Vegetarian Ecofeminism: A Review Essay

By Gaard, Greta | Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies, September 2002 | Go to article overview

Vegetarian Ecofeminism: A Review Essay


Gaard, Greta, Frontiers - A Journal of Women's Studies


Although the roots of ecofeminism can be located in the work of women gardeners, outdoor enthusiasts, environmental writers, botanists, scientists, animal welfare activists, and abolitionists over the past two centuries, ecofeminism's first articulation in the 1980s was shaped by the convergence of the peace, antinuclear, and feminist movements. In the past two decades ecofeminism has developed so rapidly that the time for a broad review of it has already passed; even recent taxonomies do not adequately describe its internal variations. For these reasons, I have chosen to trace the branch of ecofeminism that has been the subject of most disagreement by feminists, ecofeminists, and environmentalists and is the least understood. This misunderstanding (and the subsequent misrepresentation) of vegetarian ecofeminism must be addressed, I will argue, because this branch of ecofeminism is the logical outgrowth of both feminism and ecofeminism. For if ecofeminism can be seen as the offspring of feminism, then vegetar ian ecofeminism is surely feminism's third generation.

Since its inception ecofeminism has had a contentious relationship with the idea of animal liberation. While some ecofeminists have remained silent on the topic of animals, others have emphasized the oppression of nonhuman animals (speciesism) as implicit within an ecofeminist analysis, arguing that speciesism functions like and is inherently linked to racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, and naturism. Outside of ecofeminism some feminists have been particularly vocal in their opposition to giving equal moral consideration to the interests or the rights of nonhuman animals. To vegetarian ecofeminists such opposition runs counter to the fundamental aims of feminism. As Lynda Birke explains, "One of the strengths of feminist thought is that it is never 'just' about women: it is a critical discourse that tends to ask uncomfortable questions about everything." (1) Vegetarian ecofeminism puts into action the feminist insight that "the personal is political" and examines the political contexts of dietary choices as well as strategic and operational choices in science and economics. What prevents some feminists and ecofeminists from politicizing their sympathies for animals and interrogating the ethical and political contexts of "personal" choices involving other animals?

This essay explores that question and others through the analyses and practical applications of vegetarian ecofeminism. First the essay surveys vegetarian ecofeminists' diverse origins and motivations. Then it traces the path that many vegetarian ecofeminists followed, beginning by making connections between specific objects of oppression (that is, animals and people of color, women and animals, or animals and the environment), growing to include associations among several objects of oppression (animals, people of color, women, gays and lesbians, nature), and arriving at an analysis of the structure of oppression itself. The essay then examines various conceptual developments of vegetarian ecofeminism that have contributed to ecofeminist theory overall. Finally it suggests directions for future development and activism.

As the various liberatory movements for social and environmental justice strive to build coalitions toward common goals, alliances will have stronger foundations if they are built on an understanding and appreciation of the motivating forces that power one another's activism. To that end this essay provides a window onto the passions and perspectives of vegetarian ecofeminists.

ROOTS OF VEGETARIAN ECOFEMINISM

To date vegetarian ecofeminism has been explicitly articulated through the work of scholars and activists such as Carol Adams, Norma Benney, Lynda Birke, Deane Curtin, Josephine Donovan, Greta Gaard, Lori Gruen, Ronnie Zoe Hawkins, Marti Kheel, Brian Luke, Jim Mason, and Deborah Slicer.

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