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Gabriel Setright’s Response to Meat

by Gabriel Setright

The photo that appeared on the Oct. 9 issue of the Echo. Photo by Wyatt Pace

Of the last three issues of the Echo, two of the covers have pictured meat. These covers seemed out of place and unrelated to the content described in the issue. We were troubled that no recognition or comment was made on the process of how, and why, we as a society consume meat. This response is triggered by the lack of acknowledgement, on the part of both the Echo and of the college as a whole, of the systems of violence and oppression toward animals and the environment.

First, the concept of “meat” is a product of the disconnect from and objectification of animals. As a society, consuming meat has become a commodity, a lifestyle, a choice, as well as a demonstration of privilege and power. This ideal is mainly perpetuated by the fact that the way we talk about meat is completely disconnected from where it comes from. For example, products such as hamburgers, steak, hot dogs, and leather have all been disconnected from the animals they are taken from. The only way to get these products is through the systematic killing of animals. The two Echo covers displaying meat showed the violent act of killing a non-human animal.

Second, society is obsessed with meat. We glorify meat, we compete for meat, we exchange meat, and—as previously mentioned—we are willing to kill for meat. How did these ideals become what they are in our society? One place to look for an answer is in the concept of “masculinity.” Eating meat has strongly been associated with the masculine ideal of authority, power, domination and control. Consuming meat is something that men do to stay “healthy” and full of energy to live their active lives; this also reinforces an oppressive gender binary by polarizing the concepts of masculinity as power above nature and femininity as identification with nature. The consumption of animals perpetuates patriarchy insofar as it emphasizes male power above other animals, both human and non-human. This oppressive ideal is also adopted into social discourses and is expressed by the dominant social attitudes which regard vegetarianism or veganism as a sign of weakness, associated with femininity, the “weaker sex.”

This photo, by Jackson Bicknell, appeared on the cover of the Sept. 11 issue.

Third, there has been a significant amount of research coming from multiple environmental sources, claiming that the carnivorous diet is one of the main causes of environmental degradation. For example, the United Nations in 2006 stated that meat production is one of the sources of wide environmental problems, including loss of biodiversity, water shortage, and pollution. In this case doesn’t sponsoring meat go against the core of Warren Wilson’s sustainability claim?

Why is eating meat a feminist issue?

The Eco-Feminist Collective is a group of students who gather to analyze the intersectionalities between the oppression of women and the oppression of the environment. Ecofeminism draws attention to the parallels between the domination of women and the domination of animals. Women have been objectified and abused just as pigs, chickens and cows have been abused and tortured in farm factories. The underlying system of patriarchy is dominating women in the same way that it dominates animals. One example is in the way meat is disembodied from the animal it originated from, just as women are disembodied in mainstream magazines and are separated from the totality of their being. Women become pieces of meat that, just like the meat we consume, become glorified (celebrity culture), are competed for (the Bachelorette) and exchanged (the sex trade). Eating meat is a feminist issue because of the fact that the same systems that generated the meat we consume are the same ones that violently oppress women.

The purpose of this response is not to convert everybody to become vegetarians and vegans. Rather, it is to command the recognition that whenever we participate in eating meat, we are directly killing an animal, oppressing women, and enabling environmental degradation to continue in the process.

If you have a response, or would like to join in on our conversation, please join us for our weekly meetings, every Monday at 7:30 p.m. in Sage Café or “like” us on Facebook under “Ecofeminist Collective.” If you are interested in reading more about this, a good place to start is The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol Adams. 

Discussion

21 Responses to “Gabriel Setright’s Response to Meat”

  1. I’m sure these arguments are fleshed out elsewhere, but I’ve read and re-read this piece a few times, and I’m still not sure what you want us meat-eaters to do?

    You suggest that your goal isn’t conversion, but simply to raise awareness of the oppressiveness of meat-eating—that with each bite of my hamburger, I should think of the women I’m oppressing, of the environment I’m destroying and of the once-sentient creature grinding between my teeth. And, somehow, I’m still supposed to enjoy my burger?

