You Are What You Eat: Nonvegan Pigs and Intersectional Failure

“YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT” warns People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in a billboard designed for the residents of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. While audiences are unlikely to go vegan from such an approach, it does exemplify the Nonhuman Animal rights movement’s propensity to draw on human discrimination to shame compliance.

A PETA blogger writes:

Vegans weigh an average of 18 percent less than meat-eaters, and they are less prone to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. I’d call that a good reason for Louisianans to cry “wee, wee, wee” all the way to the produce aisle.

This essay will unpack the number of ways in which mean-spirited campaigns, especially those lacking an intersectional lens, can become terribly counterproductive.

Sizeism

In a society that stigmatizes fat and a movement that is resistant to acknowledging the intersecting nature of oppressions, it is tempting to utilize fat-shaming to impose veganism as the preferable alternative as PETA has done. There are a number of problems with this tactic, however. First, scientific evidence supports that fat-shaming does not work, and it has actually been deemed a health hazard by some scholars due to its ability to inflict psychological, physical, and occupational harm to fat persons. Second, it is logically inconsistent. Many vegans weigh less, but as much as one third of plant-based eaters do not.

Speciesism

Perhaps the most paradoxical aspect of PETA’s pig campaigning is that the advertisements bank on the stigmatization of pigs in order resonate with viewers. Pigs are no more gluttonous than any other mammal, except those who have been genetically altered by modern agricultural practices. These pigs often have insatiable appetites as they have been “bred” for rapid growth to increase their market weight. Even if pigs were naturally gluttonous, however, utilizing a stereotype about Nonhuman Animals to advance Nonhuman Animal interests is logically unsound.

Classism and Racism

Louisiana is marked by extreme poverty and has a high population of people of color still reeling from a legacy of institutionalized discrimination. Louisiana was of course a slave state prior to the 1860s, but slavery continues today through the new system of mass incarceration. Louisiana is the world’s prison capital, with one in 14 men of color behind bars.  Baton Rouge ranks #4 in concentrated poverty, and ranks second to last in regards to children born prematurely and living in poverty. It is also plagued with food deserts, complicated by a substandard public transit system.  In fact, as many as 100,000 Baton Rouge citizens live in a food desert.  It’s not a matter of simply eating healthier, it’s a matter of having access to healthier options in the first place.

Given that the city PETA targets in this campaign has such a high population of people of color and lower income persons, the choice to animalize residents is also problematic. Historically, animalizing people of color and poor persons has served as a means of maintaining white superiority and class privilege. Animalization justifies institutionalized discrimination. As long as society sees Nonhuman Animals as a point of comparison to denigrate, this tactic will likely repel potential vegans rather than attract them.

Ableism

Lastly, it should be considered that regardless of body type, the consumption of animal products is linked to a litany of life threatening diseases such as those identified in PETA’s advert. These diseases hurt and kill, and mocking them with the “This Little Piggie” nursery rhyme is inappropriate. Disability is not a condition to be shamed or trivialized, especially so given its tendency to target vulnerable communities.

While this campaign is particularly confused, it certainly is not an anomaly in anti-speciesist claimsmaking. Ads like these demonstrate a serious need for diversity in movement leadership, as well as research into the effectiveness of persuasion techniques. Most importantly, there is a fundamental need to acknowledge the intersectional nature of oppression. Vulnerable human groups need not be degraded in the promotion of veganism’s message of compassion. Indeed, the tactic and goal in this case are wholly unsuited to one another.

 


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.

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I SPONSORED A PUSSY: Cabbage Chicks and the Politics of Vegan Sexism

Cabbage Chicks

Sexist advocacy is normalized within the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. Most readers are likely aware of the infamous PETA campaigns that use the naked bodies of women to grab attention, but sexually objectifying vegan women “for the animals” might now be the status quo. Case in point: the Cabbage Chicks.

In 2013, a grassroots group based out of Milwaukee tabled the city’s PrideFest featuring two young white women, topless save for a pair of cabbage leaves glued to their breasts. Their nudity was exploited as a teaser to attract visitors, and they awarded stickers to those who took the bait and donated. The stickers read: “I SPONSORED A PUSSY.”

When criticized, the organization insisted that it was unaffiliated with the campaign. Apparently, these women came up with this idea on their own to “help draw attention” to the tent, and “they had fun doing it.” The organization’s president assured that dressing up in vegetable costumes was “empowering.” PETA takes a similar position in response to feminist critique.

Cheers to them, of course, if they indeed had fun and felt empowered, but this is far from an individual act. Naked protesters frequently represent an organization, and organizations clearly condone these stunts by promoting the women’s semi-nude images on social media accounts. Individualizing women’s protest, however, removes culpability and risk. When campaigns succeed, the organization can reap the benefits. When they falter, the individual volunteers can be blamed.

