Professor Fights the Hegemonic Meat Patriarchy to Achieve Social Justice
By David Richardson
There is an academic journal entitled, Gender, Place, and Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography. In the field of women’s studies, it is a well-known, peer-reviewed publication. The journal’s stated aim is to be "a forum for debate in human geography and related disciplines on theoretically-informed research concerned with gender issues." That is what the journal says about itself. My conjecture is that people who believe that they actually know what that phrase means after reading it only once constitute the journal’s target market.
One supporter is a former past president of the Association of American Geographers, Professor Victoria A. Lawson. She commends the publication in this way, “[It] is a very high quality journal, one that is advancing original scholarship in the critical arenas of feminist geography and feminist interdisciplinary work.” That is high praise, and I would never dream of taking exception to it. No matter how critical these arenas might be, however, I had never before thought of geography in either masculine or feminine terms. As silly as I am, I have regarded geographical coordinates as intrinsically genderless, for people of all genders live in most locations of the world, and that seems equitable. Gender problems exist everywhere. That’s a fact of life, but I don’t regard this however as a cause for taking sides. Moreover, “feminist interdisciplinary work” sounds a bit sexist—at least to my uninitiated ears, something of a select club that excludes most men and focuses on the feminine. I don’t mind that, but it does seem ideological and elitist. So by definition, the descriptive phrase is a bit one-sided--sounding more like “looking down our nose” advocacy than it does research.
Despite my reservations, however, I am not writing as a critic of feminist geography or of feminists in different disciplines pooling their resources. I encourage both. It is a free country. Instead, I wish merely to highlight an example of the original scholarship to which Victoria A. Lawson must be referring.
The journal’s November (2017) issue contained an article by Professor Anne DeLessio-Parson entitled, “Doing Vegetarianism to Destabilize the Meat-masculinity Nexus in La Plata, Argentina.” This paper is about “La Plata, Argentina,” so that covers for the geography focus of the journal. The “meat-masculinity nexus” seems an odd way to introduce gender; nonetheless, that focus seems covered, too. The introduction of “vegetarianism” seems a much less relevant item, and weaponizing it to “destabilize” the “meat-masculinity nexus” seems a contrived way to make the exclusive consumption of vegetables relevant to gender, though it does echo the militant views of vegan activist, Carol J. Adams.
The term “destabilize” seems overly militaristic, but it actually becomes bizarre when joined with “vegetarianism.” The very image of vegetables destabilizing masculinity—no matter what kind it is—seems farfetched. It conjures up an image of grim, revolutionary celery stalks on the march to eradicate offensive male gardeners who are up to no good. But the author is serious about it, and so are vegan activists. Consequently, “meat masculinity” underestimates the power of vegetables at its own risk.
Professor DeLessio-Parson has deliberately chosen conflict imagery because she firmly believes that this is war. The dining room table is one of the battlefields on which serious clashes are won or lost. What’s on one dinner plate will represent patriarchal power (meat); what’s on another will represent resistance to traditional expectations and gender roles (vegetables). The plate she favors is never in question. Apparently, she feels that a diet devoid of meat can do magical things to bring social peace and to facilitate gender understanding.
Now, for those who do not know what a “meat-masculinity nexus” is, then shame on you. I refuse to explain; I don’t have the patience. Well, to be honest, I am not quite certain that I know what it really means either, but it is a very bad thing. I am sure of that. The good professor tells me so. So I assure you that it is not an SNL put-on. It is a “serious” idea. The “meat-masculinity nexus” is a threat that may have been one of the many, many causes of Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump. Ms. Clinton may have covered it in her book. But if you wish to explore the concept more fully, follow the link I have supplied to the journal and read the Delassio-Parson’s original article.
Professor DeLessio Parson and Her Thesis
Professor DeLessio-Parson is a sociologist who teaches at Pennsylvania State University. Apparently, she is also a vegetarian feminist, and this aspect of her behavior is part of her intellectual and culinary crusade against the “Patriarchy,” which is typically understood as the social order ruled by men and which Professor DeLessio-Parson associates with “gender-hegemony.” Under this “hegemony, apparently, meat consumption is a requirement. Consequently, if you are enjoying a barbecued beef rib right now, you are part of the gender problem—particularly if you are male. The professor has you in her sights. Nonetheless, it’s reassuring that DeLessio-Parson is not using the science of sociology to promote a personally preferred dietary habit or to vilify ideologically about half of the world’s population.
Below is the abstract to her article.
“In patriarchal societies where hegemonic masculinity implies an imperative to eat meat, vegetarianism disrupts food culture, raising questions about how vegetarians do, re-do, and rework gender. Analyzing 23 interviews in La Plata, Argentina, I find that the narratives of conversion and social pushback reported by women and men expose gender enactment and social reinforcement of the binary. At times, vegetarians compensate by drawing on scripts of femininities and masculinities that uphold difference, e.g. women cook meat and reassure meat-eaters; men make rationality-based claims and demonstrate strength. Yet in other moments, vegetarians defy attempts to hold them accountable to gendered social expectations. Women, for example, assert authority over their diets; men embody rejection of the meat-masculinity nexus by adopting a worldview that also rejects sexism and racism. I contend that in such a context, we cannot separate the ways people ‘do vegetarianism’ from how they ‘do gender.’ Doing vegetarianism in interactions drives social change, contributing to the de-linking of meat from gender hegemony and revealing the resisting and reworking of gender in food spaces.”