    You seem to offer no point of reconciliation for meat-eaters; “join us or die!” Nothing is ever so dichotomous, and even if it were, it’s entirely impractical to expect the conversion of billions of meat-eaters overnight. Rather, there change must be gradual.

    In short, I’m not sure you’re really _doing_ anything with this piece—in my opinion, your efforts would be more successful if you actually offered possible steps for us meat-eaters to take. Buying from local farms? Grass-fed? Raising our own?

    Or, maybe your ultimate goal is the immediate eradication of meat-consumption from our food culture, and if so, I’m not sure you’re going to win many friends on this agrarian-centric campus.

    Posted by Nathan | November 6, 2013, 2:39 pm
  2. I’m sorry but this is a complete load of bollocks. Nathan, you make absolutely fantastic points. The idea of eating meat has been pulled out of context entirely and the stretches made to compare the oppression of women with factory-farmed animals is absurd. I’m sorry but I can’t accept this as a viable argument for their cause.

    Posted by David | November 6, 2013, 3:45 pm
  3. Feminist Virginia was born on the Warren Wilson College Farm.
    I challenge you to find a group of women who are stronger, more empowered, and more connected to birth, life, and death than the women of the Farm Crew, past and present.
    We’ve been up at dawn taking in nature in all her glory, turned earth, planted, harvested, nurtured. We’ve felt a sow’s teats swell with milk and the murmers of life growing inside her. We’ve reached inside a cow to help her calf be born alive. We’ve witnessed the strength of mothers. We have known many animals during our time there, and we have eaten them. Those of us farm girls who do eat meat do so because we are connected to it. A diet that includes meat is what feels right for our bodies, fuels us for hard work and active minds. For us (and other women), eating meat can be a deeply feminine act.
    During my time on the farm I became more connected to my female self and to the female forces in the world than I had ever been. I also came to realize the importance of masculinity and femininity in balance, working together. A boar pig is as beautiful as a sow is incredibly strong.
    It is easy to feel offended when someone suggests you are oppressing women by eating meat. With all the women raising livestock in Western North Carolina, when you buy from a local producer you are more than likely empowering one.
    The act of raising, killing, preparing and eating meat are not masculine in nature. It can be a feminist act for a woman to provide for herself, work, build a business, or to feed her family responsibly raised animal protein.
    Aggressively attacking someone’s way of nourishing themselves or way of expressing their femininity is attacking a deeply personal choice. No one can tell you the way you operate your body is wrong. You should know this. Trying to connect meat with the oppression of women does disservice to our sisters everywhere. Teach your girlfriend how to break down a chicken and cure her own bacon, or gladly serve her vegetables. We need to be positive and kind if we are ever going to make change. Do not belittle this community by assuming we do not know the evils of the systems currently at work.
    When I pulled calves, searched fields for afterbirth and helped piglets find the teat at WWC, and now when I sling a half of a pig carcass I raised myself onto the butcher block I feel my most badass, but also the most like a damn woman.

    Posted by Virginia | November 6, 2013, 9:45 pm
  4. I’m a meat eater and therefore an oppressor of women?

    The non-sequiturs in this piece are truly alarming – really this is nothing more than inflammatory propaganda and it is highly insulting to the people that raise and tend their livestock with care compassion.

    Of course we could all become veggies and stop unconsciously oppressing women! Then to ensure that we have enough cereal and grain to supply the extra demand we can use Monsanto’s delightful GM crops – hey everyone benefits!

    Oh no! I didn’t let a couple more non-sequiturs slip in there did I?

    Posted by Stuart | November 6, 2013, 10:30 pm
  5. It offends me when I read:

    “Consuming meat is something that men do to stay “healthy” and full of energy to live their active lives; this also reinforces an oppressive gender binary by polarizing the concepts of masculinity as power above nature and femininity as identification with nature.”

    As a woman and a meat eater, I eat meat to feel good, to stay healthy and be productive in my active life. I killed a chicken and ate it this summer and it was great. I accept that it was alive at some point. I feel like these two controversial issues of eating meat and oppression to women are viable issues to discuss, just not together.