Defending the Campaign

What if men get naked sometimes, too? One organizational representative noted that one man also took his shirt off and helped out: “There was a male dressed up as well, not sexist.” Yet, in our deeply sexist society, the bodies of men and women are not interchangeable. Men’s bodies are interpreted differently, generally in ways that empowers them and reasserts their dominance. Women’s naked bodies have yet to be divorced from the larger structure of degradation and sexual objectification. Again, PETA also deflects with this false equivalent when pressed by feminist critique.

The organization’s president also stated: “I’m not completely making the connection on how this is any different than wearing a swimsuit at a public beach.” Of course, beaches can be sites of oppression for women as well, but for the most part, wearing bathing suits on the beach is not going to draw attention to women in the same way wearing cabbage leaves in an information booth would. While PrideFest is arguably much more nudity-normative, it should be considered that women dressed as food reinforces the notion that women are consumable commodities (isn’t treating vulnerable persons like edible things exactly what activists are hoping nonvegans to get move away from?). The double entendre of the “I SPONSORED A PUSSY” sticker only reinforces the misogynist message.

Contextualizing the Campaign

This stunt is only one of several other problematic campaigns. In another, they had a young woman stand by the side of the road with meat cuts drawn on her naked body. The organization suggested that it was less problematic because it’s “not really sexy,” but using a naked woman’s body to emulate violence against animals is arguably worse.

In another campaign (not staffed by the organization itself, but promoted on its Facebook page), two bloodied women lay prostrate on the ground with a metal pipe by their bodies. A man in black (drawing on the imagery of the stereotypical rapist or murderer) stood over top their “corpses” brandishing a woman’s animal hair coat. This campaign targets female consumers (the primary wearers of “fur”) by drawing on imagery of violence against women. The organization’s response? “AWESOME! Thanks for all that you do for the animals! <3”

The PETA Effect

I share this incident to demonstrate that something systemic is at work here. The use of naked or nearly naked young women (usually white and always thin) and the use of women’s bodies as stand-ins for dead Nonhuman Animals are both increasingly popular tactics resulting from the hegemonic presence of PETA. As the largest Nonhuman Animal rights organization, PETA has the cultural power to define what types of advocacy are popular, expected, and legitimate. Ultimately, PETA is reflecting popular advertising techniques from the business world, those that are developed by men for patriarchal purposes (i.e. “sex sells”). In other words, it is not simply about women’s personal “choice.” Instead, there is a more powerful movement structure working to narrowly define what choices are available to female activists.

Regardless of individual women’s choices, activists should be concerned about the larger implications for women as a demographic. Western society trivializes and even condones rape, and according to RAINN, an American is sexually assaulted every 2 seconds (most of these are victims are women). Psychological and sociological research has shown that sexual objectification of women and trivialization of violence against women is correlated with the devaluation of women and increased violence against women. It even leads women to self-objectify and achieve much lower levels of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is important, not only in fighting against one’s own oppression, but in feeling worthy enough to participate in social movements . . . including Nonhuman Animal liberation.

What is more, this kind of advocacy does not solicit the desired effects. The tools of misogyny only build more misogyny.

Criticizing these tactics isn’t about policing women’s behavior. Vegan feminism is instead responding to the rape culture that Nonhuman Animal rights organizations perpetuate to the detriment of women. Organizations must accept responsibility for the wider implications of this type of advocacy. Nude campaigns are mostly legal, just like rape jokes are legal, but that does not exempt them from criticism. Shutting down well-meant discussion about the hurt that sexist advocacy causes women is problematic. It is also indicative of how toxic the Nonhuman Animal rights movement has become for women and other vulnerable groups. The bottom line is that activists cannot articulate a clear message of anti-oppression for other animals so long as the movement uncritically exploits and aggravates the oppression of other vulnerable groups.

Here’s a radical notion…what if women didn’t have to be sexy cabbages to advocate for the end of violence against animals? What if women got to be persons? I think a person makes for a better activist than a cabbage any day.

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies with Monmouth University, 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.

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Podcast #3 – Vegan Feminist Travel

vegan-travel

In this podcast, Corey and Brian rant about vegan travel, picky eaters, encounters with forest-dwelling Tofurky bandits, and the sexual politics of vegan food apps.

This episode is not safe for work (contains cursing).

Episode recorded on September 3, 2016.

Girl Power: How Dairy Pornifies Motherhood

Dairy cow in field, reads "Girl Power." Ad for dairy products.

The capitalist system is a degendered one. Although capitalism heavily relies on female bodies, this reality is relatively obscured from popular consciousness. Advertisements selling hens’ eggs or cows’ milk exemplify this phenomenon. Although hens and cows are often anthropomorphized as “girls” or “ladies,” their mother status is frequently concealed.

