April 25th, 2013

Grappling with Paradoxes

At the beginning of this semester when I was deciding what the theme of this blog should be, I was grappling with some of the paradoxes of our food system in both my thesis and my life. As I did more research into topics like “local food” and “food deserts,” I kept coming across things and situations that just didn’t make sense. The questions were everywhere. Why is farmwork a poorly respected job if it’s one of the most important services to our nation? The questions were not new, though; people had asked them before. How can a significant portion of the American population be obese but starving? Because of the sheer amount of questions that arise in studying the food system, my paradox-themed blog about the food system ended up being, more or less, a blog about the food system in general.

The incredible pervasiveness of paradoxes in our food system makes them worthy of study, or at least attention. I looked at and found topics in foodie news sources like Civil Eats and Grist, as well as food-related news from the New York Times. I did not limit my sources to the news; because each of us is involved in some way in the food system, personal stories and experiences are in no shortage. I pulled some of my topics from things going on in my own life and in the lives of my family, friends, and various communities to which I belong.

A lot of articles and sources I read were trying to figure out ways to address problems present in our food system. How do we get fresh food into low-income areas? How can we pay farmworkers more? How do we decrease the amount of food we waste? These are questions being asked, and some viable solutions are being offered for these questions. However, very few of these articles are asking how we came to have these problems, or what is going on behind those problems.

On a very basic level, a lot of our problems are furthered by the conceptual divides we create. We, being participants and authors of the food movement, have formed such divides between the “good” food movement and the “bad” industrial food system. Very few articles acknowledged where the “good” and “bad” actually overlap and create the paradoxes we seek to address.


I looked at several topics over the course of the semester and endeavored to consider those spaces of overlap in most of them. For example, I did one post on farmlands being food deserts (farmland or food desert). Often we separate our producers from our consumers, but at times they are one in the same. By conceptually distinguishing between producer and consumer, we leave those who are both in a strange void that can easily be ignored in how we talk about systems and supply chains. Ignoring or excluding these people from the categories we shape creates opportunities for problems to arise. When the problem gets big enough, we wonder how this could happen, but rarely search far back enough or enough into how we think about things to realize the impacts of our categories. Instead, we attempt to offer solutions to a now-third category of people, which may—or may not—help.


Categories can be not only problematic, but also divisive. One of my posts concerned the categories people identify with in their eating habits, specifically that of veganism. In the strict sense of veganism being about not eating animal products, it does seem to make sense that we could distinguish between people who eat animal products, people who restrict their animal intake to select items, and people who avoid almost all animal products if they can.

However, these categories are often also laden with values. In the article that sparked my blog post, the author argued that to be feminist is to be vegan. I took offense and responded in a way that defended my own eating habits, a reaction often provoked when someone’s morals are being questioned. By mapping values of ethics, morality, feminism, and awareness onto an eating habit, the category of “vegan” suddenly became about a lot more than what people physically consume. This author is not in any way alone in grouping values in with eating habits, but the article and my reaction does happen to demonstrate how categories can put people in the defensive and make them less willing or accepting of other people’s dietary identification.

Another problematic distinction, perhaps the most notable in the articles I read for this blog, is between the industrial food system and the “food movement.” Too often are they talked about as distinct and separate, but as I concluded in my thesis and touched upon in my post about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, there is a lot of overlap and intersections between the two. By mobilizing an industrial product (the tomato) as a tool of protest and way to appeal to values of ethics that are usually associated with the food movement, the Coalition was showing how the industrial food system can “leak” into the food movement, and vice versa.

We can see where the borders and boundaries we create fall apart by looking deeper into the problems in our food system. Categories can create gaps that people fall through, leaving them without a home or a voice. Categories can put people and ideas into conflict and make it difficult to move beyond one’s own category because of a stubborn need to be right. Categories can also restrict how we think, making us miss important or helpful opportunities that arise from accepting that solutions might come from working with both participants in the industrial food system and the food movement.


Acknowledging the divisions and distinctions that we create in our food system has been a major takeaway from my thesis, these blogs, and the class in general, which all complimented each other very nicely. I was largely unconscious of it in the beginning of the semester, but as I explored the paradoxes I identified, I became aware that there was something deeper going on that drives the contradictions of local food being globally traveled, of farmland being food deserts, and of supermarkets touting worker benefits yet denying farmworkers higher wages.


