous des illusions libérales.

Les outsiders

Pour mieux appréhender les implications du mariage, vous devez reconnaître la situation où il place celles/ceux hors de ses frontières. Les non mariés sont relégués dans une position sociale subordonnée au motif qu’illes n’atteignent pas le modèle marital. Vivre à l’intérieur de différentes autres unions vous donne un statut inférieur. C’est évident non seulement au niveau de la non reconnaissance culturelle, mais également dans les lois des états. Les relations contractuelles des sexes dans le mariage, reconnues par l’état permettent toutes sortes d’avantages : des réductions d’impôts, des prêts bancaires, l’accès à l’adoption d’enfants, l’accès aux avantages sociaux du partenaire, des privilèges d’assurances santé, des droits de visite à l’hôpital, des directives pré-décès, des droits du survivant, des droits à l’héritage, des droits à l’immigration, et tous les avantages des proches-parents.

Les contre-arguments aux critiques du mariage

Des gens vous diront que c’est une simplification que de voir le mariage comme irrémédiablement sexiste, surpassant toute autre relation platonique. Après tout, des quantités de femmes sont heureuses dans le mariage. De ce point de vue, plus de sensibilité et de crédit devraient être donnés aux exemples particuliers de mariages où les deux époux s’alignent sur les objectifs féministes, et qui respectent le pluralisme des relations des non mariés ; ils proposent que tous les avantages légaux et économiques du mariage soient étendus aux relations alternatives.

De plus, de nombreux couples issus des classes moins privilégiées pensent que le mariage est un refuge : contre la suprématie blanche, l’adversité économique, le capacitisme dominant, et la primauté hétérosexuelle. Ils proclament que bien que le mariage a des inconvénients pour les femmes, il est moins pénalisant que les pesants problèmes imposés par le racisme, le classisme, le capacitisme ou l’hétérosexisme. Ce qui est important pour elles/eux, c’est de centrer le mariage sur la réciprocité et la résistance aux injustices sociales. Dans ces cas, le mariage est estimé fortifier la classe laborieuse, les combats contre le racisme, ceux des handicapés et des LGBTQ+ : en retour, le mariage s’en retrouve fortifié.

Les mariages entre véganes aussi sont vus comme un moyen d’exprimer publiquement un attachement émotionnel, des valeurs communes pour la cause de la libération animale. Ce raisonnement et ces sentiments sont similaires aux autres mariages axés sur la justice sociale.

Dernières remarques

Non, tous les mariages ne sont pas égaux, mais la querelle contre le mariage est politique, car il est une entité politique.

L’idée du mariage, bon ou mauvais, faisant consensus, dépendant du respect mutuel, de l’affection et de la solidarité, masque la réalité des classes de sexe et la privatisation des femmes dans l’institution. Il dévalue celles/ceux qui ne veulent pas en être culturellement et légalement, refusant d’être ébranlés par l’optimisme progressiste des gens mariés à l’esprit aussi ouvert soit-il.

Certainement que l’intimité et l’activisme politique sont accessibles hors liens maritaux.La violence des hommes contre les femmes est un système de pouvoir qui s’exprime majoritairement dans les liens du mariage. Pourquoi promouvoir un système oppressif qui masque l’occupation structurelle des hommes de la vie des femmes ?

Ne pourrions nous pas rendre l’intersectionnalité plus inclusive vis à vis des femmes battues en critiquant le mariage comme une fabrication sociale ? Nous savons que le genre, la race, le capacitisme, la classe, sont des constructions sociales, pourquoi ne pourrions-nous pas dire que le mariage en est une aussi ? Tendons-nous à nous accrocher socialement à des habitudes apprises qui nous empêchent de questionner en profondeur nos visions du monde ?

Je ne demande pas aux gens mariés de se séparer ou de divorcer. Ce serait arrogant, inconséquent et absurde. Ce n’est pas la faute des individus s’ils ont été socialisés par des normes et des valeurs. Mon invitation est de mettre de côté nos résistances aux questionnements et de soumettre nos institutions sociales à l’épreuve de la pensée, du ressenti et du vivre.


Marv is a moderator for the Vegan Feminist Network Facebook page.