Where Eddie Met Salad: A Non-sexist, Non-racist Future
What the professor’s paper claims constitutes a remarkable scientific insight. Vegetarianism, apparently, can do wonders to heal sexism and racism. In addition, eating carrots can be an empowering act of subversive defiance against masculine domination—an act that empowers both men and women to embrace a non-sexist, non-racist worldview that defies traditional social expectations. That’s heroic. And you thought that the vegetable entrées on the restaurant’s menu were merely options. Instead, they are paths to valiant non-conformity and virtuous social revolution.
DeLessio-Parson’s insight is even more remarkable since it comes from the analysis of only 23 interviews. During a time of dwindling budgets, this saves time and precious research dollars. Who needs a representative sample in a rigorously peer-reviewed journal anyway? But note the professor’s assertion that one cannot separate how people “do vegetarianism” from how people “do gender.” I am not exactly sure what that means, but I suppose it might refer to how a vegetarian diet subdues a bull’s masculine aggressiveness and encourages the bull to exhibit pacific, feminine, bovine behaviors. Or how the average lioness would prefer to stalk a varied herbivorous diet; but on the African savannah, the closest she can come to that is hunting and eating herbivores. For the lioness, every feminine instinct within her feline heart resists the impulse, but the injustice of nature’s enforced “meat-masculinity nexus” impels her to slay and to eat. If the journal has not yet reported on these and similar phenomena, the editorial board should solicit papers. Nature simply brims with gender injustice.
The professor also claims that “doing vegetarianism” promotes positive social change. Why? It “delinks meat from gender hegemony” and reworks the “doing of gender in food spaces.” Applying DeLessio-Parson’s findings more locally, one would classify McDonald’s as a reactionary stronghold for the forces of Patriarchy. Consequently, a woman might find the atmosphere too oppressive when she attempts to order a quarter-pounder at the restaurant’s counter or drive-thru. Moreover, such demeaning behavior (i.e., ordering the quarter pounder) would only endorse the Patriarchy and affirm the binary. What a shame and a pity.
In the light of DeLessio-Parson’s paper and in the name of social justice, women should go to Where Eddie Met Salad for lunch—presuming that chain ever emerges from bankruptcy and re-opens an outlet. Apparently, the focus on vegetables is not as good for business as it is social justice. Inviting the men in their lives to have lunch with them at this restaurant--should one ever re-open--might promote positive social change. One can only hope. There is only one drawback. When the chain was open, Where Eddie Met Salad promoted meat toppings for its menu offerings. If the chain ever comes back, the good professor will have to do something about that. Sometimes, social change requires patience.
Professor DeLessio-Parson’s scientific scholarship is quite impressive. In fact, her views can boast an established precedent in intellectual history. Here is just one example. Ludwig Feuerbach--the author of the Essence of Christianity and the subject of Marx’s well-known “Theses on Feuerbach”--recognized the importance of nutrition to the spread of progressive socialism. He advised that the reason the 1848 European Socialist Revolutions failed was that the underclasses suffered from “potato poor blood.” His solution? Let them eat beans. That would give the common man sufficient energy to rise up against oppressors and to establish the utopian society. Yes, beans, a more nourishing food than potatoes, would do the trick and pave the way to social justice. From this, one can safely conclude that the 21st century has no exclusive access to intellectual silliness.
- a. "Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy/Summer 2010 Edition)." Stanford.library.sydney.edu.au, https://stanford.library.sydney.edu.au/archives/sum2010/entries/ludwig-feuerbach/. Accessed 7 Dec. 2017.
To achieve a future for humankind devoid of racism, sexism, and gender injustice, Professor DeLessio-Parson offers a similar, straightforward formula: “Hegemonic men, shut up, eat your vegetables, and leave the animals alone.”
I congratulate Professor DeLessio-Parson for entering the pantheon of intellectual heroes who gauge social justice by food choice. Her evaluation of meat and “hegemonic-masculinity” easily matches the depth of research and explanatory power of Ludwig Feuerbach’s analysis of the European Revolutions of 1848. Without question, she matches Feuerbach in silliness. But the good professor, at least, has a few actual interviews on file. Feuerbach just winged it; nonetheless, his motto (“Man is what he eats”) has a bit more going for it than DeLessio-Parson’s, “Hegemonic men, shut-up eat your vegetables, and leave the animals alone.” So her academic advantage she manages to lose in mean-spirited tedium.
Nonetheless, DeLessio-Parson’s paper is a great accomplishment, a notable advancement in human knowledge. Certainly, we are proud of her. She takes her place with Feuerbach in a great tradition of analysis. Right now, I am nibbling my Big Mac expectantly, awaiting her next contribution to scholarship.
Link to Gender, Place, and Culture: