Man v. Food: backlash or banter?

Amy Calvert finds plenty of macho propaganda and some unfortunate portrayals of women when she examines a reality television series following a man's attempts to conquer super-sized food challenges

, 26 July 2013

Man v. Food season 2 - square.jpgMan v. Food is a US reality television series presented by Adam Richman, a bit-part actor from Brooklyn, New York. The show ended after three series’ on Travel Channel, but for those feeling curious, repeats of the show are easily accessible on Dave, the self-professed “home of witty comedy banter”.

Man v. Food is the quintessential embodiment of this supposed ‘banter’; an elusive word I find impossible to say without dwelling upon its somewhat problematic ties to the justification of sexism. (If you can bear to recall the slimy and repulsive UniLad rape jokes, shielded by the bloke-ish arms of ‘banter’, you’ll know what I mean). Man v. Food has caused mixed reactions amongst critics, from scathing looks and tummy-turning nausea to ‘manly’ expressions of approval, admiration and infatuation directed towards Richman, a now legendary ‘real man’ because of his gastric prowess.

The programme follows a relatively simple structure, following Richman as he travels from one state to another, gorging himself on meal after meal, with obvious bias towards fatty, calorific and meaty dishes. The average episode of Man v. Food generally incorporates four key elements. Richman begins by sampling a local delicacy or speciality, expressing his appreciation through grunts and groans of apparently primitive satisfaction, a token dribble of sauce often smudged across his chin. He then observes the creation of a super-sized food challenge, which he will attempt to conquer in the third part of the programme.

The show ends with a pseudo press conference setup, with Richman playing the role of A-list celebrity and answering questions put to him by an adoring audience of devoted fans that have watched him either succeed or fail in the aforementioned challenge. Richman often dons a pair of aviator sunglasses for this final part of the programme, presumably in an attempt to bolster his ‘manly’ reputation.

This apparently playful finale is itself incredibly troublesome. The valorisation of Richman sends strong messages about what it means to eat meat, what it means to ‘be a man’ and how meat and masculinity are somehow inherently linked.

During the course of the series’, Richman’s extreme manliness appears inextricably linked to his consumption of non-human animal flesh. The outdated yet depressingly persistent phrase “real men eat meat” seems to be a mantra for the show. (And one can always rely on The Daily Mail to help maintain these dietary ideologies). Richman has become the ultimate symbol of manliness and an instigator in the nostalgic pine for more primitive masculinities to resurface, as inspired by the man-as-hunter paradigm (this link will take you to a wonderful book, well-worth reading for more on the topic of vegetarianism and a history of human diets, if you’re interested to learn more).

The scene develops, proceeding quickly into the ridiculous, as Richman aims and fires at beef burgers being thrown into the sky

The show propagandises a meat-centred diet and Richman’s eating challenges are commonly accompanied by a burly chorus of “beat the meat”, “man versus meat”, “do it, do it” and other similar, relatively aggressive, chants. If Richman successfully completes a challenge, he is met with roars of vehement approval and a distinct sense that he has somehow proven himself as a man. This highlights a (misleading) rhetoric of ‘naturalness’ in relation to the ties between ‘being a man’ and eating meat. Richman is a man because he has (b)eaten the meat.

These pressurising situations promote very specific ideals of masculinity and create a fan base for meat consumption, while disparaging and belittling vegetarian/vegan diets. Richman can also be seen to mock these figures through condescending portrayals of vegetarians/vegans as effeminate and finicky eaters.

In Boise, Idaho, for example, he raises the pitch of his voice after being presented with a burger weighing over 4lbs and, using stereotypically ‘camp’ mannerisms and tone of voice, complains to the waitress: “um…I had the salad” to rumbles of delighted amusement from his audience. Another example of so-called banter, because of course they don’t really mean it. They’re being ironic.

The programme is dominated by men, with a male presenter and majority male audience, and there are strong hints of phallic solidarity woven throughout. Richman’s behaviour puts forward very specific ideals for masculine practices that are generally aggressive and typically ‘tough’. Often, he evokes stereotypes of the state he is in, celebrating a mode of masculinity commonly associated with that location.

In San Antonio, for example, Richman emulates a Texas Ranger, with phallic symbolism through presence of a rifle. The scene develops, proceeding quickly into the ridiculous, as Richman aims and fires at beef burgers being thrown into the sky.

