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Part I: Carol Adams, Jasmin Singer
When The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory by Carol J. Adams was published more than twenty years ago, it caused an immediate stir among writers and thinkers, feminists and animal rights activists alike. Never before had the relationship between patriarchy and meat eating been drawn so clearly, the idea that there lies a strong connection between the consumption of women and animals so plainly asserted.
But, as the 21 personal stories in this anthology show, the impact of this provocative text on women’s lives continues to this day, and it is as diverse as it is revelatory. One writer attempts to reconcile her feminist-vegan beliefs with her Muslim upbringing; a second makes the connection between animal abuse and her own self-destructive tendencies. A new mother discusses the sexual politics of breastfeeding, while another pens a letter to her young son about all she wishes for him in the future. Many others recall how the book inspired them to start careers in the music business, animal advocacy, and food. No matter whether they first read it in college or later in life, whether they are in their late teens or early forties, these writers all credit The Sexual Politics of Meat in some way with the awakening of their identities as feminists, activists, and women. Even if you haven’t read the original work, you’re sure to be moved and inspired by these tales of growing up and, perhaps more important, waking up to the truths around us.
Including a foreword from Carol J. Adams herself, this collection of fresh, bold voices defies expectations and provides rousing support for the belief that women have the power to change the world around them for this generation and those to come.
Hello everybody! I’m Caryn Hartglass, it’s time for It’s All About Food. It’s All About Food, my favorite subject–food. A very happy March 26th, 2013 to all of you out there. This is going to be a great show. I can’t wait to get started. I’ve already started! If you are inspired to ask any questions during this program, you have the number here at Progressive Radio Network: 1-888-874-4888, 1-888-874-4888, and if you’re listening later, instead of now—that concept always just boggles my mind—you can send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I mentioned this last week but this whole week is my anniversary here at Progressive Radio Network, my fourth year here and I really can’t believe it, so much has gone on in these four years. I’m very grateful to Gary Null and the whole group here at Progressive Radio Network and to all of you, my listeners, thank you. I’ve learned so much. And one of the things that we’re doing right now at my nonprofit, Responsible Eating and Living, responsibleeatingandliving.com, is transcribing all of these interviews here at Progressive Radio Network, over 250 amazing interviews with experts in this food movement—chefs and athletes and doctors and nutritionists and just people who love food like I do, vegan food. We’re transcribing all of these shows and thank you all of my transcriptionists. I love you and I love all of my new transcripts that are up on the website. We have now about 75. Before I bring up my guests I just wanted to mention this is an interesting week of holidays—Passover and Easter for all of those following any of the Jewish or Christian faiths and for me, I’m not a religious person but I love tradition. I love gathering with the family. I love stories and songs and veganizing all those traditional foods so I’m going to a Passover event later today and I have my vegan, gluten-free matzo balls in tow with me, thanks to a wonderful recipe from Nava Atlas who has a cookbook called Vegan For the Holidays. I talked to Nava awhile back and I love her quinoa flakes that are used in her matzo balls. Really delicious, I’ve got them with me and I can’t wait to have them later. The thing about these holidays though is they tend to focus on some horrible things that have happened in our past—very violent, bloody, terrible things and we go through the services and the ceremonies, say yeah this should never happen again. And then usually we typically spread all kinds of animal foods, exploited and violently obtained animal foods, on the table and there’s a lot of hypocrisy involved which kind of bugs me. What I always encourage doing is finding the good message, finding the joy, finding the light and lets focus on those things with plant-based foods. How about it? In fact, it was in my religious upbringing where I discovered I was a defiant daughter. And that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. There’s a new book out from Lantern Books Publishers, Defiant Daughters. We have two of the contributors here today to talk about the book—Carol Adams and Jasmin Singer. Carol Adams is the author of many books, including The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory and Jasmin Singer is the co-founder of a non-profit organization called Our Hen House, a multimedia hub of opportunities to change the world for animals, named by VegNews Magazine as the 2011 Indie Media Powerhouse. Welcome to It’s All About Food, Jasmin and Carol.
CA: Thank you Caryn.
JS: It’s very wonderful to be here, thank you so much.
CH: Thank you. You know I don’t know what it is, could be the plant foods, but I am just so super charged right now. I’m just trying to stay calm and control myself. But I just might jump out of the microphone, or into it, I don’t know. Anyway, Carol, I wanted to ask you or just see how you felt since this book has come out. You know many of us, many activists over the years—hundreds of years, thousands of years—people have been struggling and fighting for one thing or another and most of the time there’s very little reward when people are trying to make the world a better place. Usually the only reward we get is knowing that we have integrity and we followed our principles. But you spent a lot of time writing and The Sexual Politics of Meat is just only one of the works that you have produced but you have had tremendous impact on so many people and now we have this book out, Defiant Daughters, where they all credit you for making a tremendous difference in their work, and their lives. What does that feel like?