These paradoxes often arise because we make conceptual distinctions that enforce an artificial divide that both creates the possibility of a paradox and furthers thinking in the categories made by that divide. As I wrote in a recent post, there are some people and groups that see the divides in our food system and are trying to bridge them by bringing people from either side of these divides into the same room.

However, this work has not gone far enough yet. There are wider gaps, perhaps, that need bridging, or there are gaps that don’t just need to be bridged, but also to be grappled with in a more permanent way. For example by acknowledging and putting less stock into the divisions between the food movement and the industrial food system, perhaps we can shape a better, more inclusive food system that can simultaneously provide cheap, healthy food and protect our natural resources and respect workers.

Currently, however, “healthy,” “natural,” and “respect” only seems to belong to the domain of the food movement, while efficiency and cheapness fall under the industrial system. There is reluctance on both sides to engage with the “enemy,” which has been shaped as such in a similar way to how the whole feminist vegan/proud carnivore dichotomy has been framed. The animosity stems from an idea—perpetuated in how we talk—that there is the self, who is secure in their values, and the other, who is wrong in their actions and beliefs. Often there is little wiggle room for switching or moving between sides without seeming like a traitor or a flip-flopper, although most people might find themselves in the space between the categories the majority of the time.

Of course, perhaps not every paradox is explained by an underlying conceptual division. This does not mean, however, that these paradoxes wont be addressed by the motions of acknowledging and overcoming bounded distinctions. Reaching across the divide from the food movement to industry and back again may help solve some of the persistent problems. And perhaps some of the paradoxes don’t need to be “solved,” or confronted, but are actually instances when boundaries and borders are being crossed in a way that is revealing. For example, the “healthy” fast food may not be a necessarily “bad” paradox, especially if the food movement discourse does not frame it as a detriment to their cause, even though the entire fast food industry is a product of the industrialized food system.


My blog, my thesis, and the class readings and discussions have helped me reach a point where I better understand what is going on, but the system I’m trying to understand has become infinitely more complex and complicated. When it comes to my own participation, however, I am much more aware that changing our food system for the better (in my opinion) does not just mean participating in alternative economies or systems. It can’t just mean that. We would not get very far if we only stuck to systems we think fall into our categories and entirely demonized systems that support other people (and ourselves, quite often) but are outside of what we consider to be part of the “food movement.” We must also reach beyond our invented borders and engage and work in the systems we may peg as “bad,” to improve them in the spaces they share with alternative systems. Working across these designations and identifications may open up spaces for creative solutions, for empowering those marginalized by both systems, for catching people falling through the gaps we create when we try to fit people, things, and systems into neat, little boxes.

April 23rd, 2013

Follow the Things

While many people acknowledge that they don’t know much about the production side of the things they consume, taking the next step to find out more can sometimes be a struggle.

Followthethings.com is a cool website that helps consumers find documentaries, books, and more that detail how their products are created, distributed, and consumed. “Things” on this website include groceries like avacados, broccoli, and tomatoes, as well as ballet shoes in “fashion,” I-pads in “electronics,” door keys in “security,” and more.

Screen shot from the "grocery" section of followthethings.com

Screen shot from the “grocery” section of followthethings.com

April 23rd, 2013

Healthy Fast Food

Grist reported earlier this week that the fast food industry is turning more and more towards fresh and healthy foods:

Fast food companies understand that Bad Fast Food might be approaching its expiration date. Rather than clinging ever tighter to their fattening products like Coca Cola did, they’re remixing them.

As one of the main arguing points of alternative food system advocates, it will be interesting to see if this shift towards healthy helps or hurts the food movement. Fast food restaurants are products of the same industrialization that gave rise to the environmentally exploitative and harmful practices of industrial agriculture that supplies these restaurants. If these restaurants are acknowledging that their products are, in some way, unhealthy, does this give strength to the arguments of the food movement?

Or does the fact that the industrial food system seems to be “leaking” into the realm of the food movement undercut the movement’s effectiveness and ability to mobilize people based on a growing interest in eating healthier?

Watching what happens may further our understanding of the ways we categorize our food and eating habits.

April 21st, 2013

Overcoming the divides

“The ‘Food Movement’ is a movement of well-fed, affluent, liberal/left elitist Westerners who think with their emotions rather than their brains,” writes Huffpost “super user” under the screenname Cybernia. Cybernia is not alone in voicing this criticism. In Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability, the editors write, “[The food movement] consists of a group of ‘like-minded’ people, with similar backgrounds, values, and proclivities, who have come to similar conclusions about how our food system should change.” The movement largely lacks diversity in terms of socio-economic status, ethnicity and race, profession, and political ideology (although libertarian ideology is largely consistent with many of the concerns of the “liberal” food movement).