Man v. Food utilises ‘banter’ to undercut moral questions which challenge meat-eating, rendering them invalid

Superficially, the scene is meaningless and allegedly humorous, due to its distinct lack of sense. However, there is a clear assertion of violent masculinities through a celebration of shooting. One may also interpret the scene as a metaphor for the aforementioned man-as-hunter framework. The twist is that Richman is shooting the flesh of animals already slaughtered for the purpose of human consumption, therefore simultaneously bringing together and showing distance between the contemporary and traditional depictions of ‘real’ manliness.

This scene, although here isolated and held up as an example, is part of a wider selection of scenes throughout Man v. Food which promote human privilege, specifically human male privilege, over non-human animals. The apparently comedic element to this scene is troublesome because there is a blatant and intentional disregard for the origins of meat; a once live, sentient creature, reduced to pieces of meat.

Indeed, Carol J. Adams notes that meat is a mere cover term that enables the disassociation between ‘meat’ and the non-human animal from which it comes from. The non-human is the “absent referent“, intentionally not spoken about so as to avoid interrogating the ways meat eating is naturalised and the supposed right of human animals to exploit and consume non-human animals. Man v. Food utilises notions of banter to undercut moral questions which challenge meat-eating, rendering them invalid and ridiculous.

Man v. Food‘s promotion of masculinity seems shrouded in myths of manliness as intrinsically tough, as supported by Richman’s employment of American stereotypes – the aforementioned ranger, a boxing champion, a racer and an athlete, for example. Richman’s language in the programme highlights a heavy-handed use of war-like rhetoric, as he shouts “you wanna know where the beef is? It’s on the battlefield” (Baltimore) which, again, underlines assertions of vicious strength and/or brutish behaviour.

This language encourages a continued ‘battle of the sexes’: the battleground becoming a war waged against the perceived domestication of men

With a plethora of articles affiliating meat, specifically red meat, with masculinity, it’s easy to extend Richman’s comment to have beef as a metaphor for man. The idea is that men belong on the battlefield – they are aggressive, protective and primitive beings. At least, this seems to be the overarching message. Indeed, the pre-credits to the show tell us Richman is “a regular guy”, making him representative of men and masculinity more widely. Consequently, Man v. Food‘s masculinity propaganda becomes generalising and limited, skimming over the surface of masculine behaviours and failing to recognise anything which opposes ideals.

This jingoistic language is not only supporting a particularly violent expression of masculinity, but also encouraging a continued ‘battle of the sexes’: the battleground becoming a war waged against the perceived domestication of men, which is so often depicted as an unnatural, emasculating, and feminine force denying males the opportunity to embrace being ‘men’.

A prime example of this would be the infamous Burger King ‘Manthem‘ commercial, which satirises the feminist movements through a relentless and reckless employment of banter, reclaiming Helen Reddy’s ‘I Am Woman’ and altering the lyrics to celebrate men and masculinity (because there isn’t much in terms of male promotion out there, right?). They also exploit the bra-burning-feminist stereotype by incinerating their underwear and push a family car over a bridge to demonstrate a renunciation of the family man and a valorisation of the independent bachelor archetype. The hyper-masculine camaraderie throughout this advertisement is similarly mirrored in Man v. Food through a largely male audience, the prevalence of ideological messages surrounding meat and men, the resultant feminisation of vegetarianism/veganism and the relative invisibility of women on the show.

In keeping with this, there are also unfortunate portrayals of women and notions of femininity in Man v. Food. This goes back to the notion of banter, the blurry-edged safeguard of sexist commentary. This is precisely what enables Man v. Food to express depressingly limited depictions of women, following a predictable line of sexual innuendo and body-only objectification. The pervasive use of sexual innuendo in the show is a prime example of the utilisation of such banter.

The show employs banter’-esque and sexist commentary to legitimise the objectification and silencing of women and ‘feminine’ social movements along environmental, animal rights and feminist lines

The interesting twist in the show is how these remarks are often directed towards food, (perhaps due to the extreme marginalisation of women, leading to desperate measures for finding somebody/something else to ridicule instead?). Here, there are transparent analogies linking food with the female body, such as “the biggest buns in Texas” (San Antonio) as an obvious coupling between women’s breasts and cinnamon buns.

These comments may appear unremarkable to some, even amusing, but the ramifications of these allegedly ironic statements are unfailingly negative, as women are once more tied to bodily objectification through the implications of desire for “big buns”, and the ties between women and sex. The phrase intentionally focuses upon female anatomy, specifically women’s breasts, or ‘buns’, demonstrating a fixation with female body parts.

