Vegan feminism, Rihanna's cookbook & terrible food for New York's quarantining students
Nice Pear: a weekly(ish) feminist foodletter | Issue #006 | 23 August 2020
If you’re new to this newsletter, you can read my mission & ethos here & then forward it to all of your pals. Let’s get straight into this week’s essay:
Why my feminism and my veganism are inextricably linked
Veganism and feminism are key themes of this foodletter- a tagline I considered is “a vegan, feminist dinner party in your inbox”. So now, I’m going to explain myself. What are the threads that weave feminism and veganism together?
First, I want to say that this is written with the full acknowledgement that you can be feminist without being vegan, and you can be vegan without being a feminist.
So, what does feminism have to do with veganism?
Feminism and plant-based diets have always been natural bedfellows. Long before the ecofeminist movement began drawing lines between feminism and environmentalism in the ‘70s, British Suffragettes were centring vegetarianism in the 1900s. It seems obvious to me that anyone who stands against violence and exploitation would want to avoid the meat industry.
However, I’m not directly equating the experiences of women and girls to that of cows or pigs or other animals.
That isn’t helpful, it oversimplifies the issue and it is offensive. Because people are valued above other animals, a direct comparison suggests that women are also below other people.
Some comparisons can be drawn between situations and theories, but they are not the same.
Violence & reproductive exploitation
In some ways, we can compare the exploitation, violence against, and particularly the reproductive oppression suffered by women and girls around the world to that of non-human animals.
The exploitation of animals hinges on reproduction and breeding. Whether it's to produce milk and eggs, or purely to produce more animals for food, forced reproduction is an issue that affects female animals. In a similar way, women have been - and continue to be - controlled through reproduction - just look at the ‘pro-life’ movement.
Equally, violence is, by nature, at the core of meat production. The idea of ‘humane’ or non-violent slaughter is an oxymoron.
As with reproductive coercion, physical violence (and even death) are used to oppress women (75% of reported domestic abuse victims in the UK are women, and on average, two women are murdered as a result of domestic violence each week). Additionally, studies have shown that people who work in abattoirs are more likely than those in other industries to be arrested for violent crimes, rape, and other sex offences. Violence begets violence.
Veganism, feminism and toxic masculinity
Meat consumption, and the sexualisation of women and girls, are two pillars of toxic masculinity culture. We are reminded again and again by the media, that real men eat meat and have sex with lots of women.
Meat consumption has become so stereotyped as a masculine behaviour, and masculine-coded behaviour has become so entrenched as the norm, that vegetarianism is viewed as both “more virtuous” and “less masculine” than omnivorous diets.
Patriarchal ideas are rooted in the concept that men are naturally and biologically superior to women, just as we typically assume that humans are naturally and biologically superior to non-human animals. In certain ideals of masculinity, both meat and women are seen as objects to be consumed.
There is also a parallel to be drawn between the idea that some animals are food (cows, pigs) while others are pets (dogs, cats), and the ‘madonna/whore’ dichotomy that values women on their looks and their actions - not on their basic humanity.
The cultural idea that if a woman falls outside the expectations of purity and respectability - if you are a sex worker, or have more the the ‘acceptable’ amount of sexual partners, if you dress a certain way, if your face or your body or your interests or your job don’t align with certain standards - that she is somehow less deserving of respect.
That isn’t too dissimilar to the way we view dogs, for example, as cute and therefore man’s best friend, while pigs are viewed as dirty and ugly - and therefore, dinner.
Intersectional feminism and veganism
Intersectional feminism is anti-racist, anti-ablist, against ageism, fatphobia and transphobia, pro-choice, pro-lgbtqia+, and understanding of all the ways religious, socioeconomic and geographical factors can impact on your beliefs and your activism.
Personally, I believe that intersectionality should extend to non-human animals, too.
Why feminism and veganism don’t always go hand-in-hand
I write this newsletter with the understanding that veganism isn’t a viable option for everyone. That cultural norms, poverty and food desserts can be a structural barrier to veganism.
Equally, as I mentioned at the start of this newsletter, while some comparisons can be drawn between the meat industry, and the way we view and treat women and girls, I am not saying that they are the same thing.
Women have historically been compared unfavourably with animals in a way that men typically are not: calling someone a ‘cow’ or a ‘bitch’ are insults primarily levied at women.
More than that, I understand that part of the aim of feminism and equality is to give everyone the power, freedom and autonomy to make decisions about their bodies and their lives - be that in reproduction, education, or in the way we eat.
In discussing parenthood with a friend the other day, I mentioned the phrase ‘fed is best’, in relation to the question of whether a child is breastfed or formula-fed, and he had never heard the phrase before.
It struck me that, while this is a play on the outdated adage that “breast is best” in regards to feeding infants, it applies across the board. If for any reason veganism isn’t an option for you, obviously you shouldn’t starve.
If you are able to access and eat vegan food though? If your feminism is intersectional - and if you’re at all concerned about the climate crisis - then I think a plant-based diet is the only one that makes sense.
Things to read this week
In The Washington Post, Charlotte Druckman explores why the food memoir genre is still so dominated by white voices. That more women than ever are being published is great, but your feminism means nothing if it only supports white women. There is a certain level of economic stability (which tends to come with privilege) that is required to publish a book, whether that is to write it, to pitch it to publishers or even to self-publish, as well as the inherent biases of a publishing industry that is predominantly white.
In not-unrelated news: Apparently Rhianna is writing a cookbook, which just sounds like good news to me
And just a list of women from history who have “redefined the way people eat and share recipes” with their cookbook writing.
In food media news: the Beard Awards won’t be going ahead this year or next, and the Association of Food Journalists is ceasing operations at the end of this year too 📰
I came across three stories of young’ns and food this week (all US-based).
In (adorable) good news, I’ve seen two separate stories about Black kids creating successful businesses around food: Micah Idris Harrigan’s lemonade Micah’s Mixx and Te'Lario Watkins' Tiger Mushroom Farms.
In less-good news: quarantining NYU students compared the food they’re being given to the Fyre Festival disaster, with kids being given food outside their dietary requirements, food turning up late (if at all), and very low-quality meals. Not ideal.
The debate over whether or not to use a rice cooker has been flaring up again, so this might be a good time to share Atlas Obscura’s history of the rice cooker.
Things to eat this week
I quit drinking a few years ago, but we still have a few old bottles of gluten-free beer at the back of the cupboard, so my beer-grilled tofu is on the menu this weekend
I’ve had a bag of carrots looking at me from the fridge for a few days now, so as soon as this newsletter is scheduled I’m planning to whip up a batch of these carrot & apple muffins from MinimilastBaker
This Cookie + Kate Thai peanut salad is one of my favourite packed lunches (or it was when we needed such a thing as food that you take out of your house…) and will also use up some of that enormous bag of carrots 🥕
Where to find me this week
I published a new post on EatsLeeds about blending your own gluten-free flours, and I finally got a big commission this week after a bit of a pitching dry-spell, so you can expect to read about my hearing-loss in the next couple of weeks.
Say email@example.com with stories, commissions & foodie chit chat