CA: It’s a great question Caryn. It’s such a gift to me to find out that this book that I spent sixteen years writing is out there doing this marvelous work. And I don’t always know what it’s doing out there—you know, that people are reading it or how it changes people’s lives but sometimes it’s like people write home, as it were and let me know how they’re doing and each time I feel it is such a gift. The one thing I think about is I think about the Carol Adams of the 1980’s, who was very lonely and desperately trying to figure out how to make sense of what she was seeing in the world and how hard that was. I lived in upstate New York so I wasn’t in the midst of a really progressive community. I say in my preface that I wish I could go back to that Carol Adams and just say “Carol, (laughs) don’t worry, it’s all going to work out.”
CH: Yeah, it’s all going to be fine, Carol…
CA: And I think that’s the example for us today. As you said, we do these things because we believe in them and sometimes there are incredible rewards and Defiant Daughters is a gift that moves me so incredibly because I can see in Defiant Daughters this representative group of writers who are out changing the world in ways that I would not have been able to do. And it’s like multiplying. The whole idea about writing is that we are creating a collective response. We believe in a collective response. And what Defiant Daughters shows is the variety of responses that are available from Jasmin doing our Hen House, Sarah Brown blogging at Queer Vegan Food, Carolyn Mullin creating the National Museum of Animals and Society, Kate Jacoby creating incredibly delicious innovative foods at Vedge, Laura Wright and other writers writing impassioned sensitive works. There’s just such a variety in the voices that show us the kinds of things we can be doing.
CH: Now a lot of these stories from different women are heart-wrenching, very intimate, and…Jasmin, your story for example, how did it feel to write this story and know that so many of us share some very personal issues about what you’ve been through?
JS: Well, that’s a great question. It’s funny, because when I was writing it I didn’t really internalize the fact that this was going to be out there. I think a lot of writers, maybe you two as well, can identify with kind of forgetting that you’re being seen so vividly in your writing. So by the time the anthology came out which was almost a year after I wrote the piece, I thought, “oh wow, this is deeply personal” and quickly I decided to get over it. Because as my partner Mary Ann likes to say to me sometimes, I’m invisible. It’s not exactly about me. This is about the animals. This is about the many animals, both human and non who are oppressed in so many ways. And so if I can use my story as a vehicle for getting people to have aspects of it that resonate with them in a way that allows them to maybe open their eyes to this suffering of other sentient beings then that’s great and I’m glad I’m out there in that way. More so than just being a personal story about me I’m talking about my own journey that was largely influenced by Carol in bringing my own activism together with my feminism and my veganism.
CH: We have a big problem today with obesity in the United States and more and more other countries but many of the women in these stories, in these chapters, had issues with their self-image and it related to weight, either very little or a lot, either with anorexia/bulima or with being overweight and I think that it’s…I think there’s a specific piece of it that’s related to women and women images, not just all these crazy things that are going on with our food system.
CA: Well you know there’s a famous quote from John Burger: “Men look at women, women look at men looking at women.” And I think that we are so socialized to look at our bodies as though from the outside, to internalize these messages from a culture that’s really still very misogynistic and very limited in terms of what it believes body types for women should be. And one of the things I said at Moo Shoes on Friday night referring to some of these gripping stories such as Jasmin’s and others, was that in The Sexual Politics of Meat I introduce the concept of the absent referent and said that animals are made absent referents through meat-eating. But women are made absent referents in our culture too through the kind of visual oppression that occurs, the sense that it’s ok to look at women in this way. And that what Defiant Daughters does is it says we do not need to be absent referents to ourselves. And once we stand at that place we stand and, as Jasmin said, weep with compassion and recognize all the others who have been made absent referents.
CH: There’s definitely a great deal of courage in each one of these stories because there’s always a point where an individual realizes something is wrong with this whatever picture, I’m involved with and you have a choice to either do something, right it, or right it within yourself, but it always takes a great deal of courage.
CA: Yes, I think it does. And I think one of the things these stories tell us Sexual Politics of Meat was a way of saying, “you are not alone”. And now Defiant Daughters comes along and it’s another way of saying you are not alone and putting these things together, the fact that oppressions are connected. You are sharing a vision with many others so don’t feel isolated.
CH: I think the first chapter by Ruby Hamad on “Halal” that was one, well I enjoyed them all, but I really enjoyed this one because I resonated with it in a very interesting way. First of all, I rarely hear stories about veganism and people that follow the Muslim faith and I was delighted to see this story even though this particular author Ruby Hamad went through a lot of pain. But I actually resonated with my own upbringing, my own religious upbringing in the Jewish faith. I’ve had a pretty privileged fortunate life, middle-class but I’ve always had a roof over my head and food and opportunities and pretty much anything a little girl would want but –prejudice and discrimination, I first experienced it in the temple, in the synagogue and it didn’t make sense to me. And I didn’t know that I was a defiant daughter, I didn’t know I was a feminist. It just didn’t make sense. Why aren’t I allowed to do what the boys are allowed to do? It was something really, really simple and I loved her story. Of course it breaks my heart knowing that women are treated in horrible ways and are not given opportunities that men are but I’m glad to see that there are so many people like the ones in this book that have the courage to make change.