This is a tactic repeated in the show in one particular episode in Durham, North Carolina, where Richman takes part in a four-person relay which combines food and sporting activities (swimming, running and cycling) over the course of fifteen miles. Richman takes part alongside two sporting men, and one woman, a cheerleader, called Tiffany. Tiffany is to take part in the swimming section of the relay and, in doing so, is something of a mastermind behind her complete objectification.

Prior to the race, Richman instructs Tiffany to “strip into that bikini as slowly as possible”, highlighting the importance of the visual impact of her body, idyllically slender, tanned and toned, and maximising the opportunity for the male gaze to demonstrate its authority over the female form.

When Tiffany strips down in the show, bold and brassy music accompanies the slow motion picture capturing her steady undress for the purpose of being ogled by a male audience presumed to be entirely heterosexual. The scene concludes with Richman smugly saying “You’re welcome, America”, implying that Tiffany’s objectification is something to feel thankful and appreciative for.

The scene is made more complex when we take into account that, presumably, Tiffany has chosen to strip; there are no obvious signs of coercion in the scene. We can assume, therefore, that Tiffany is knowingly presenting her body to Richman, the camera and those around her. In what ways, then, is Tiffany being objectified?

Tiffany’s willingness to strip seems strikingly post-feminist. Here, apparent choice and empowerment have become about women actually opting to reveal their bodies and finding liberation in their to-be-looked-at-ness. However, Tiffany is inescapably an object of sexualised fantasy in the show, as she is so clearly fragmented and reduced to a body and the show makes no attempt to enrich this two-dimensional body-only status, in the same way that men and manliness is explored (however problematically).

Indeed, for the majority of the show, Tiffany remains almost hauntingly silent; her major communication on-screen comprises of the occasional smile and getting undressed. Tiffany, as she appears, is also fully compliant with patriarchal demands for contemporary (post-)feminine appearance and behaviours in the scene – a slim, tanned, blonde cheerleader willing to undress on camera. She promotes a femininity which does not challenge masculinity and/or patriarchal values.

Overall, Man v. Food promotes a reversion towards primitive and traditional modes of manliness and a hyper-masculine space celebrating fundamental needs and desires – food and sex. Perceived feminine influences are mocked and neglected, with the show employing banter’-esque and sexist commentary to legitimise the objectification and silencing of women and ‘feminine’ social movements along environmental, animal rights and feminist lines.

Man v. Food, along with other similar backlash media, appears to be fighting to reclaim something apparently lost by men through equality crusading. Their reversion to almost caveman-like behaviour may be understood as an attempt to re-establish a traditional hierarchy of male dominance… or perhaps it really is just “banter”?

Image descriptions:

1. Trimmed cover of the Man v. Food Season 2 DVD. This shows a head and shoulders shot of a slightly smiling Adam Richman, with a raised knife and fork in his hands, about to tuck into a pile of pancakes on a plate. This is against a red background, subtly overlaid with faded pictures of fast food items, such as burgers in buns and hotdogs.

2. Screenshot of Richman sitting at a table in the pseudo press conference set-up mentioned in the piece. He is attempting to complete the “Fire in your hole” wings challenge in Sarasota, Florida. There is an audience in front of him, with some members holding up mobile phones to film him.

3. Screenshot of Tiffany removing a dark pink top to reveal a dark pink bikini to dive into a swimming pool. This is the slow motion scene mentioned in the article (Durham, North Carolina).

Amy has just finished her Undergraduate degree in English Literature with Media and Cultural Studies at Lancaster University, and is due to commence an MA degree in either Sociology or Gender and Women’s Studies in October. Her key research interests are various aspects of feminism, masculinities and looking at the relationship between humans and nonhumans. She also enjoys copious amounts of herbal tea, spending time with her pets (two dogs and two cats) and sitting in front of her sewing machine and getting creative

Comments From You

Anna // Posted 27 July 2013 at 3:35 pm

Interesting look at a show I sometimes watch as a guilty pleasure – just wondering, how do the episodes centered on sweet food/desserts fit in your narrative? I agree that most episodes are centred on a meat = manliness subtext, but how do you interpret all those times when Richman gorges himself on ice-cream/pancakes/milkshakes/etc?

