The Sexual Politics of Meat:
A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory
Carol J. Adams
Independent scholar Carol J. Adams is a writer, activist, feminist, vegan and animal rights activist. She has written several books on feminism, vegetarianism, and meat. In The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, Adams explores the sexual politics of meat. She locates the link between masculinity, meat and oppression deep in the human past and deep within the psyche. Adams begins by exploring key patriarchal texts that connect meat and patriarchy. Ancient texts abound with stories linking the domination of animals and meat eating with the conquest and subjugation of women. Most contemporary hunter-gatherer societies have women gathering and the men hunting and many have argued that meat has a greater symbolic value than a nutritional one. Often the products of the hunt are redistributed to various members of the group based on status and to reaffirm social ties. Parallel to her link between patriarchy and meat eating, Adams traces the growth of vegetarianism and it's ties to feminism and pacifism. In conclusion, Adams takes on the critics of vegetarianism and lays out a feminist-vegetarian critical theory.
Adams has an interesting premise but I have concerns over how tightly ancient myths, rituals and symbolism bind to the formation and development of current thought. Does Zeus's consumption of Metis drive my urge to eat a hamburger? Can self-consciousness of our actions and their symbolism overcome the repressiveness of meat eating? Does the modern hunter or butcher still connect the rape of women with the butchering of animals? Butchering is an act of preparation and most food requires some sort of preparation prior to eating. Does that preparation infer some kind of domination or manipulation? An Eskimo Shaman observed: "The greatest peril of life consists in the fact that human food consists entirely of souls." Might this also apply to plant food for plants are also living things?
Adams' notion of conversion to veganism, vegetarianism and feminism have religious aspects that confound my basic rationalism. It also contains an assumption that ending the oppression of animals through veganism will end human oppression and I do not know how tightly these connect. She claims that vegetarian societies tend to be more egalitarian. Some claim Hitler was a vegetarian. Although Adams disputes this claim not all vegetarian has a stellar moral standing. Jains abstain from eating meat, eggs, gelatin, or anything that grows underground and their religion is founded on non-violence. At the same time, Jain beliefs share universal prejudices against women. This might raise questions about Adam's assertion that male domination causes meat eating. The equality between men and women is a core belief of Sikh society but Sikhs eat meat and there is structural inequality within Sikh society. Here meat eating does not cause the oppression of women and the equality of women does not necessarily lead to egalitarianism.
Adams' book is an interesting textual analysis but it is difficult to imagine how it connects with most people. They symbolism she undresses is too vague in most cases to impact behavior. The reader's mind requires a certain level of knowledge to be gripped by her arguments. Frances Moore Lappé in her 19 books about world hunger makes stronger arguments in favor of vegetarianism by pointing out that a vegetarian diet would allow a more equitable distribution of food and better address world hunger. Likewise, the link between cattle grazing, deforestation and climate makes a stronger case for a more vegetarian diet.
Despite my criticisms, Carol J. Adams The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory is a provocative and stimulating book that raises important points and is a worthwhile read.