During my second semester at Vassar College (which ends in a mere week, oh my goodness!), I took a fascinating intro to sociology course entitled, “Cooked! Food and Society.” In studying the theories of such renowned sociologists as Immanuel Kant, Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Herbert Marcuse among others, we examined how our corrupt modern-day industrial food system constitutes the antithesis of the equal, just societies our social theorist friends aimed to foster. Topics covered included how to cultivate food sovereignty in developing nations, corn’s deep entrenchment in American agriculture, Vandana Shiva vs. Monstanto in regards to seed freedom, environmental racism, the lack of access to healthy foods in impoverished communities, and ecofeminism (I was thrilled to see some animal rights literature, in the form of an essay by Joni Seager, tied into that last topic). The class further educated me in exactly why and how today’s food system perpetuates inequality, and only strengthened my convictions as a vegan/animal rights activist.
As part of our final exam, our professor asked us to write a one-page argument for what each of us thinks constitutes the issue related to food inequality that will most shape our future, and which theorist would agree with our argument. As an animal rights activist in a class full of Slow Foodies and proponents of “humane meat,” I felt inspired (and rather obliged) to write about how systematically oppressing a massive group of sentient beings (aka non-human animals) desensitizes our society to violence and renders it easier to oppress other social groups. Much shorter in length than many of my other academic papers, my final sociology paper, I feel, proves well-suited for the blogging medium. Thus, I’ve decided to share it with all of you, dear readers. I hope you enjoy and look forward to hearing your feedback.
Until next time, Ali.
Cultivating Social Consciousness by Removing Animals from the Dinner Plate
Fostering a just food system hinges upon our ceasing to exploit and commodify non-human animals for human consumption. Not only would an end to animal agriculture fiercely combat world hunger by feeding the grain currently devoted to raising farmed animals directly to people, it would also eliminate “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems at every scale from global to local” (Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department). Additionally, considering that in 2005 the FBI deemed “the eco-terrorism, animal rights movement” as the nation’s number one domestic threat, and that in 2008 animal agribusiness contributed over $8 million to congressional candidates, removing animals from our food system would contest a number of the corrupt corporate-governmental alliances that cause such sociologists as Marcuse, Weber, and Marx to rip their hair out in frustration (Schuster, Joy 89).
Diminishing world hunger, lightening our impact on the earth, and removing a major contributor to systematic corruption all comprise quite persuasive arguments for switching to a plant-based food system. However, the realization of the moral dubiousness of oppressing and enslaving non-human sentient beings will most foster an equitable society by rendering more obvious the mistreatment of other socially marginalized groups. Indeed, as Joni Seager points out, common justifications for animal exploitation involve arguments of human/animal difference in intellectual and emotional capacities, which “are achingly close reprises of the conceptual bases for racial, sexual, and gender hierarchies” (Seager 169). By engaging in a deeply entrenched system that oppresses a massive amount of individual beings on a daily basis, our meat-eating society becomes desensitized to instances of violence and inequality perpetrated against non-human animals, women, racial minorities, and homosexuals alike.
Social theorist Herbert Marcuse would refer to the desensitization toward oppression of all varieties caused by the systematic mistreatment of non-human animals as the “happy consciousness” (Marcuse 483). An oppressive society creates in its members this happy consciousness by imposing upon them “false needs”—in the case at hand, the notion that humans need to eat meat—that perpetuate inequality under the guise of offering immediate gratification (Marcuse 479). In obeying these false needs, individuals “facilitate[…] acceptance of the misdeeds of […] society” by essentially eliminating the feeling of guilt from the realm of civilization (Marcuse 483). When one considers that animal agribusiness deems as “standard procedures” such egregiously cruel practices as castrating young male animals without anesthesia, removing newborn calves from their mothers immediately after birth, and cramming five to seven chickens into wire-mesh cages the size of a newspaper page, the “acceptance of the misdeeds” of industrial animal agriculture becomes quite apparent (A Well-Fed World). The fact that most people who eat meat today do not know about these practices showcases how, in actively working to conceal the animal abuse inherent in the industry, animal agribusiness erases the guilt of eating animals from societal consciousness. Indeed, how can we question oppressive systems in order to combat a falsely happy consciousness if we remain unaware of the system’s oppressive nature in the first place? An ignorant complicity toward the enslavement and commodification of non-human animals can extend to a lack of awareness about the other various systems of oppression that still exist in modern society, such as sexism, racism, and homophobia; once we accept one corrupt aspect of society, it becomes easy to accept others. Questioning the objectification of non-human animals aids in cultivating an awareness of a multiplicity of other social issues prevalent in today’s society.
Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department. “Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States (2006): n. pag. Web. 7 May 2013. < ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/a0701e/a0701e.pdf>.
Cornell Chronicle. “U.S. could feed 800 million people with grain that livestock eat, Cornell ecologist advises animal scientists.” Cornell Chronicle (7 August 2997): n. pag. Web. 7 May 2013. < http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/1997/08/us-could-feed-800-million-people-grain-livestock-eat>.
Joy, Melanie. Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism. San Francisco: Conari Press, 2010. Print.
Marcuse, Herbert. “One-Dimensional Man.” Classical Sociological Theory. Ed. Craig Calhoun, Joseph Gerteis, James Moody, Steven Pfaff, and Indermohan Virk. West Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 2012. 478-487. Print.
Schuster, Henry. “Domestic Terror: Who’s Most Dangerous?” CNN.com. CNN, 24 August 2005. Web. 27 April 2013. <http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/08/24/schuster.column/index.html>.
Seager, Joni. “Pepperoni or Broccoli? On the Cutting Wedge of Feminist Environmentalism.” Gender, Place and Culture 10.2 (June 2003): 167-174. Web. 7 May 2013. < http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0966369032000079550>.
Well-Fed World, A. “Factory Farms.” A Well-Fed World. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 May 2013. < http://awellfedworld.org/issues/animalprotection>.