Posts Tagged political identity

Vegetarianism: an Identity or Choice?

After our discussion on Friday about vegetarians and vegetarianism I got to thinking about the way in which food consumption governs our personal and political identity.  Is being a vegetarian/vegan simply about food choice?  Does the choice to eat meat end after the waitor takes orders at a restaurant?

Vegetarians can be  “pesco-vegetarian” , “pollo-vegetarian”, “vegetarian”, “lacto-vegetarian”, “ovo-vegetarian” and “vegan”.  Phew!  What choices one has in food consumption!  If we’re discussing political identity as an extension of personal choice, how is a “lacto-vegetarian” percieved as opposed to a “pollo-vegetarian”?  Is the consumption of any feminized or animal proteins enough to make your political identity as a vegetarian invalid?  Or does the line of acceptable consumption lie with “meat” consumption- aka “peco/pollo-vegetarians”?

Adams argues that the term meat “others animals”, and acts as a force that “naturaliz[es] animals as intrinsically consumable”.  She makes the argument that “to be a pig is to be pork” “to be a chicken is to be poultry”.  Thus, humans as a group with almost complete hegemonic power over animals feel entitled to treat them as simply a means to the end of meat consumption.  The thinking behind the process of meat-eating extends beyond the agro-industrial complex.  The choice to eat meat becomes a point of personal identity and the process of “othering” extends beyond the realm of meat production to human relations.

Let’s explore some potential intersections of politics and personal identity.  When asked “why are you a vegetarian?”  there are a variety of answers given.  Some common ones include: the opposition to animal cruelty, the disapproval of the energy used to raise animals for slaughter, the need to eat healthily, and cultural/religious reasons.  Let’s be real: some people hop on the vegetarian bandwagon because it’s trendy and fits in with their hippie-inspired boho-chic wardrobe.  Plus all of the Celebrities are doing it!  By stating these reasons, I am not trying to invalidate them or the decision to abstain from meat-eating trivial.  I am simply trying to point out that the desire to eat a vegetarian diet stems from a number of reasons.  Are some of these more politically-driven than others?  Who decides?

Perhaps it’s the outward declaration of vegetarianism that allows for political identity to become involved.  If one says that they are a vegetarian, then they are claiming an identity as determined by another person.  While this certainly exists within this context, it is a concept that can be more broadly applied.  Any personal choice can be subject to subjective classification by another.  The choice to perform as a woman, the choice to appear or pass at heteronormative, the choice to wear certain clothes and speak in a certain way all have connotations attached to them that we cannot escape.  While it may seem like a personal choice to purchase and wear a certain shirt, in a small way you are claiming an identity and asserting political power with that purchase.  When you wear that shirt you will be perceived in a certain way and may be able to mediate access to things you would otherwise not be privy to (meetings with people, ideas, opportunities etc.).  You are using your buying power to support (or not support) equitable business practices.

In a more abstract way, this concept can be tied back to any assumed identity (race, ethnicity, gender performance).  As a person who is of a minority status within a majority culture their actions and choices can viewed through a politicized  lens.  This is problematic because a personal choice becomes political (or racial or gendered) without the individual muttering a word.  Thus, by simply existing one can be viewed as self-identifying with a group (as determined by the individual in power!) and thus subject to all biases the person who is making these connections has previously determined!  It seems to be an abstract link, the process of  “othering”, whether it is in the context of glamorizing a vegetarian or placing racist assumptions on an individual is rampant.  It takes different forms and masks its self in different “identities”, but ultimately acts to subordinate any group which does not adhere to the majority’s conception of the “norm”.



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Word count: 141   Last edited by jordan on April 29, 2012 at 2:28 am


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