Brandy Brooks of the Food Project explains why this is a problem in this video:

In the Ivory Tower this is particularly noticeable. We can talk about how homogenous the movement is all we want, but armchair theorizing and writing papers is not necessarily going to further the conditions on the ground. So how do the white, upper middle class participants in the food movement help the movement stop being dominated by white, upper middle class participants, and how do they do it from an academic setting?

There is no one right answer, but on April 13, I saw a possible approach that can mediate the divide. At the Cultivating a New Food Economy Conference hosted by Tufts New Economics group, members of the Boston food community came together to talk about issues surrounding food. The morning was devoted to dialogue centered more on theory, which got people talking and thinking. The afternoon was more focused on the on-the-ground impacts people could make through their actions.

cultivating a new food economy logo

Cultivating a New Food Economy Conference logo

In the first half of the day, I helped run an exercise concerning food spending. Our group of roughly 90 was split up among tables and seated at my table was a rather diverse mix of people. We were all women with some level of higher education, but 2 of the 4 participants were of color. One woman had been homeless during her teen years, the other spoke about her Jamaican heritage. Ages at our table ran from 50-something to a junior in college, and among the four of us we represented farmers, farmworkers, gardeners, distributors, teachers, students, and organizers.

The variety of people was no accident. The organizers of the conference had intentionally designed the conference to be not just about talking about the issues, but to also introduce the people addressing said issues and the way they were going about it. For example, an organizing member of the Dorchester Food Coop spoke about how her often-marginalized community is coming together to secure access to better, fresher, healthier food.

veggies11

By not only acknowledging the divide, but by making an effort to bring people from different backgrounds together, the conference took a first step in making the food movement more inclusive and encompassing.

It was a diverse group on many levels, but it was still a group of people of mainly the same ideology. Much of the conversations were people agreeing with each other, and hardly any debate was heard. This is one of the things that frustrates me about conferences like this and about being in the “bubble” of the food movement on the Tufts Campus. Often speakers are just preaching to the choir. We already know the things they’re talking about and we agree with them.

To make the food movement truly inclusive and capable of change, the divide between the food movement and players in the industrial food system needs to be bridged as well. Perhaps we should continue to design conferences in the same fashion as the Cultivating a New Food Economy conference, but expand the community that is invited to include those groups that may be conceptualized as the “enemy” in the fight for fair food.

April 1st, 2013

The work of the farmer not in our tastes of place…

but it should be in our minds. This week is National Farmworker Awareness Week.

For more information, check out this brief summary with links and drawings from Grist.org: http://grist.org/food/national-farmworker-awareness-week-highlights-a-dirty-labor-plight/

 

April 1st, 2013

Taste of Place, not quite to my taste

In Taste of Place: A Cultural Journey into Terroir, Amy Trubek looks at the definitions and manifestations of “terroir,” or the idea that one can taste the place in which a product was produced.  The term “terroir” is often used to describe flavors and varieties of wine, so Trubek appropriately begins with an examination of terroir in France’s wine-making regions, but expands on her observations with examples from other products the United States. Across the distances between the locations of her various examples, she shows how the idea of terroir can have different meanings and implications in terms of culture, politics, economics, environment, and science. Ultimately, the reader comes to understand terroir as a multi-faceted idea that is itself largely dependent on where it is being used, but generally refers to how the process and place is made knowable in the product.

It was evident that Trubek was writing in the spirit of terroir. She attempted to bring the readers in to the places she was describing by detailing the landscape and scenery. While the intention was good, I found it made the book a labor to read. I felt like I was sorting through extraneous details that weighed down the book to identify her thesis. In addition to lengthy and repetitive landscape descriptions, I also found myself irritated at her almost excessive use of vocabulary and jargon. Upon finishing the book, I was not immediately or entirely sure what her final conclusion was, partially because I had been so distracted by too much extra information.