In a typical advertisement for Bregott dairy products, for instance, a cow stands in a sunny field under a bright blue sky. The image reads “Girl Power.” On Bregott’s Instagram page, dozens of portraits capture these “girls” as they graze, relax, and play. Very rarely are the children of these “girls” pictured. Indeed, the invisibility of childbirth, nursing, and parenting is a consistent theme.

Images from Bergott including cows walking through fields, resting together, and wearing a wreath of flowers on their head

Consider also the “Happy Cows Come from California” television campaign for Real California Cheese or Laughing Cow’s advertising imagery. These cows are shown as giggling, trivial, and carefree. These are not depictions of ideal mothers, or even competent mothers. Depicting these cows as mothers would disrupt the fantasy presented to the human consumer; the presence of calves forces the viewer to acknowledge the intended purpose of cows’ breast milk.

 

Instead, farmers are more frequently pictured nurturing calves, when calves are visible at all. Farmers are thus presented as caring stewards, while the bovine mothers are dematernalized as silly and immature good-time girls. Characterized as such, they are not to be taken seriously as willing participants in this seemingly harmless, live-and-let-live industry.

It is worth considering that “girl” language encourages consumers to only superficially conceptualize dairy cows as female. Subsequently, the audience will not be invited to acknowledge that they are actually mothers. Motherhood reminds the audience that these animals do not exist solely for the pleasure of the consumer. It is a reminder of their connectedness in complex social relationships, their responsibilities for others, their love for others, and others’ love for them.

Cow grooming calf

Motherhood is essential to the reproduction of the capitalist system, but it must be hidden from the public sphere, lest its sentimentality interfere with cold and rational business. That said, it is also true that characterizing mothers as “girls” is certainly accurate in the sense that these are immature cows who are still juveniles themselves. While bovines live an average of two decades, their average age at slaughter is just four or five years. In this way, their own childhoods are erased as well.

As Carol Adams has indicated, pornography extends beyond the consumption of women’s bodies to include that of other animals as well. Pornography encourages the viewer to consume without emotional attachment, infantalizing adults, sexually exploiting children, and erasing the inherent violence in production. Flesh-eating consumers are thus encouraged to become “playboys,” enjoying the pleasures of nonhuman bodies, guilt-free with no strings attached.

Playboy Ad from 1960s showing a shirtless man in a bathroom with two women wearing only towels Playboy cover from the 1960s showing a model who looks underage wearing a nightie and holding a pen and a pink envelope Playboy cover from the 1960s showing a nude model with pigtails and tube socks squeezing a teddy bear

 

ARationalApproachtoAnimalRights

You can read more about intersections of gender, capitalism, and Nonhuman Animal rights in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies with Monmouth University, 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.

whyveganism.com

Des Hommes Rongeant des Steaks

Translation by Hypathia: Feminist and Anti-Speciesist Blog. The original English version of this essay can be found by clicking here.
Man in a suit sits in front of a plate with a raw steak, knife and fork poised in his fists on the table

A la suite de mon essai “Des femmes riant seules avec des salades “, un collègue curieux google-ise ce qu’on pourrait considérer comme le contraire : des hommes mangeant des steaks. Ce qu’il a trouvé, et qui s’est trouvé confirmé lors de mes propres recherches d’images sur Google, est le thème répétitif  d’hommes s’agaçant les dents sur une grosse tranche de viande, souvent avec la fourchette et le couteau fermement plantés de chaque côté de leur assiette.

Man gnawing on raw steak

Le message primordial envoyé par ces images semble être ” JE SUIS UN HOMME ; L’HOMME A BESOIN DE VIANDE “. Ses poings bien alignés et leur prise ferme sur les ustensiles sont des codes genrés communs, présentant les hommes aux commandes et au contrôle de leur environnement.

De façon intéressante, les steaks sont presque toujours montrés crus. L’intention vraisemblable est de montrer la consommation de chair crue par les hommes (un comportement anti-naturel) comme naturelle. Le fait est souligné par l’abondance de photographies qui montrent des hommes consommant le steak directement sans l’aide de couverts, rongeant la chair comme s’ils étaient une espèce carnivore non humaine. A contrario, quand je cherche des images de femmes mangeant des steaks, à maintes reprises, elles sont aux prises avec de la viande crue positionnée au-dessus de leur tête, l’air accablé -personne ne mange la tête à la renverse. Ceci suggère aussi la soumission, une soumission souvent sexualisée à travers leur pose et leur nudité. Quand elles ont des couverts, elles sont davantage montrées les utilisant de manière faible ou peu sûre.