    Posted by Hannah | November 7, 2013, 1:23 am
  6. “Consuming meat is something that men do to stay “healthy” and full of energy to live their active lives”

    Do women not have active lives? Do women not eat meat to be healthy? Something about ecofeminism feels very sexist to me.

    This conversation feels irrelevant. What feels more relevant is criticizing how the meat industry affects low wage workers (both men and women), families/individuals who can’t afford grass-fed organic, and local farmers who have good meat to provide. So let’s talk about the real issues here and stop polarizing men and women and people from good food.

    Posted by Caroline | November 7, 2013, 5:12 am
  7. This is the worst thing I’ve ever read in my entire life. I’m overwhelmed. “Eating meat is a feminist issue because of the fact that the same systems that generated the meat we consume are the same ones that violently oppress women.” No it’s not. First of all, to whatever imbecile penned this simpering, muddled catastrophe of half-hearted pseudo-reason, EVERYTHING is part of “the same systems.” You reactionary troglodyte. If you want to talk about why meat is bad, couch it in the terms of its own ethical imprint. Talk about factory farming. But no, that language isn’t fashionable or whatever, or it’s too commonplace. So somehow by some absurd pseudo-academic hasty sleight of hand you’ve managed to make it that if you eat meat you’re performing an anti-feminist act, that you’re actively complicit in the machinations of patriarchy. Choke on some tofu. You probably have an iphone. You probably are constantly doing small and terrible things. Are they less part of the “systems” you obliquely allude to than this other thing that you aesthetically and subjectively object to and against which your rancor is retroactively formulated? I’m a vegetarian and you’ve all but convinced me entirely to eat meat. Congratulations, your article was so stupid that you may have convinced someone to do the opposite of what it urges.

    Posted by Elliot Swain | November 7, 2013, 6:55 am
  8. Hey y’all, I’m part of the Ecofeminist Collective. I understand that many people are outraged, understandably, with this article, and believe it is an illogical argument. It is important to recognize that ecofeminism is a large and complex field, and that a one page Echo article does not have room to full explicate the arguments from the ground up.

    I’m glad everyone is thinking critically, and in order to have a more empowering and respectful dialogue, could we organize some sort of debate to cohesively articulate the positions of each side of the argument?

    Posted by Philip | November 7, 2013, 5:22 pm
  9. I will debate the opposing side of this issue anytime and anywhere.

    Posted by Kat | November 7, 2013, 8:02 pm
  10. Hey, I’d just like to say two things:

    1) I did not write this article, though I do support most of what it states.

    2) I don’t think arguing/posting over the internet is the best way to handle this subject either. I would really love to see calm, open dialogue between these two groups. Maybe if there’s a designated date and place, anyone who has an opinion on the matter can get together and talk it over.