Despite these things, Trubek’s book is still a thorough and valuable examination of the concept of terroir. As someone interested in ideas about localness and globalness, I was able to appreciate her book for how it demonstrates values about localness in a global world, looks at mechanisms with which to ensure or label localness, and presents dialogues happening around and about these ideas and implementations. She was not afraid to grapple with the paradoxes presented by the idea of the taste of place, addressing questions like how practice was actually meeting perception, or how terroir fits into American food habits. However, instead of verbose landscape descriptions, I would have liked to see Trubek deal a little more in depth perhaps about the consumer side of things. Is what is being made knowable being known? What messages being conveyed are actually being received? She does not necessarily ignore the consumer, but her ethnographic work focuses much more on the producers of the definitions of terrior and of food and drink to be sold under the values of terroir.

Ultimately, I found Taste of Place to be helpful in considering who is producing ideas about localness, and what social and cultural factors feed these ideas. Such considerations are crucial to a thoughtful and encompassing local food movement. In exploring the concept of terroir, Trubek also takes the reader further into dialogues about resistances of or alternatives to the industrial food system. Her book both reveals and presents the value and usefulness of having a cultural/scientific/political designation of taste. By exploring terroir in a variety of places and through a variety of products, Trubek has contributed an important analysis of the levels to which culture, science, and politics shape conceptions of terroir, and what terroir, in turn, does to producer and consumers’ value systems.

March 26th, 2013

Marching in the face of status

Over spring break I joined the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in the last legs of their celebration of the New Day for farm workers, the 200-mile March for Rights, Respect and Fair Food. According to their website:

The CIW is a community-based organization of mainly Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian immigrants working in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida.

The bus following the march

The bus following the march

Since the 1990′s, the CIW has fought for higher wages, freedom from sexual harassment and modern day slavery, rights to healthy and safe working conditions, and more for primarily tomato workers.

This march was highly relevant to not only my thesis work on tomatoes–almost all of the signs we carried represented the tomato in some fashion or another–but also to our discussion on farm work and social status.

One of many tomato signs

One of many tomato signs

I wrote earlier a little bit about the lack of respect for farm laborers’ work. When it comes to migrant farm laborers, this is icing on a cake of unjust, exploitative, and racist practices.

The question this post is centered around was the basis for the 2 week-long trek undertaken by the Coalition and its allies: how can a supermarket that touts the great working conditions of its employees refuse to support workers further back on the supply chain?

Let me explain the situation behind this question.

Over the years, with support from student groups, people of faith, and human rights groups, the CIW has signed on companies like Taco Bell, McDonalds, Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and Chipotle to work together to improve worker conditions. As part of the Fair Food Program, these companies agree to meet demands for “corporate supply chain accountability in the food industry, including economic responsibility for farmworker poverty, supply chain transparency, and the participation of farmworkers in the protection of their own rights,” according to the Alliance for Fair Food website.

The blue flags display rights the CIW works for

The blue flags display rights the CIW works for.

In an effort to engage with more of the supermarket world, the CIW has been focusing on Publix, “the largest and fastest-growing employee-owned supermarket chain in the United States,” as stated on the company’s website. They go on, listing in their mission statement a commitment to being “dedicated to the Dignity, Value and Employment Security of our Associates.

The statue carried at the front of the march representing the farm workers of the CIW.

The statue carried at the front of the march representing the farm workers of the CIW.

However, Publix has been refusing to join the Fair Food Program, citing inaccurate information. More can be read about this here.

Thus we are left with this week’s paradox: a supermarket valuing workers rights, yet denying other workers rights. Doesn’t make much sense on paper, but looking at the social status associated not just with farmers, but with farm laborers (semantic differences based on ownership), it’s not terribly surprising. The supermarket spokesperson explains that they won’t pay another company’s workers more money (although that’s not how the system proposed by the Fair Food Program works.) What this demonstrates is a continued distancing from the conditions of production that got us here in the first place.

The distancing and devaluing of farm work here is coupled with racist ideas often voiced as fears about losing American jobs to migrant workers. For a interesting article on migrant farm workers, including a section on “stolen jobs,” check out this piece from the Economist.

The closing rally in front of Publix's corporate headquarters.

The closing rally in front of Publix’s corporate headquarters.

The work of the CIW is important, I believe, not only for the farm workers in Florida, but for farm workers across the nation. If the CIW can make headway in the face of numerous status issues, they can easily serve as inspiration and a model for other agricultural workers, migrant and otherwise. Workers everywhere can benefit from the New Day the CIW is fighting for.

March 11th, 2013

Liberal libertarian vegetarians?