Amy // Posted 27 July 2013 at 4:30 pm

Hi Anna,

Thanks for your comment. You bring up a very good point in terms of the sweets/desserts challenges that Richman partakes in. I think this is a separate element to the show when the challenges are more sugar based that meat, and not something I considered in this piece. I wanted to keep the focus on the meat-based dishes because of their prevalence throughout the three series’ of the show, that’s the predominant message being put across to the audience, so that’s where I wanted to focus my attentions. And of course it’s not just meat in terms of what is consumed, but also how women are portrayed as body-only objects, treated like the common (and problematic) phrase: “like a piece of meat”.

I think if I were to look at the desserts, there are similar arguments to be made in terms of portion size and masculinity, and also heavy-handed attempts to masculinise the sweeter options which could potentially be seen as more “feminine” dishes in other settings (another problematic assumption, perhaps for a later article!) For example, I believe there is an episode where he gorges on pancakes which have been dubbed “mancakes” due to their sheer size, again linking masculinities with largeness and therefore dominance.

I hope that you enjoyed the article, and thank you for showing an interest. :)

Corey Lee Wrenn // Posted 28 July 2013 at 12:56 am

Anna,

As ice cream, pancakes, and other food items featured in the show are also products of exploitation and death (being made up of birds’ eggs, cows’ milk, cows’ cheese, etc.), they work very similarly to “meat” in celebrating masculinity and feminizing food/animals/women.

When he has an episode where he tackles a plate of vegan sweets or a plate of vegetables, that would be something curious. .. but of course that will never happen, as Amy is quite right: These types of programs are designed to uphold a hierarchy of power that privileges men and objectifies women and other animals.

Amy, awesome read. I want to invite you to contribute to our website if you are ever interested! http://www.veganfeministnetwork.com

C // Posted 29 July 2013 at 8:27 am

I’m sorry, I disagree with the vegan rhetoric, the peta stance which a lot of vegans use far too often co-ops the struggles of humans and instead of raising animals up to a human level, instead reduces humans to cattle and sheep. Especially with the use of “holocaust” and “slavery” that a lot of vegans use. I do not think that people should be forced to eat meat if they don’t want to, and I can agree with points of that meat is heavily masculised and I hate industrial production, but I disagree strongly with the vegan rhetoric. Especially because I know far too many farmers, including women farmers.

I personally believe veganism has been brought to the level of religion, even though most of it’s followers will say it’s just a way of life, that’s how religions tended to start.

Saying that drinking milk and eating eggs is a feminist issue because cows and chickens are female seriously makes me think that the vegans who think that way think lesser of other humans.

Amy // Posted 29 July 2013 at 11:52 am

Corey – thanks for your kind words! You’re right, the desserts are also heavily embroiled in exploitation, so still remains a strong point for concern in the programme, and I would be interested in writing a piece for your website!

C – I too have problems with PETA, (many, many, many problems). For example, their campaigning, in my opinion, is deeply flawed. Their use of the female body to promote animal rights is something I find deeply unsettling. In attempting to promote the rights of non-human animals, they subordinate and objectify women through the exploitation of female bodies, which is a grossly overused motif in their campaigns. PETA do not speak for all vegetarians/vegans! The majority of my veggie friends have similar problems to my own with them, and I hope you don’t think they reflect the common views of people who chose not to consume animal by-products.

Drinking milk and eating eggs ARE a feminist issue, and not simply because they come from female animals, it’s nothing to do with whether or not humans are “better” or “more” than nonhumans, it’s about the contradictions in place when we support equality for (human) women, but till support the exploitation of another marginalised group.

IronFly // Posted 30 July 2013 at 2:18 pm

Hello. I’m a woman and I like Man vs. Food.

C // Posted 31 July 2013 at 11:20 am

I’ve seen some vegans use the argument of taking eggs from chickens that live in your garden is a form of thievery. I would like to say my stance on the matter is that veganism is a religion based upon the fear of death. A lot of the rhetoric is “eat vegan you’ll live longer” and “we don’t want to cause suffering” without realising that a lot of murder can be found in the production of crops as well as flesh. Everything and everyone dies.

I disagree with torture (I actively support local farms and I prefer eating at places that promise high welfare foods) for one thing abbatoirs should be clean houses of death that don’t allow animals to see other animals getting killed, because tension toughens the meat which can make it taste much worse than an animal not expecting it. Think of cutting out the star’s heart from Stardust.