CA: What do you think, Jasmin, of the experience of learning of the twenty other women you are writing with? How does that feel?
JS: Well it’s interesting because as Caryn is talking about, this one particular piece resonated with her. I think that that’s the power and beauty of this anthology. I’m pretty sure that everybody will have a piece resonate with them in that same way. Maybe it will remind them of them now or them years ago or their childhood and another thing about this book is that hopefully people have already read the Sexual Politics of Meat but I don’t think that that is necessary prerequisite reading in order to dive into Defiant Daughters. I think that the anthology which was published by Lantern Books really speaks for itself and so for me as I was reading it I was also really touched very deeply by so many of the stories in it including Vidushi, this young woman, I think she was sixteen when she wrote the piece. I was just blown away by how eloquent she was and how she was really questioning her own privileges and her own ignorance. She’s just a kid and that’s something that so many of us can stand to learn from, in what ways are we blind? So that resonated with me.
CH: Yeah, a lot of eloquence there, very, very impressive. I would like to think that the younger generations are going to definitely move in leaps and strides and achieve great things. I just have a bunch of different questions. The absent referent I’m, as I mentioned earlier, I’m going off to a Passover Seder later, and my mother always makes the vegan chopped liver. I don’t think about the word “chopped liver” when we’re saying it because we’ve had it for so long and now we have the veganized version of it which is just string beans and walnuts and onions. Is there a problem calling it chopped liver?
CA: Maybe you should change it to “chopped lives on”.
CH: I could call it a string bean paté.
CA: What about calling it “chopped living”?
CH: Chopped living? Hmmm. Just wondered, because I know there are things we just don’t think about even in this movement where we’re promoting vegan foods and a vegan lifestyle. Sometimes we don’t realize the words that we’re using and how powerful they are.
JS: I think we also have to look at things strategically. We’re trying really hard to change the world for animals and so maybe if you were having your Passover Seder with Carol and I, which I’d totally be in for by the way, then we could call it whatever we want. We could call it “chopped live her” or could call it string beans, whatever, but when you’re in a circumstance with people who might not be vegan yet or, as Carol has called it, blocked vegan. We’re trying to appeal to food familiarity so it’s important that later we question those assumptions and we question whether or not there is a better way, a less oppressive way, of explaining what we’re talking about.
CA: One of the things I say living among meat eaters is that meat eaters are perfectly happy eating vegan food as long as they don’t know that’s what they’re doing. So Jasmin’s right, chopped liver, let them eat it and think they know what they’re eating. Later on when they find out otherwise, it’s a moment of revelation for them, it’s a moment for them along their path.
CH: I have to say this is one of the most incredible recipes ever and my Mom makes it the best. Anyway, let’s go over to rape now. There were a number of different experiences in the book with rape, unfortunately, there’s that oxymoron-kind of expression, “forcible rape” that some feel they need to qualify rape a little more. There are different degrees of rape, date rape versus some really bloody violent murderous types.
CA: Wait. I’m going to stop you there. I don’t think there’s any difference.
CH: Well that was my question and it wasn’t coming out right. That was what I was leading to.
CH: Is there a difference?
CA: No. Rape does not require a …
CH: There aren’t 50 shades of rape.
CA: Right. Rape is not something that requires an adjective. It’s like slaughter. Where do we get off humane slaughter? Slaughter should not have an adjective. There is no such thing as humane slaughter. It’s killing. There is no shade of rape that’s less intolerable than another. Rape is rape. The stories in Defiant Daughters tell us of some very different experiences of being raped. But the experience of being raped, to the woman who was raped, is that it is rape. You know, she was made an absent referent. Her will is not considered equal to the will of someone overpowering her and taking from her what they have no right to do. Rape is rape.
JS: Just speaking as someone who, you know you probably saw this in my piece, I also talk about an experience I had at nineteen years old being date raped. The question that you’re bringing up Caryn, is one that I have asked myself many times at least for the ten years after it happened. It was probably about fourteen years ago at this point. Ultimately I also said I was in his house and I was the one who was fooling around and what not and ultimately I did come out of it with what Carol is talking about. What’s the difference? The fact is that this is a horrible, horrible thing that happened and at this point all I can do is try and become a stronger person because of it. In my piece which is called “Found Heart Found Hope”, I actually talk about what dairy cows go through all the time which is, in essence, rape. In fact the industry’s term for the machines that they’re hooked up to, as you know of course, is called a rape rack. That’s their term, not ours.