Woman Eating Steak

Par dessus tout, les images de femmes mangeant des steaks sont moins nombreuses, car la notion est contraire aux normes de genre. Quand on en trouve, il est clair que la hiérarchie des genres doit être préservée en démontrant que la consommation de chair (un acte de domination et de pouvoir) est moins naturelle et plus maladroite chez les femmes.

Women Cutting Steak

La viande est un symbole de masculinité. Donc, les hommes interagissent avec la viande pour démontrer leurs prouesses, les femmes interagissent avec la viande pour démontrer leur soumission.


Corey Lee WrennMs. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. She is a Lecturer of Sociology with Monmouth University, 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. In 2015, she was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 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.

Vegan Bros: The Way to a Meat-Eater’s Heart is Through His Vagina

Content Warning: Sexism and trans-antagonismMeme produced by Vegan Bros which reads: "The Way to a Man's Heart is Through His Stomach: Unless He Eats Meat, Then It's Through His Vagina!"

There are a number of things wrong with Vegan Bros (a weight-loss business that banks on sizeism, thin-privilege, and fat-shaming to sell products and programs), but their recently published vagina burger meme really takes the cake.

12305471_10207777919227379_2042539549_n

Posted on the Vegan Bros Facebook page on November 22nd, 2015, the meme reads:

THE WAY TO A MAN’S HEART IS THROUGH HIS STOMACH…UNLESS HE EATS MEAT, THEN IT’S THROUGH HIS VAGINA!

In addition to being extremely misogynistic, the meme is also trans-antagonistic. According to Vegan Bros, to have a vagina is to be lesser and/or to be a man with a vagina is to be lesser.1

The Abolitionist Vegan Society agrees, strongly condemning the message. Vegan Bros responded with pleasure at the offense it caused, citing it as “validation” for their cause:

When the Abolitionist Vegan Society hates on your post you know you’re doing something right.

Recent essays posted on the Vegan Bros website mirror this violent rhetoric. For instance, one post that declares animal ingredients in man-friendly products like beer are actually vegan (as though thousands of vegan-friendly beers were not readily available). Those who disagree with their patriarchal entitlements are referred to as a “piece of shit.”2

Vegan Bros sitting in a bar

Vegan Bros

As Cheryl Abbate has discussed in an earlier essay with Vegan Feminist Network, the promotion of masculinity and “real manhood” in vegan spaces inevitably upholds violent gender norms and attitudes associated with masculinity and patriarchal rule:

Let us recall what the message of animal liberation entails: one of the goals of the animal liberation movement involves challenging the model of dominance by rethinking why we give privilege to and admire “dominant” or “stronger” beings. Yet, when organizations use bodybuilders to sell the vegan message, they send the opposite, dangerous message: masculinity is preferable to the feminine and there is a hierarchy where the masculine reign and dominate at the top.

Not only does this idea endanger women, but the idea that there is a dichotomy between the masculine and feminine disadvantages animals, since animals are identified as part of “nature”- and nature is in turn identified with the feminine.

Indeed, Vegan Bros bills itself as “[ . . . ] a movement dedicated to raising up an army of fit, sexy vegan soldiers [ . . .], making the language of domination, force, and anti-femininity part of its brand.

I am skeptical that there is room for masculinity in the vegan world we seek. Masculinity relies on hierarchy and violence, and is thus deeply counter-intuitive to our goals.3

In the comments following the publication of the meme, Vegan Bros sought to clarify their intentions and wrote: “Most feminist vegans understand what we are doing with this post.”  Yes. I understand very well. I know bigotry when I see it.

 

Notes:
1. Women and female body parts are regularly used throughout the website to degrade and humiliate a presumably male audience. For example, in a post about Thanksgiving, Vegan Bros infers that being vegan is “badass”: “Extending your circle of empathy and compassion is [not] for pussies.”

2. Ableism is also regularly utilized, with detractors labeled “fucking stupid.

3. Male-identified Professor Gary Francione has chimed in to position my feminist “complaining” as “idiotic”:

"I certainly do not agree with people who complain that anyone who does not think they're just 'awesome" are sexist/racist/evil, etc.; indeed, I think that is very harmful in various ways. And I agree that it is beyond idiotic to claim that the use of "Bros" per se is inherently sexist."

“I certainly do not agree with people who complain that anyone who does not think they’re just ‘awesome’ are sexist/racist/evil, etc.; indeed, I think that is very harmful in various ways. And I agree that it is beyond idiotic to claim that the use of ‘Bros’ per se is inherently sexist.”

 


Corey Lee WrennMs. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. She is a Lecturer of Sociology with Monmouth University, a part-time Instructor of Sociology and Ph.D. candidate with Colorado State University, 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 the 2016 Exemplary Diversity Scholar 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 (2015, Palgrave Macmillan).