Have government subsidies in agriculture driven our food system in a failing direction?

Should raw milk be legal?

Do people have the right to know what’s in their food?

If you answered yes to these questions, you are probably a supporter of the food movement.

You also have a fair amount in common with Libertarians. The two are not incompatible, it turns out.

Many people associate the “food movement” with crunchy, left-wing liberals. A story from a new friend I met at the student garden’s recent Campus Cultivation Conference supported this association. She told me she had gone to a town meeting near her college, Middlebury, to support the labeling of genetically modified foods (a good general breakdown of this issue can be found here). As she was walking through the parking lot, she noticed the vast majority of the cars were bumper-stickered Subarus, which are the stereotypical car of choice for liberal Democrats (Subarus were “found to be the auto brand with the second-highest percentage of owners registered as Democratic voters in a 2005 survey by market researcher Scarborough Research,” according to greencarreports.com.)

Her point? The town meeting supporting the labeling of GMO’s was decidedly liberal.

However, criticisms of government intervention–a role of the government under the Democratic Party’s social liberal platform–in the food system pervade the “food movement.” Government subsidies have pushed American agriculture to consolidation and monoculture practices. The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, argues, “The flow of subsidies from Washington hinders farmers from innovating, cutting costs, diversifying their land use, and taking the actions needed to prosper in a competitive global economy,” and many “liberal foodies” would agree.

Similarly, Libertarian Ron Paul left Congress last year with a farewell speech in which he listed 32 questions, the second of which was, “Why does the federal government restrict the drinking of raw milk?”

This question is similar to one many food movement proponents ask.

For more about the raw milk issues and the “Food Freedom movement,” check out this article, “The War on Milk.”

In an article on TakePart’s website, Steve Holt argues, “Libertarian sentiments run through the food movement.”

So how can the food movement be categorized and stereotyped as liberal yet hold similar beliefs to Libertarians?

The food movement is embedded in greater political struggles, namely that of a two-party system in which the two parties are largely similar. Despite their similarities, members of either party pit themselves against members of the other party because of deeply entrenched loyalties to their party. It is rare to see politicians or politically active individuals step out of the loyalty framework and approach individual issues from a personal angle rather than lumping them in with party platforms. Parties help people identify their enemies and overlook spaces of collaboration and like-mindedness.

This issue brings up the point that the food movement is amorphous and can easily cross political lines, but is hardly recognized as such.

Emily Sohn, author of the “War on Milk” article linked earlier, writes, “Perhaps more than any other issue, the Food Freedom movement and its corresponding push for access to raw milk, cross political boundaries and tie people together who couldn’t be more different.”

As foodies grapple with the complexities that make up our industrialized food system, there’s the potential and even the need to dismiss political alignment and work on problems with a unified voice rather than one fragmented by party affiliations.

And here’s a cool infographic about the different eating habits of our dominating parties (while this infographic draws your attention to the differences, also think about what it says about their similarities):

 

 

 

February 27th, 2013

An interesting approach to wasted food

I recently received an email with the following from the COMFOOD elist (which is sometimes worth the absurd amount of emails it bombards you with):

“Former Trader Joe’s President Doug Rauch is in the news this week for his announcement that he plans to open an urban grocery in Boston (Dorchester) that sells foods that have are near or past their expiration date. He sees it as dually combating food waste and food insecurity in a traditionally low income neighborhood. Full story here.”

Doug Rauch

This article, and the “Urban Food Initiative” solution proposed by Doug Rauch and Harvard Law, speaks to many of the issues and paradoxes in our food system. For example, on one level, it speaks to food deserts and a lack of access. On another, it addresses issues of waste in our food system. And on yet another it bumps up into issues of class and wealth disparities. Why is it that a well-intentioned project that provides a solution to food security and access as well as waste issues can (and fairly often does) run up against resistance?

On a very basic level, as the article addressed, was the weirdness that comes from selling the rich’s “unwanted” to the poor. This short opinion piece argues for living wages over “left over” foods to address the issues of access and waste. But Boston’s Haymarket sells otherwise “unwanted” cheap produce, too, and the resistance is not the same. What’s up, here?

