Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Eating our Way to Global Citizenship

Eating our Way to Global Citizenship:
A Rumination on the Role of International Education in Creating a Sustainable Future of Food and Identity

“The lesson of ecology is that one cannot care for the future of the human race without caring for the future of its context… A land ethic, on this view, is the moral thread that links past, present, and future individuals in a common culture. That culture can be perpetuated only if it respects limits inherent in the land context—for continuity in that land context gives shared meaning to cultures as they unfold through time.” -- Bryan Norton in Toward a Unity Among Environmentalists (1991,219)
“All education is environmental education,” writes environmental educator David Orr. “By what is included or excluded we teach the young that they are part or apart from the natural world.” Likewise could be said about an international education of food. While environmental and international education have grown more prominent in the 21st century, food has been relatively neglected as a subject within both international and ecological contexts in proportion to its role in environmental justice. Food ought to be among the highest priorities of all people concerned with the world’s one billion hungry people, the thousands of children who die daily of malnutrition, and the irreversible disappearance of Earth’s biocultural diversity. In the context of food, addressing sustainability requires a concern for not only economy and society, but culture and individual human life as well. Far from a private, domestic concern, eating fair and sustainable food is one aspect of becoming a global citizen.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Veganism as Intersectional Social Justice (part 1)

Would any sane person think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday...Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?--Derrick Jensen[*]

[Oppressions are ideologies—]“a set of socially shared beliefs that legitmates an existing or desired social order. Prejudice, on the other hand, is an individual predisposition to devalue a group of others… speciesism is also an ideology—that is, a set of widely held, socially inherited beliefs… When the psychological and moral (or immoral) bases of oppression are accentuated, social structural forces are downplayed or overlooked entirely… they tend to stifle any realization of the need for social change.” –David Nibert[*]

The discourse of vegetarian and vegan advocates is saturated with personal choice. Perhaps more persistently than any other social justice movement in America today other than the pro-choice movement, animal defenders emphasize the individual: the individual animal who suffers, the individual person who chooses three times a day to choose compassion over cruelty, the individuality of the movement, etc.

It is the individual who is responsible for the suffering of each individual animal because of some irrational prejudice. If only these people were just more enlightened about animal sentience, about nutrition, they would leave cruelty-free lives. It is also the individual who is responsible for world hunger because they selfishly feed the world’s grain to livestock. If only each individual chose a vegetarian lifestyle, there would be enough food for everyone.

When the individual person is not totally responsible for the suffering of each individual animal, it is because vegetarianism is too inconvenient and the law is too permissive of cruelty. If only restaurants and grocery stores offered more vegetarian foods (especially faux-meats), people would stop eating meat. If only there were stricter penalties for animal cruelty, less people would harm animals and there would be more justice. Thus the irony of the dominant discourse is that animal liberation is possible so long as humans become more rational and less self-interested; but, so long as people are self-interested, we ought to make vegetarianism as convenient and non-threatening as possible and make animal cruelty as inconvenient and punishable as possible.

In this post I will lay-out the myriad of ways the most popular forms of animal advocacy (at least in the USA) privileges a white, middle-class audience at the expense of including people of color and people of low-income. Drawing on the vast, original works over at The Vegan Ideal [TVI], I wish to demonstrate 1) how focusing on punishing, shaming, and dehumanizing individual animal exploiters a) draws attention away from the institutional oppression (i.e. speciesism) in favor of vice (i.e. cruelty) as well as b) how such punishment is often part of ethnocentric and nationalist projects, and finally, c) how such projects merely seek to substitute human cages for animal cages.

Further, I would like to point out 2) how focus on individual action and lifestyle changes often centers around "voting" with one's dollar, which a) privileges the middle-class at the expense of marginalizing low- and no-income classes, b) privileges non-profit dissemination of literature at the expense of real social organizing and mobilization that empowers people and communities, and c) encourages conservative discourse by said non-profits that target "mainstream" audiences with money that can be used to support said kind of campaigns.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Identity Politics of Breasts: Male Lactation and the Political Economy of Wo/Man (part 3)

PART II: Milk and the Nature of Things: Gender, Race, Class, Species
“The concealment of breastfeeding rests equally, if not more, on squeamishness relating to bodily function: the fact that food comes out of our bodies is an unsettling thought in a culture that rarely remembers food growing on trees”
--Fiona Giles Fresh Milk [*]

“Separate lexicons suggest opposite behaviors and attributes. We eat, but other animals feed. A woman is pregnant or nurses her babies; a nonhuman mammal gestates or lactates. A dead human is a corpse, a dead nonhuman a carcass or meat”
--Carol Adams “Foreword” to Animal Equality[*]

"[W]ithin Linnaeus terminology [Homo sapien], a female characteristic (the lactating mamma) ties humans to brutes, while a traditionally male characteristic (reason) marks our separation”
--Londa Shiebinger "Why Mammals are Called Mammals"[*]

Just as breasts (generally) come in pairs, so do their culturally conscripted “natures.” Londa Shiebinger writes:

the female breast ha[s] been a powerful icon within Western cultures, representing both the sublime and bestial in human nature. The grotesque, withered breasts on witches and devils represented temptations of wanton lust, sin of the flesh, and humanity fallen from paradise. The firm spherical breasts of Aphrodite, the Greek ideal, represented an overworldly beauty and virginity.[51d]
As we saw in parts one and two, female breasts may represent all that which is most beautiful and divine to humans (i.e. the virgin mother of God) while any digression from their use to titillate males (i.e. lesbian sensuality) or nurture the young (i.e. sexual feelings while nursing) may represent all that is wrong with the world.