    Posted by Sheridan | November 7, 2013, 8:16 pm
  11. Intersectionality (as defined by Kimberlé Crenshaw) is applicable in every single part of our lives today. In a society that classifies and categorizes to the last detail in order to make sense of our world (and subsequently create the hierarchies you are working against), there are an infinite number of associations that we can draw. However, while the objectification of animals and the objectification of women both include the conept of consumption, it doesn’t really mean that they actually have anything to do with each other beyond that. Pigs, for example, are consumed by all humans in a very different way than are women.
    In order for the consumption of meat itself to be oppressive of women, you must first prove that women are prevented from eating meat. But this is surely not the case, at least in our culture. Rather, I think what you have picked up on is the way meat is marketed and the way that those advertisements are consumed, but not the meat itself. Meat and masculinity may be socio-culturally connected conceptually because of dominant social norms, but the reality of how meat is consumed and who does that consuming does not, as with most things, actually reflect what society might dictate. In addition, it is not that meat consumption is oppressive of women, but that food and women in our society is a hypersentitive topic in a country that isn’t body positive and that promotes thinness as normal and as the only way to be a woman. Meat surely would have a hard time fitting into that debate in a way that women would be supported to ingest it. But the most crucial thing that you are forgetting is that meat is not autonomous. Meat does not have the power to oppress, and neither does an individual’s consumption of this meat. You have to look outward and contextualize meat in a setting that makes sense, in terms of who is telling women that they shouldn’t eat it. So really, if you should choose to look outward at society, eating meat could be a form of rebellion against the patriarchy. We too can have a hand in perpetuating our own oppression. From what I gathered at Warren Wilson, there are a bunch of badass babes who work on that farm who couldn’t care less about what society thinks and they also have immense resepct for the animals with whom they work.
    In a 2002 article in the New York Times Magazine, Michael Pollan hits on some of the assertions that your collective is making about the disconnect that has formed between humans and animals. He says, “The disappearance of animals from our lives has opened a space in which there’s no reality check, either on the sentiment or the brutality,” meaning that our interaction with meat on the shelves at a grocery store allows us to misrecognize the meat as once having belonged to a living being. However, in his conclusion, and throughout the article, it is clear that he is specifically referring the the meat that comes predominately from the factory farm, not the small farm. I agree that the way animals are treated in these conditions is abominable; the supply and demand of Capitalism in our country has caused meat production to run haywire. But from what I was able to observe of the Warren Wilson Farm, the production there could not be further from the way industrial sized slaughter houses run. Each animal is cared for, fed well, nurtured, respected. Though I am in no way intending to romanticize the past, this model is reflective of the farms of our past, the ones that Pollan, in other works, advocates for even in his critique of meat production in the US.
    In these models and on the Warren Wilson farm, the animal is not brutally slaughtered and its body thoughtlessly tossed aside. Rather, it is treated with immense care, ingested by us, and thus becomes a part of our bodies and our lives. In addition, the sectioning and processing of an animal takes immense skill, and one that creates hundreds of jobs worldwide for men and women. Instead of seeing the consumption of meat as a disconnect from the animals that surround us, I tend to think of it as a means of ingenuity and recognizing the potential of our fruitful world.

    As a final note, feminism itself in every context today should be deconstructed and expanded. Feminism in this country was founded in the light of identity politics, an activism that organizes under the socially constructed category of “woman” that feminism in fact worked to contest and deconstruct through their interrogations of gender. The real issue here is not a feminist one but rather one that affects all people regardless of what socially constructed identity we ascribe to them. Identity politics are limited; if we want to move away from people labeling certain issues “women’s issues” that are often seen unjustly as peripheral to broader society, we have to organize under something other than feminism.

    Posted by Kaolin | November 7, 2013, 8:49 pm
  12. I AM a member of the Eco-Feminist Collective and I had no part in the “Eco-Feminist Collective” response to meat. I disagree with the way it was written and how it’s content was skewed.

    I am upset that is was titled on behalf of the collective because it had one primary writer and not all members took part in it’s creation. I never even saw it before it was sent to The Echo. It is no surprise to me that it is getting negative responses.

    The environmental and feminist movement is hindered by radical and aggressive dialog that attacks those who have different ideals.

    What I think happened was a couple of students were disturbed by the graphic image on the cover of the Echo and responded in a similarly aggressive and carelessly crafted way.

    If you want to have a non aggressive conversation on the environment, feminism, and the food we eat, feel comfortable bringing it up with me.

    I do not want to fight. We are in this together.