A video about Haymarket, touching on the history, the immigrant presence, the vibe and the prices

A lot of the articles we read for this week dealt with the issue of access, waste, and class, indirectly a lot of the time, as they discussed the growth and changes of the “Market District,” including Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market. Haymarket, a market in the “District” and known for its overwhelming, controlled-chaotic atmosphere and cheap produce, has become a community keystone, attracting many customers of different backgrounds. The cheap “seconds” (being slightly blemished yet otherwise reasonably attractive products) at Haymarket don’t, at least in the articles, bump into the issues of class that Rauch’s project seems to.

I think a clue to why this might be can be found in the very way the article in the Pheonix was written about Haymarket; it looked at several of the personalities found there. A personal approach to looking at Haymarket makes it very much about the experience, the people, and the connections between people, in addition to the low-priced food. The Boston Globe article about Rauch’s “Urban Food Initiative,” on the other hand, is about the food itself. Indeed, one opinion piece in the Boston Globe points out that the Initiative might gain a lot from engaging more with community members, acknowledging that the personal should be personal. Both markets would sell cheap food, but the very structure of each gives them entirely different meanings.

Haymarket

In a similar vein, the vendors at Haymarket do not all talk about feeling good about addressing issues of waste in the system or providing people with cheaper food. They talk more about knowing their customers and having a system of trust and a sort of faithfulness. The impacts on access and waste are externalities, not main objectives. The “Urban Food Initiative,” however, talks much more directly about addressing issues many have identified in the food system. While the issue of food access and waste is directly tied to humans, the article almost removes the human out of the language, citing percentages, figures, and surveys, rather than people.

To be fair, the Yelp comments about Haymarket are mostly about the prices and the insanity of the scene, rather than the vendors. Example: “To put it in perspective, you can get 5 lbs of potatoes for $2, whereas the same potatoes at Shaw’s would be $4.99.” -Aileen Q.

One notable exception is this gal, who argues along the same lines as Rauch, but gives praising credit to the vendors in her review:

“The sellers at Haymarket are generally honest people who make a meager existence by selling overstock food at a huge discount, to people who need it, and by doing so they prevent so much food from being wasted. Did you know that 40% of farm food ends up in the landfill? With food insecurity so rampant? These people provide at least as much of a service to society as organic farmers, so they deserve some respect.” -Ana Cristina G.

The concern with food waste is validated (check out this site with nice visuals of our wasteful food system, including this one):

But the attitude about how to approach minimizing this waste is also important.

The way Haymarket is presented in the article (perhaps not so much in the Yelp comments, although most of them do mention the chaos of the market) makes it feel like a homegrown, personalized place to experience, whereas the descriptions of Rauch’s proposal make the Urban Food Initiative seem more like a capitalist venture trying to solve problems from the top down. To be real with you, they are both working in a capitalist world, they both address the issues at hand on some level, and they both sell cheap food to whomever. But they are presented in various articles in ways that speak to ideas about community, values of human interactions, and the experience of the marketplace.

Maybe Haymarket does feel personal, or at least the experience is one of interacting with humans. I don’t know, but I know that’s how the articles presented it. Maybe the Urban Food Initiative will really just focus on being a source of “cheap food,” with a feeling of unpersonalized service or an ever-present weirdness of class distinction based on prices paid for food through a formal grocery store. I don’t know, maybe we’ll find out some day.

But when we consider how the markets fit in their communities, there is some value in looking at what people will accept and what people will resist, and to look at the reasons behind those attitudes.

These informational sites seem to generally support my observations, too:

Boston Discovery Guide on Haymarket with a bit on the vendors BEFORE a bit on the prices

New England Travel Planner, again mentioning vendors before prices

And then of course Grist.org feels strongly about Rauch’s proposal

BTW, sounds like they’re hiring.

 

 

February 25th, 2013

I skinned a deer.

There, the title said it. I have been in closer contact with the meat I eat than most vegans or vegetarians have, but I still eat meat. And I’m here to talk about how I can be a proud female food activist and still eat meat, which is seemingly incongruous in some minds.

For class this week, we read this piece titled “To be a Feminist is to be Vegan.” And to tell you the truth, I’ve never wanted to be vegan less than after I read it.

I’m not vegan, and I’m not vegetarian. I respect people who are, and I respect people who aren’t. To me, there are so many factors that go into our eating decisions that I could never pretend to think I could change the way someone eats by attacking their habits with a moralistic argument.

Because I don’t know their life.

I was incredibly insulted that the aforementioned article was telling me I’m not a feminist (whether or not I choose to self-identify as one) because I’m not a vegan.

You can be working toward these things if you're not vegan, too. And you can be working toward NOT these things even if you are vegan.

