You’ve seen them a hundred times before. You know, the bright eyed salad crunching woman. Head thrown back with hysterical jubilee, she is overtaken by the gloriousness of the vegetable medley gracing her lunch bowl. The promotional flyer for your local natural foods co-op features them. The websites for major grocery chains use them. Educational pamphlets in your doctor’s office use them. Tons of vegan organizations use them. Heck, I bet if I checked into it, I probably used one to illustrate a blog post at least once.
Stock photographs of women… sitting alone… with a salad that is so damn hilarious, they can’t help but explode with laughter and delight.
Recently, the absurdity of these images has caught the attention of the internet, resulting in a number of memes, a tumblr page, and even a play.
Salad isn’t really funny. Rarely is it ecstasy-inducing. Usually it’s just a messy experience of trying to shove awkward lettuce leaves into your mouth. Often you’re dissatisfied and annoyed that you used too much dressing, or not enough. In reality, you’re checking your teeth for stuck pieces of lettuce instead of smiling from ear to ear between bites. Eating salad is, in general, a mundane affair.
But eating salad is lady’s work, and, as such, it must be performed accordingly to tell a particular narrative when being observed and documented.
Vegan feminist theory tells us that food–what we eat and how we eat it–is firmly rooted in gender norms. The consumption of vegetables (with salad being the ubiquitous cliché) is a highly feminized behavior. Gender codes also manifest in the regular hyper-emotionality of women in advertising. That is, women are often portrayed as having inappropriately extreme emotional responses. Representation of this kind adds to the cultural understanding of womanhood as infantile, irrational, and immature. In this case, even a little bit insane. These images reinforce women’s subordinate status. Pairing hyper-emotive women with hyper-feminized food items makes for a perfect storm in sexist imagery.
I have, of course, been presented with the inevitable, “Men, too!” argument. True, men are often shown to be just a little too excited about their salads. But let’s be honest: they are much less frequently depicted laughing, with their head thrown back, in their underwear, or pregnant. The gendered frivolity of salad consumption is very much so a feminine affair.
When men are pictured in the improbable scenario of eating a salad prostrate on a bed in a white thong, then, okay, let’s talk.
Dr. 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 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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