I will argue here in section two that the function of the human breast acts as a particularly sensitive subject because it is a site that may not only contest gender identities but that which may also contest modern “white” men’s proximity to “the animal.” Just as gynecomastia, male breast cancer, and male lactation challenge presuppositions about male identity, so does the very biological function of human breasts. As Shiebinger notes, "that breasts have "long been considered less than human, yet simultaneously "more than human."[51f]

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Identity Politics of Breasts: Male Lactation and the Political Economy of Wo/Man (part 2)

Is it to men that nature confided domestic cares? Has she given us breasts to feed our children?”
--Pierre-Gaspard Chaumette quoted in "Why Mammals are Called Mammals"[*]

Experience may tell you that producing milk and nursing youngsters is a job for the female mammal, not the male. But your experience is probably limited, and the potential of biology--and medical technology--is vast.
--Jared Diamond "Father's Milk"[*]

"For those who claim male lactation is "unnatural," I would have to ask: how natural is canned formula from Nestle' or pacifiers made from petrolium byproducts? If milk production in men were truly unnatural, it wouldn't exist.”
--Laura Shanley "Milkmen: Fathers who Breastfeed"[*]

3. Male Lactation: An Unnatural Act?
The identity politics of human breasts come to full fruition in the question of male nipples. As male children we are taught that girls have “boobs” and boys have “chests,’ but the question of male nipples cannot be evaded. For thousands of years breasts have been one of the most significant markers of one’s gender, and hence male breasts and their nipples pose an existential dilemma to those who identify as male. This has never been truer than within the present visual culture that fetishizes the (female) breast.

Take for example the reception of the 2006 Nickelodeon film Barnyard. While critics had diverse opinions on the film, nearly all their reviews shared one particular quip: the protagonist of the film, a steer, had utters. As one late reviewer ranted:

Every single review whether by a critic or just your average John Q. Moviefone seems to be possessed by the urge to point out their extensive knowledge of bovine anatomy and remind the reader that male cattle do not, in fact, have udders.[22]
While filmgoers often suspend disbelief during films, especially animated features, the audiences could not suspend “the truth” about male anatomy. And, of course, there is also the double standard. Female pigs (who have ten or more nipples) and chickens (who don’t have any mammary glands) are often represented with a pair of giant breasts in cartoons yet male reviewers say nothing—they probably are not even conscious of these transgressions. The existence of DD breasts on a chicken somehow seem quite natural, but udders on a male, no! (But if male goats can grow udders, why not steers?)[*]

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Identity Politics of Breasts: Male Lactation and the Political Economy of Wo/Man (part 1)

[M]ale dominated society tends not to think of a woman’s breasts as hers. Woman is a natural territory; her breasts belong to others—her husband, her lover, her baby. It’ hard to imagine a woman’s breasts as her own, from her own point of view, to imagine their value apart from measurement and exchange.
--Iris Marion Young "Breasted Experience"[*]

According to Kristeva, the infant must substitute speech for its mother’s breast. It takes pleasure in the materiality of speech just as it did in the materiality of its mother’s body… this substitution takes place when child realizes that its mother is a separate being who can leave and does not entirely exist for its own gratification... the move from breast to speech is an organic evolution of the psyche through which speech is ‘literally’ substituted for the breast.
--Kelly Oliver "Nourishing the Subject"[*]

Milk is the one bodily fluid that is clearly symbolic of all that is clean, fresh, and wholesome.
--M. Potts, R. V. Short Ever Since Adam and Eve[*]

What is the nature of the human breast?

Far from a dryly medical, if not slightly erotic, inquiry, inquiry into the nature of the human breast holds the potential to disrupt unquestioned dominant discourses in our society. The subject of this post is not the mammary gland; and if it were, such inquiry would be only skin deep into “the nature” of the human breast. Rather, the “nature’ of human breasts is a cultural one, a “nature” with a history no younger and clean than the history of “civilization.”

The human breast is a battleground. It is a cultural site at which pervasive dominant discourses in western societies demarcate “nature” from culture and politics, “woman” from man, “Man” from “animal,” spirituality from sexuality, and altruism from self-interest. Just as breasts (generally) come in pairs, so do their culturally conscripted “natures.” The powerful emotions that may be evoked by the sight or touch of the breast may not be solely aesthetic; they may also signify deeper subconscious anxieties over our very identities as men, women, humans, animals, straights or queers.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Skinny Bitch and Bulimic Vegetarians

In 2007, few people would have expected a "no-nonsense" book of "tough-love" for American females to become one of the most successful vegetarian advocacy publications in the Western hemisphere. This book, Skinny Bitch, spawned a whole slew of products including a cookbook, an instructional book on pregnancy, a journal, and now three work out videos. Already, the original book has become an international bestseller, hung onto the New York Times bestseller list (including a brief spot at the top), has sold two million copies, and has been translated into 20 languages.