Hundreds, if not thousands of field mice, insects, slugs and the like will get killed in the production of crops, combine harvesters are basically big machines of death. Even kittens sometimes, my partner grew up next to a farm, when they were little they had some cats roaming around, they were five or so and had to pick the remains of one of their kittens out of a combine harvester, this happened a couple of times. (yes their parents are not nice people for making them do this)

There are many feminist issues, all feminist issues should be to do with humans, not animals. The use of “human animal” and “non-human animal” in order to not seem specieist is scientifically correct in the way how we’re all animals, but technically insulting if you consider taking eggs from chickens the same as FGM. If you wish for animals to be treated the same as humans, then don’t tell me emotional things like anti-abortionists do. Don’t show pictures of gore and say, “look at the heartbeat, don’t you think they have feelings too?” instead show me how a cow is logically the same as a human.

I am fine with vegans being emotional and eating what they do, (except quinoa and soy, unless you have a sustainable and fairtrade source). I just would like more people to accept veganism is a religion, for a religion is something there to support you, to make you feel better about yourself, and has rules for you to follow and think yourself a good person. You don’t need a god or goddess to follow a religion. You can have your religion, just don’t insult others by calling your religious issues, feminist issues.

And re: PETA, I wish more vegans/veggies actively campaigned against them, when I was vegetarian I was 10-13, so not really the age to campaign, but I realised that PETA were bad. Never mind all of the animals they kill in the US lol. PETA try to be the voice of veganism, and put out all of their shock videos, but sometimes I feel they may as well be ALF (who also don’t get campaigned against!). Also I didn’t previously mention PETA, this is just what I’ve seen leaking out of the vegansphere on tumblr. People saying they’re going to kill carnists and that they should string them up like the cows they eat. Some religious people can get super violent. I’d suggest reading “Let them eat meat” which is a website with posts written by vegans and ex-vegans about ethics and contradictions.

Also I’ve noticed a lot of misinformation in veganism, how many people actually know farmers and have visited farms? Even if it’s just kiddy farms. I went to kiddy farms a lot as I was growing up, and understood where meat comes from. The thing I hate the most is when vegans say they’d rather wear polyester yarn than wool, because they say sheep are subject to cruelty when sheared and you get big chunks of flesh in it. This is false, all of the sheep farmers I’ve talked to have said a sheep’s one goal in life is to die, they need constant looking after or they will get ill and just suddenly die, you need to check on them every day to make sure nothing is wrong.

Also if a sheep is laden with too much wool they can fall over and be unable to get back up, then birds will peck out their eyes. This is another reason Shrek the sheep was so amazing to have survived. Sheep shearing (you can watch videos on youtube) is generally done by trained professionals, and while sheep can get cut, that rarely ever happens, especially with modern shearing tools, you wouldn’t want to harm the sheep incase they decide to die, and you wouldn’t want to dirty the wool either.

Polyester on the other hand tends to come from oil, which isn’t super sustainable. Plus it doesn’t degrade and is an ugly material, even if there are a lot of colours. By buying wool made from rare breeds and knitting jumpers (or finding ready made jumpers) you can support the breeds and have something that actually lasts and keeps you warm.

Holly Combe // Posted 31 July 2013 at 12:23 pm

Really interesting discussion. Thanks everyone who has contributed so far!

I’m a bit of a cop-out agnostic on these issues myself (and agree with what’s that’s been said about PETA) but, in brief, I do have a lot of respect for both veganism and alternative approaches to meat and animal products, such as roadkill cuisine or only eating eggs from home grown chickens

Just a quick note with my moderator’s hat on to ask if people would try to keep comments under 400 words. At 862 words, that last one was longer than a blog post. Still, I do think you make some good points, C. (I didn’t want to sideline your view or hold the comment up by asking for an edit and then not be able to be timely about inputting it. Also, I have been known to write some very long comments myself so I need to bear this in mind too!)

C // Posted 31 July 2013 at 12:36 pm

Haha, I’ll try to keep them down in the future, I’ve just been reading a lot of research on these topics, plus with a family member trying to set up a farm, I’ve had a lot of talking to farmers.

Holly Combe // Posted 31 July 2013 at 12:48 pm

No worries. Would also be good to get some more comments from people that address Amy’s discussion of masculinity in the piece, as the main theme, but I can see this is one of those contentious topics with important central issues that can’t be ignored. (Plus, to be fair, the piece does also discuss human privilege, along with Carol J. Adams’ work on the sexual politics of meat.)

