I have set myself a challenge to see if there is any link between being a vegetarian and being a feminist.
This fulfils a number of the Zerotohero challenges as it comes out of comments I’ve left on sites and new sites I’ve been looking at. one site which is great fun – but is very inspiring if you think you are a feminist is http://shatteredsmoke.com/2014/01/13/those-things-women-do/ – by the Opinionated man. Well he certainly has opinions – just look at what he has to say about fashion… but then he does live in Colorado – says the Londoner and proud of it!
As part of my challenges I looked into a number of new topic areas but came back to a discussion about being a vegetarian by someone who was also a feminist and blogged about both, so I thought ‘I wonder if there is any link? Are more feminists vegetarian than other women? Is there any link between the two whether historically or in current politics? I am pretty sure – but will confirm this by doing some research on the topic, that there are more women who are vegetarian than men, but does this vary by country? I think I have to discard India in any of these statistics as there is a cultural influence there, so I need to consider just those countries where there is no cultural imperative – and yes, you might say that Buddhists would be vegetarians but in Thailand they certainly aren’t so…
So this blog will be researched and will have some history and some current politics and we shall see if there is any link we can make…
So starting with some definitions:
The Vegetarian Society (UK) defines a vegetarian as: “Someone who lives on a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits with, or without, the use of dairy products and eggs. A vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish* or by-products of slaughter.”
*Shellfish are typically ‘a sea animal covered with a shell’. We take shellfish to mean;
Crustaceans (hard external shell) large – e.g. lobsters, crayfish, crabs, small – e.g. prawns, shrimps
Molluscs (most are protected by a shell) e.g. mussels, oysters, winkles, limpets, clams, etc. Also includes cephalopods such as cuttlefish, squid, octopus.
There are different types of vegetarian:
Lacto-ovo-vegetarians eat both dairy products and eggs; this is the most common type of vegetarian diet.
Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products but avoid eggs.
Vegans do not eat dairy products, eggs, or any other products which are derived from animals.
Eggs: Many lacto-ovo vegetarians will only eat free-range eggs. This is because of welfare objections to the intensive farming of hens. Through its Vegetarian Society Approved trade mark, the Vegetarian Society only endorses products containing free-range eggs.
Some people may be vegetarian for religious reasons. Jains, for example, are either lacto-vegetarian or vegan, while some Hindus and Buddhists may choose to practice a vegetarian diet. https://www.vegsoc.org/definition
Again using their website, the history of vegetarianism in the UK is as follows:
The Vegetarian Society has its roots in the reforming spirit of the early 19th century. The backdrop of health reform, the temperance movement, and the rise of philanthropy set the scene for the convergence of groups that eventually formed the vegetarian movement. The Industrial Revolution unleashed any number of social problems, and the ‘vegetable diet’ was seen by some as a solution (the word ‘vegetable’ at that time meant all types of plant foods, including fruits, grains, beans etc.). The idea that eating meat was a brutalising force was strong and, in an age where social reform was gathering pace, the question of whether abstention from meat might bring order attracted attention.
The first long-term modern organisation to abandon meat eating was the Bible Christian Church, led by Rev William CowherdBack in 1809 in Salford, near Manchester, where he advanced the principle of abstinence from the consumption of flesh to his congregation.
Now according to wikipedia:
Vegetarianism can be adopted for different reasons. Many object to eating meat out of respect for sentient life. Such ethical motivations have been codified under various religious beliefs, along with the concept of animal rights. Other motivations for vegetarianism are health-related, political, environmental, cultural, aesthetic or economic.
The word vegetarian is derived from the Latin word vegetus, meaning lively or vigorous.
The earliest records of (lacto) vegetarianism come from ancient India and ancient Greece in the 5th century BCE. In the Asian instance the diet was closely connected with the idea of nonviolence towards animals (called ahimsa in India) and was promoted by religious groups and philosophers. Among the Hellenes, Egyptians and others, it had medical or Ritual purification purposes.
Indian emperor Ashoka asserted protection to fauna:
“Twenty-six years after my coronation various animals were declared to be protected – parrots, mainas, aruna, ruddy geese, wild ducks, nandimukhas, gelatas, bats, queen ants, terrapins, boneless fish, vedareyaka, gangapuputaka, sankiya fish, tortoises, porcupines, squirrels, deer, bulls, okapinda, wild asses, wild pigeons, domestic pigeons and all four-footed creatures that are neither useful nor edible. Those nanny goats, ewes and sows which are with young or giving milk to their young are protected, and so are young ones less than six months old. Cocks are not to be caponized, husks hiding living beings are not to be burnt and forests are not to be burnt either without reason or to kill creatures. One animal is not to be fed to another.” —Edicts of Ashoka, Fifth Pillar (304–232 BCE)
SO that’s the History.
Now let’s look at Feminism.
Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. A feminist advocates or supports the rights and equality of women.
As an academic of course I look for any articles on the topic and yes, there is one!
A Defense of the Feminist-Vegetarian Connection by SHERI LUCAS. [http://ethik.univie.ac.at/fileadmin/user_upload/inst_ethik_wiss_dialog/Lucas__S._2005._Veg_and_Fem._defence_16187585.pdf]
Sheri says that although feminism has a goal of ending oppression most feminists do not recognise animals or non-humans within that goal. She says that Carol J. Adams published the first article on the feminist-vegetarian connection in 1975. Though there were few publications on this topic in the following decade, it became an issue of concern for many feminists. An Ecofeminist Task Force eventually formed and in 1990, urged the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) to recognize this connection by adopting a strict vegetarian menu for its future conferences.
It seems, she would argue, that the majority of feminists remain silent about possible reinforcements between the oppression of women and that of nonhuman animals. According to this silence, they would disagree that nonhuman animals are oppressed, and are not convinced that the oppression of nonhuman animals is inconsistent with feminism and antithetical to its goals.
One of the issues that was raised by the feminists who do not advocate vegetarianism is the fact that, except for (men) in privileged countries/areas, a vegetarian diet may not provide the necessary dietary requirements for good health. this argument clearly rings true in areas where there is no crop growing but only animal raising as in parts of Africa and where as a result animal products provide the bulk of the nutrition. the argument then is whether it also rings true in other parts of the world.
Many feminists it is argued in this paper say we must not go against local custom and culture and must make their own moral judgements as to the ethical diet for them – they must not be judged by first-world values. Or cultural Imperialism.
The paper then goes on to argue against these points in a complex and philosophical manner.
Finally judging that we are not morally permitted to add to the pain, suffering, and death of nonhuman animals when there is no need to do so.
So there we are. According to some Feminists, it is imperative to be a Vegetarian; and according to others it doesn’t matter.
Personally I claim both – but confess to eating fish for health reasons but really really prefer not to see the ‘face’.. and whilst I will cook meat for the family, I put gloves as I can’t bear to touch it.
So other Feminists – what do you think? Which argument do you support and why?