While many vegetarian and AR activists have welcomed this book with open arms, too few people have heeded to the criticisms that this book preys on female body insecurities. Below, I will discuss why disguising a vegetarian message within a frame about weight-loss/management is not only detrimental to the health of adolescent females and young women but also trivializes the radical political orientation of veganism by conflating it with a self-interested, faddish diet. In light of continuous research that links the adoption of vegetarian diets by teens to disguise and/or justify their eating disorders, the sizist discourse that shames and blames "fat" people, and the vogue-ing of vegetarianism for the mainstream, I suggest that vegans ally instead with feminist and radical social justice groups to promote body acceptance and HEALTH rather than societal acceptance and "health."

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Privilege: The U.S. Vegan Movement, Whiteness, and Race Relations (review)

Table of Contents

    Part 1:
  • Are Animals the New Slaves?
  • What Went Wrong?
  • Racism, Speciesism, and Cross-racial Misunderstanding
  • Are human-animal juxtapositions reductionistic?
  • Part 2:
  • Animal Rights or Animal Whites?
  • Animal White Supremacists?
  • Vegan Colonialism
  • One Word: Empathy
  • Part 3:
  • A Colorful Movement: Debunking the White Lie of White Exceptionalism
  • Making us Invisible: The Epistemology of Ignorance
  • The White Activist's Burden: Engaging the "Other"
  • Part 4:
  • Killing Us Softly: Narratives of Alienation
  • With Us or against Us –or- “Sit Down and Shut Up, Little Brown Girl”
  • Part 5:
  • Eating the Other: "Exotic" Food Fetishes
  • Are Vegans Oppressed?
  • The Police & White Privilege
  • Freeganism: The Privilege of Free Food?
  • Classism & Consumer Advocacy
  • Toward a Mutual Trust: Veganism as a Safe Place

Monday, April 6, 2009

Privilege: The U.S. Vegan Movement, Whiteness, and Race Relations (part 5)

After having argued that there is actually quite a bit of racial diversity in the international and domestic vegetarian and animal rights movements, I discussed reasons for why the movements are nonetheless perceived as so white: epistemologies of ignorance (i.e. a whitewashed history, framing veg*nism as a lifestyle rather than a social justice philosophy/diet), disinterest in outreach and collaboration within communities of color, self-fulfilling prophesies about race (i.e. scrutinizing "others" rather than scrutinizing our tactics), and alienating interested persons at events and conferences.[part 3]

Afterwards, I exclusively focused on several ways in which well-intentioned vegans and ARAs alienate vegans of color: They may (obliviously) make blatantly racism comments, treat VOC as tokens to flag in front of the public rather than full-fledged allies, be ignorant of/indifferent to how their discourse and tactics are offensive to VOC, suppress criticism of/concerns about said discourse/tactics ("you're being divisive"), marginalize the emotional trauma/rage triggered by said events (b/c "some good will come of it"), and invalidate their feelings ("get over it"/"you didn't get the message"). [part 4] In this post I will also add the alienation that arises when VOC are "Othered" through discourse of "exoticism."

The remainder of the series, which I will conclude here, will cover additional areas in which white and middle-class privilege go ignored by the majority of the U.S. ARA and vegan movements. Specifically, I'll discuss the greater obstacles and consequences VOC encounter within direct action (i.e. open rescues) and freeganism (i.e. dumpster diving), and why vegans are not "oppressed." In addition, I will briefly discuss the classism present within the dominant discourse of animal activism and veganism. I will conclude by acknowledging the limits of how much privileged persons can understand the struggles those without it face, and the need for them to "liberate" themselves from ignorance before they can become allies in their liberation.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Privilege: The U.S. Vegan Movement, Whiteness, and Race Relations (part 4)

In part 1 of the Privilege series, I examined a particular case of when vegan outreach goes wrong (i.e. the public juxtaposition of images in which "animals" and people of color are being oppressed) and discussed how such tactics generally alienate people from the cause rather than welcoming them into it. In part 2, I delved into the issue of race relations a bit more by discussing how many white AR and vegan activists are oblivious to their white (and sometimes class) privilege and thus unintentionally oppress others through their rhetoric and discourse. In part 3, I documented how, despite the overall whiteness of the movements, people of color are active in vegetarian and animal advocacy around the world and how epistemologies of ignorance make it seem otherwise.

In each of the aforementioned parts, I concluded by emphasizing the importance of inclusiveness, empathy, and partnership. In part 4, these three criteria for effective and appropriate outreach/relationship with people of color come together and it becomes clear how white ARAs and vegans can alienate their allies. Racism comes in many forms. Here we will see it in the form of blaming, stereotyping, suppressing, marginalizing, fetishizing, and reversing victimization.