The article had valid points in detailing the exploitation of the female reproductive system at the industry scale. But those points were overshadowed by greater misunderstandings and assumptions about animal husbandry and individual decisions to consume animal products.

I’m under no pretense that the issue of eating meat, or eating in general, isn’t weighed with innumerable moral and ethical issues (as illustrated in this entertaining NYT article). But the reason I eat meat is, on some level, different from the reason my housemate or my neighbor eats meat.

You see, I was raised on hunted game, mainly venison, or the meat of deer. In fact, I wrote my admissions essay on skinning that deer. When it comes to deer season, bucks, or the males, are the prize. Trophy pictures are in no shortage on my Facebook newsfeed when rifle season opens up in my county. Worn Outdoor Life magazines sit in my doctor’s office. And most of the hippy-clothed people in my area that a categorizing individual might peg as vegetarian have a freezer full of venison by mid-December, courtesy of their neighbors or their own efforts. It’s a part of the culture, and it’s a part of my diet.

Local venison:

  1. keeps many people from buying industrially-raised beef, and keeps many families fed for several months of the year
  2. is local, and thus has a much smaller carbon footprint than most other foods, including vegan staples
  3. is tied so much more closely to our impact on the earth than anything purchased from a grocery store
  4. is the product of hunting, which manages deer populations to a size that ensures their health and fitness without waste
  5. is delicious

I thought the following video, an ad for the book, “A Mindful Carnivore,” spoke to the reasons I eat meat that was once roaming my backyard. I particularly recommend the other video that comes up when you click “see more” at the bottom.

 

The idea of terroir, of tasting place in our food, is unnamed in hunting, but the sentiment is there. The interspecies approach is unidentified, but the sense of co-habitation of the earth is strong in hunting communities. The rejection of binaries isn’t spoken, but it’s felt. Hunting is an incredibly interesting piece with which to examine our ideas about food, but it’s not common enough anymore to make its way into our discussions regularly.

Hunting, and meat-eating through hunting, is often disregarded in morally-founded arguments for vegetarianism or veganism. When attention is given to hunting, it’s often based on stereotypes. This debate on hunting gives us a little insight into some of the ongoing arguments, including this gem:

Liz the First: “How sad that anything should motivate young people to succumb to the sickness that is hunting. if you can afford to go to the supermarket and buy your food, you have no other reason to hunt than liking to kill, and that is a serious mental disorder. yes, it’s good to be capable and prepared for any emergency, and if you found yourself needing to kill to survive, that would be acceptable. but just going out to have fun killing is sick!” -news.blogs.cnn.com

To be honest, there are hunters out there just to have fun killing, but if you’re going to sit in the freezing cold for hours on end at dawn, there’s more to your motivations than fun. Many people don’t understand the greater experience of hunting, but assume to know another person’s motivations based on their own individual ideas of what is “right” in the world.

What I hear from hunters, both male and female, follows more along the lines of this:

“Fishermen, hunters, woodchoppers, and others, spending their lives in the fields and woods, in a peculiar sense a part of Nature themselves, are often in a more favorable mood for observing her, in the intervals of their pursuits, than philosophers or poets even, who approach her with expectation” -Henry David Thoreau

and this:

I hunt because I don’t buy futures or sell cars or swing deals or negotiate hostile takeovers, or litigate or prosecute or plea bargain, but because I am nevertheless, like everyone else, a predator. So I go to the woods where I belong…

I hunt because it reminds me that in Nature there is a food chain where everything eats and is, in its turn, eaten, where birth, survival, and reproduction give full meaning to life, where death is ever-present, and where the only uncertainty is the time and manner of that death. Hunting reminds me that I am integrated into that cycle, not separate from it or above it. -William G. Tapply (more here)

There is a deep appreciation among hunters for what the earth, as a mother, can give us, as a race. In fact, much of the funding for existing nature conservation areas comes from hunters who yes, want something to hunt but also want to see the earth live, and live healthily. This video talks not only about the links between conservation of the wild and hunting, but does so with a group of new women hunters:

Whereas I might concede that excessive meat eating and a willy-nilly consumption of animal products with little regard for origin would validate the argument that patronizing the animal industry is patronizing the exploitation of the female body, I wouldn’t go so far as to accuse some of the most environmentally responsible and respectful people of being moralistically compromised. Rather, I’d love to meet more hunters in my day.

 

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