Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

95: Carol J. Adams part V:
Vegetarian Literature

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

Vegetarianism in literature became more common after WWI and was used by many women writers to link war and meat eating to women’s and animal oppression. The author mentions a textual strategy of “interruption” in which a vegetarian action or character interrupts the expected flow of the story. (Q1) “Four themes arise when a vegetarian ‘interruption’ occurs. These themes include rejection of male acts of violence, identification with animals, repudiation of men’s control of women, and the positing of an ideal world composed of vegetarianism, pacifism, and feminism as opposed to a fallen world composed in part of women’s oppression, war, and meat eating.” (Q2)

         During and after WWI three common opinions were held by feminists and vegetarians: 1) that women had unique traits that caused them to be more peace loving than men; 2) that male dominance due to the absence of women in power lead to war and 3) that a popular method to inculcate children to killing animals and meat eating came from justifications that killing people under necessary circumstances was OK. (Q3)

         The first example is Isabel Colegate’s novel The Shooting Party, in which the connection between war and hunting is illuminated from the perspective of several female characters and one vegetarian. The four themes above are present in Marge Piecy’s Small Changes, Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman, Agnes Ryan’s Who Can Fear Too Many Stars?, Brigit Brophy’s An Anecdote of the Golden Age, June Brindel’s Ariadne: A novel of Ancient Crete, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, and Dorothy Bryant’s the Kin of Ata are Waiting for You.

         These are stories in which “feminist insights catalyze connections between vegetarianism and political violence. Each of these novels appears to employ the same literary technique for summoning these connections – a technique I call interruption. Interruption provides the gestalt shift by which vegetarianism can be heard.”

         Interruption is an event, incident, or detail concerning vegetarianism that appears unimportant, out of hand, – perhaps even out of place that attempts to force the reader to make a new connection that is subversive of the dominant world order and destabilizing of the culture it is in. (Q4)

         Why have women writers done this and why have male critics rarely noticed the connections? “Part of the otherness with which women writers identify is the otherness of the other animals; both are caught in the overlapping structure of oppression in which each functions as absent referents for the other.”

         A deeper question is: why has there not been a broad common alliance between feminist and vegetarians? The notion that the human body is a vegetarian body strikes many as ridiculous. The author marshals scientific evidence from biology (in the function of internal organs), chemistry (in the chemical makeup), history (gathering coming before hunting), anthropology (the relatively recent advent of meat eating in our species), culture (use of implements – no one eats meat raw off a corps) physiology (the shape of our mouths and bodies) and medicine (prevalence of diseases connected to eating meat) showing the similarities of the human body to herbivores and the dis-similarities to carnivores. (Q5)

         The shift in perspective between ridiculous and logical is focused at the dinner table: meat eaters see meat as life giving; vegetarians see meat as bringing death. Meat eaters often see vegetarians as regressive; most vegetarians see themselves as ethical, healthy and progressive. All information received is funneled through these diametrically opposed lenses.

         Among the techniques that the dominant meat eating cultural lens uses to discredit vegetarianism is a focus on individual dysfunctionality rather than societal dysfunctionality. Often the “fact” that Hitler was “vegetarian” (he was not) means people wouldn’t want to be associated with that (but so was Gandhi).

         “the health benefits of vegetarianism – the arguments from the vegetarian body – should not be sereved from body-mediated knowledge that gives rise to our moral knowledge. Otherwise, the result is self-absorption.” There is a fault in the values and power structures of our society that allow this kind of violence identified in the sexual politics of meat. The focus on individual health distracts us with individual self-absorption rather than political (in the sense of the exercise of power and violence) change. Our health considerations, personal as they are, should be secondary to the health of the society and the life of animals. This moves the focus away from the individual to the society. (Q6)

Q1 Are you familiar with the textual strategy of “interruption”? what do you understand by this term?

Q2 Can you think of any stories or novels that have these themes?

Q3 Which, if any, of these beliefs are still popularly held today?

Q4 Have you ever noticed “interruption” in other themes and contexts?

Q5 How does the notion that we have a vegetarian body strike you? If it is credible, how do we explain meat eating?

Q6 Does this change in focus from the individual’s benefits to the animal’s benefits really shift the focus onto the society as the problem element in the world? This would make it seem that slogan “be the change you imagine” is not really the best strategy but rather a forceful political intervention would be more successful. Could society be made better with political force for a good cause?

© 2008 - 2018, James Jeff McLaren