    Posted by Jordan | November 7, 2013, 9:52 pm
  13. Hello all, my name is Gabriel Setright, I am a Junior Psychology/Philosophy student , I work with the Environmental Justice Crew and with the Empower crew. I am also a part of the Ecofeminist Collective and I wrote “The Ecofeminist Collective Reponse to Meat” that was published by the Echo. As a part of the recent comments targeting my article, I wanted to clarify a couple of things.
    First, this article does not represent the entire view of the Ecofeminist Collective. There were members that were not consulted during the writing, editing and submission process, therefore I recognize that it falsely represent the views and tactics of the Ecofeminist Collective.
    Second, I admit that this work is not as polished and as eloquent as it was meant to be. This piece was written very quickly and I personally feel that it could have deserved careful and concise preparation, since it is discussing a very controversial and delicate issue. As Philip said, it is hard and naïve from my part to try to reduce 20 years of studies into a couple paragraphs. I accept full responsibility for what was terribly written and I encourage the Warren Wilson Echo to change the title of “Ecofeminist Collective Response to Meat” to “Gabriel Setright’s Response to Meat.”
    Thirdly, it was my intention to continue the conversation inspired by the people who attended the Carol Adams presentation of “The Sexual Politics of Meat” I feels that the people who attended her presentation could better understand where this article was coming from. Again, I apologize for my brute and aggressive way of approaching this delicate and personal issue.
    Thirdly, I am very glad that so many people have responded to this article and that people are actively discussing this. I personally admire Paul Neubauer and Virginia Hamilton’s well articulated responses to all the energy and comments. I thank them both for taking the time to writing their thoughtful perspectives.
    Finally, and most importantly, I agree with both Sheridan and Philip in encouraging responses that can evolve into an open dialogue. I would gladly organize and participate in a public discussion and or public debate so we can formally address our concerns and perspectives in a way that is productive, concise and with a neutral facilitator. Would an appropriate theme, time and place for this discussion be “Feminism, Animals, Food and the Environment” in Canon Lounge sometime next week after dinner?

    Posted by Gabriel Setright | November 7, 2013, 10:24 pm
  14. I’m also part of the Ecofeminist Collective. Ecofeminism is very important to me, and I think the issues are more complicated than is expressed in this article. I value the responses from people who work on the farm. I am a sociology/anthropology student and I think understanding multiple sides of issues is important to finding solutions. I agree that we should have a discussion about animals, food, and ecofeminism, but I don’t think it should be a debate. I think we need to plan this discussion as a way to better understand each others’ perspectives.

    Posted by Hannah Monroe | November 7, 2013, 11:17 pm
  15. I have no direct response to this article, but I would like to say that this whole comment thread is just wonderful. (Wo)Man do I miss Warren Wilson College. You just don’t get discourse like this anywhere else!

    Posted by Gina Gurreri | November 8, 2013, 3:04 am
  16. At Gabriel Setright’s request, the headline and byline for this story have been changed, to better reflect the perspective and identify the author of the piece.

    Posted by The Echo staff | November 8, 2013, 8:00 pm
  17. I’m an ecofeminist and I eat meat. I’ve identified with ecofeminism for about 20 years, and consider radical feminism/womanism to be a core value of my life. I was a vegetarian from age 16 to age 36, even though for the last 5-10 of those years I was realizing more and more that my attachment to a rigid ideology around meat was counter to my commitment to make food choices that supported my health and the health of the planet. The more I produced my own food (first vegetables, then eggs and goat milk) the more I understood that it was a false economy to say that meat equaled animal suffering and earth harming and vegetables didn’t. There is life and death involved in all eating. I don’t endorse all of Lierre Keith’s beliefs (her trans-hating is abhorrent), but I’m curious if anyone in the Collective has read her “Vegetarian Myth,” which offers a radical feminist perspective on meat. Simon Fairlee’s “Meat” debunks some of the myths around land use that have become part of vegetarian dogma, also. I recommend both books. I believe that small-scale, integrated animal/vegetable farms along with a hearty dose of foraging wild foods represent an ethical way to feed ourselves. I appreciate the heartfelt desire of the collective for liberation and an end to suffering and oppression, but I don’t agree that a meatless diet is the means to those ends. My relationship with the animals on our farm, and my experience growing vegetables have brought me to an understanding of food much less black-and-white than I used to have as a vegetarian. I riffed on some of these themes a while back here: http://milkingweeds.blogspot.com/2012/01/on-milk-dear-17-year-old-me.html

    Posted by Milkweed | November 11, 2013, 7:16 pm
  18. I just wanted to say: Gabriel, you should work on your literacy. You barely have a grasp on basic english, let alone issues of intersectionality, feminism, and environmentalism.

    Posted by Alex | November 27, 2013, 7:19 pm
  19. I am really impressed with your writing skills

    Posted by John Smith | November 30, 2013, 5:36 pm

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