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Their Bodies, Our “Choice”?: Toward an Ecofeminist, Anti-Capitalist Envisioning of a VeganParadigm Shift.
Many have celebrated the recent consumer mainstreaming of plant-based food and “vegan” identities as a sign of an imminent paradigm shift away from the exploitation of nonhuman animals. While the
availability of foods not derived from nonhuman animals is undoubtedly a key pragmatic component of such a shift, this presentation will argue that those committed to animal liberation—which is the key defining content of veganism—should remain skeptical of the consumer mainstreaming of vegan diets and identities. Because this mainstreaming of plant-based lifestyles is often framed as a matter of “personal choice” rather than an obligatory ethical response to the systemic injustice inherent in human use of other animals, it is easily coopted into a broader neoliberal ideology that has, in the past, watered down and to some degree derailed other social justice movements such as labor rights and, most relevantly for this presentation, feminism.
Neoliberalism denotes the dominant, contemporary form of global capitalism based in market fundamentalism and the privileging of corporate rights over the public good. Beyond espousing so-called “free trade” and the upward redistribution of wealth, neoliberalism has also become a prescription for ordering social relations and the lives of individuals. It tends to popularize a rhetoric of “choice” that backgrounds structural issues while emphasizing individual “personal responsibility,” that leaving out discussions of power inequities and histories of oppression.
This presentation will provide a brief discussion of the ongoing neoliberalization of feminism and what I see as the emerging neoliberal slant in representations of both veganism and the fad of “alternative” animal agriculture, in which individuals (many of them women) enjoy personally exploiting nonhumans for food and other purposes. Using advertisements and news items from mainstream corporate media, the presentation will show how a similar rhetoric of “personal choice” on the part of the dominant group, and supposed agency or consent on the part of the oppressed, undergirds cultural representations of both nonhumans and humans. This elides the structural power imbalances that perpetuate violence against the victimized groups.
As an antidote to this trend, and in the service of actualizing a radical vegan paradigm shift, I will conclude by proposing a vision for nonhuman-human social relations that is grounded in an anti-capitalist and ecofeminist ethic of collective action and resistance to systems of domination. I draw and build on scholarship by ecofeminist writers such as Carol Adams and Josephine Donovan (who have been largely disregarded among mainstream academic feminists) and use their work to mobilize a modified version of Kenneth Burke’s concept of rhetorical “identification.” If for Burke rhetoric makes human unity possible, then a post-humanist rhetoric critiquing interlocking human-nonhuman oppressions should aim to make a more inclusive unity possible, one not fractured by ethically arbitrary divisions along species lines.
(Barrett, The Honors College, Arizona State University)