CH: I brought this up because I believe it is so important because many people want to put an adjective before the rape and qualify it and put it in a certain category and it’s not the right thing to do. It’s just wrong anyway you describe it. I was just reading last week’s New York Times Magazine, don’t know if either of you get it, there was an article about how there are more and more strong women TV personalities now on TV shows. I can’t say that I’m that familiar because I don’t watch television very often but the point that they were making is that the strong male personalities on television, if they have some flawed characteristics it’s usually used to show that they can accomplish something or achieve something but with the women it’s shown that they’re crazy–that the strong women are also crazy.
JS: That’s interesting. I didn’t read that but I’m definitely going to go back to that. I think of that in terms of, you know I’ve always been very involved in theater, and I think about that in terms of the stage actresses who are called divas. And yet if they were men then they’d just be like a leading man. They get these awful reputations so that makes me think of this. That’s interesting.
CH: That’s only true, except tenors don’t fit into the male category because tenors are actually considered like divas very often.
CA: Right. That’s true. What we’re talking about is this large array of representation of women and that even as something advances something else retreats. And you know in fact that’s where Jasmin and I connect through The Pornography of Meat where I talk about images and representations and the kind of insidious, subtle or not-so-subtle images that we take for granted now that are out there that position women as less than human where I use the word women are animalized, or animals are feminized, this kind of connecting, oppressive, visual statement about women. So whenever we experience anything about women in the media it’s all being colored by what the advertisements are, that they are all connected. We might see something whether in a newspaper, a magazine or on television but what are the ads that surround that and create the environment for that thing. Often they are saying that women are there to be consumed.
CH: Your book The Sexual Politics of Meat came out in 1990?
CA: Uh huh
CH: And then The Pornography of Meat and you talk about these advertisements and I remember reading those books and then seeing what you are talking about in everything, all the magazines that I was exposed to and it hasn’t changed.
CA: No, it’s getting worse.
CH: I continue to see it. It’s getting worse. What do you think Jasmin?
JS: I’m wondering Carol, I see these images all the time and it’s almost like the same thing as when we first go vegan. Suddenly we’re standing in front of the hotdog stand on the corner crying because we realize what we’re looking at. We go through this time of having serious trauma. Sometimes it doesn’t go away and sometimes it resurfaces from time to time. In my experience when I first learned about the horror going on behind closed doors for animals, it was a very sad and traumatic experience for me and it’s similar, after looking at The Pornography of Meat which, you’re right, deeply touched and moved me and that was the book that came into my life before The Sexual Politics of Meat came into my life. It stuck with me so strongly. Now I’m that person, I look at ads, I live in lower Manhattan, I see a lot of ads on billboards and I think, look what they’re doing, they’re equating both this animal and this woman to nothing more than a piece of meat. I would agree that that’s not getting any better but I do like to think that at the same time awareness is hugely rising. I mean, Caryn, look at the fact that Carol was portrayed on Law and Order as a fictional character. If that’s not awareness raised than what is?
CA: Just to circle back about representation, one thing that happens now when people send me these images they say, I’m so glad I have someone I can send them to who gets it. The idea that there are more and more of us standing at a different place see these oppressive images as oppressive, not as given. That’s libratory and that’s great. Even the fictional Carol on Law and Order, that’s what she was saying.
CH: We just have a few minutes left. Jasmin can you tell us about Our Hen House and what you’re doing?
JS: Absolutely. ourhenhouse.org is where you can find us online and we have a podcast every week. We have a different ninety-minute episode. This weekend will mark our 168th consecutive episode and even though there’s a lot to be sad and angry about our MO is to be indefatigably positive because in a world with such angst and oppression there’s also a lot that we can tap into in order to change the world for animals, both human and non. So that’s what my partner and I try to do.
CH: Be positive. I like that very much. I’m all about that too. Let’s go to the light, not stay in the dark.
CA: They’re all on the web so people can listen to the old podcasts and really just become familiar with so many different ways of thinking about these issues. It’s a great service.
JS: Thanks Carol.
CH: And Carol what’s next for you?
CA: I’m working on another book about veganism. And I hope to have it more formed up in a couple months so let’s come back to that.
CH: OK, we will. Thank you both for joining me on It’s All About Food and all the best with Defiant Daughters.
CA: Caryn thanks so much and thanks for being a defiant daughter, both of you.
JS: Thank you.
CH: Right on. Any defiant daughters out there? Want to share your story? Send me an email at email@example.com. I would love to hear it. Maybe we could talk about it later on this program because we need to share our stories. It’s so important and we need to know that we’re not alone. And we need to know that we’re all working towards positive change. I like it.
Transcribed by Suzanne Kelly, 4/13/2013