A few weekends ago, the New York Times Magazine‘s resident ethicist, Ariel Kaminer, posed an interesting question: Is eating meat ethical? She asked that readers send in essays (they’re due on Sunday), to be judged by a panel of prominent experts, including the Times‘ outspoken “flexitarian” Mark Bittman, and Eating Animals author Jonathan Safron Foer. I’m looking forward to reading the discussions that will follow, but the panel presents a major flaw: It’s entirely white, and entirely male.
There are, it seems, either no females that Kaminer or the magazine see fit to discuss the ethics of meat–or none who would participate. I emailed Kaminer asking for a comment some time ago, but have yet to receive a response to clarify why women are missing. Regardless, I don’t think that any food ethics can or should be discussed in a gender vacuum. So I asked a well-known female writer on the subject, Carol J. Adams, author of The Sexual Politics Of Meat, to chime in.
Satirized here in the Hair-Pin (and demonstrated in this article right on cue), it’s nearly impossible to discuss PETA–or vegetarianism/veganism, for that matter–on the internet without someone referencing Adams’ iconic book, which finds close ties between feminism and the meat industry. And, amid our country’s current gender climate, it seems more important than ever to ensure that influential women like Adams are included.
So, while the Times is not including her (or any person of non-male gender, or any person of color) in the discussion, I’m going to insert it. Here is what Adams had to say, when I posed a few questions to her.
The New York Times Magazine is asking readers to submit essays arguing that eating meat is ethical. The essays will be judged by a panel of influential voices who have spoken out against the practice of eating meat. Did the Times ask you to participate?
First, let’s establish that it isn’t this monolithic thing: “the Times.” It is one person, Ariel Kaminer, who is the new “Ethicist.” According to information I found online, an editor at the Times wanted to diversify that position and the longtime “Ethicist”—who actually seemed to have some background in thinking ethically—was let go. Kaminer comes to this position from the Arts and Leisure section of the Times. The Times immediately placed an image on the “Ethicist” page that announces a “woman” is now the Ethicist—a svelte, skirted individual is depicted. As some one who spends a lot of time looking at images and how they reify, interpret, or extend the sexual politics of meat, I noticed immediately how the cues they used announced her “gender” in this image (and they are the same cues used in meat advertisements to make domesticated animals “female” and inviting, i.e., consummable).
Why do you think they opted for more recently-known (and male) personalities, such as Jonathan Safron Foer and Mark Bittman?
Again, it was not a “they” but Ariel Kaminer. I believe a part of thinking ethically is thinking self-critically (“let’s see, what are the implications of what I am choosing to do?”) It appears that she did not employ this kind of self-critical apparatus (“hmm, I have selected all white men for this panel, what will this say?”). Or it might have been the fact that she didn’t even notice she had done this. After all, panels of white men have been the status quo for so many years, and as we know, the Republicans had just held a hearing on birth control that featured only men.
Let’s remember the insight about who is “marked” and who is not marked in our culture. Until Black Liberation and Women’s Liberation began to change consciousness in the late 60s and early 70s, white men were unmarked, that is, their whiteness and maleness were untheorized and unremarkable. We all have to resist a kind of “colonization of consciousness” in which we participate in maintaining what is normative because that is what we are used to seeing. The irony here is that the Times helps to create what is normative and who the experts are. Whoever is quoted in interviews and is invited to be a guest writer in the Magazine section, becomes more well known.