IronFly // Posted 31 July 2013 at 2:07 pm

As a woman I actually identify/relate a lot with the energy in Man vs. Food in the sense that I am passionate about food and enjoy the presenter’s passion. I didn’t really think about the masculine theme as it felt so pantomime as to almost be a parody of itself.

Amy // Posted 3 August 2013 at 9:07 pm

Hi C,

Sorry I have taken a while to get back to you, I’ve been away and not able to access a pc so not seen your comment until now. I think fundamentally we’re going to disagree on these issues, but I’m going to try and provide a counter argument to some of the things you’ve said, some of which I find quite shocking.

“There are many feminist issues, all feminist issues should be to do with humans, not animals.” I think this is a really limited way of looking at things, and only goes to further exclude. It’s not dissimilar to gender and racial divides and exclusions. If feminist issues are purely human-animal issues, then any form of true equality is completely and fundamentally undermined by this blinkered way of thinking. Nonhuman-animals are sentient, thinking and feeling beings, and deserve a certain quality of life, and value added to not only their right to live but the life itself. You surely can’t be horrified by kitten remains on a combine harvester (which is a grotesque and horrible occurrence) but be completely nonchalant about the goings on in a slaughter house? Your remark “tension toughens the meat” with regards to animals watching other animals be murdered is something I find troubling and upsetting and there’s a contradiction in your treatment of these instances of kitten and cow. Does one matter more because of its label as a domestic pet and because we have been conditioned to consider the other purely in terms of its potential to end up on our dinner plate?

I find it hard to see how veganism is a religion, it’s a choice to live and eat in an ethically sound and more environmentally way. You do mention environmental concerns in your comment, but a diet sans animal protein is much more eco-friendly! This is a well-known fact, and yes, soya production is detrimental to the environment, but in no way does this production account for anything like meat production. I think saying that concerns surrounding the treatment of nonhuman animals is insulting to call it feminist is really strong, and I really cannot understand your reasoning for this.

Your post also touches on extremism and I find it yet more worrying that there seems to be the feeling you are tarring all vegans with the PETA and the “let’s kill the meat eaters” stereotypes! These are extreme views and opinions, and I would think minority views. Your perceptions here seem very similar to the bra-burning feminist or the all-Asians-are-terrorists stereotypes which are also false, based on radical movements/thoughts/actions and rarely founded from a well-balanced experience of different viewpoints.

Not wanting to make reply too lengthy, so I’ll leave it there.

Amy // Posted 3 August 2013 at 9:20 pm

Hi IronFly,

Thanks for your comments. Did you enjoy the article?

I know a lot of people who enjoy the show – I too have a passion for food, cooking, culture etc.

I think it’s really interesting that you feel the show parodies itself, and I agree with you in a way, but it’s the lack of any other opinion, or challenge to this banter-esque behaviour that I find worrying. There’s no balance in the show and the hyperbolic masculinity feels pretty nostalgic to me, a sense of “the good old days when men were men” and notions of caveman-ish primitivism. Sometimes it is painfully ridiculous, like the hamburgers scene I discuss above, but I think the underlying messages of the programme are pretty serious and something to be concerned about. What do you think?

C // Posted 4 August 2013 at 12:26 pm

I disagree that speciesism is the same as racism. I do not believe humans are on the same level as cows. This person explains it well. I’m not saying we shouldn’t give animals a good life, it’s just we can give them a quick death too. Much less horrific and more ethical than a deer eating a bird while it’s alive. There’s been a lot of work and research into making abattoirs clean, efficient and ethical murder buildings. I know there are a lot of videos of bad abattoirs out there, the people there should be fined (sending people to jail is ridiculous a lot of the time) and the abattoirs brought upto spec.

The horror there is not on the kittens on the combine harvester, it’s about making a young child pick them off. I’ve seen dead cats when I was in Greece, full of ants but otherwise just looking like they’re sleeping by a swimming pool. It’s the circle of life, you can’t be surprised at death existing. Most people don’t eat cats unless it’s really needed because carnivores don’t taste very good. Omnivores like pigs and humans taste much better, as do herbivores like deer and cows (even with the animals they sometimes eat, still mostly herbivorous). Plus in a lot of societies cats have kept the local mice population down so they’re considered protectors of food.

And yeah, most people wouldn’t eat their pets, but they wouldn’t mind eating someone else’s. I was told of a story of someone who was rich and fed their cat a lot of rich food, which their poverty stricken neighbour was jealous of. So one day their neighbour ate their cat. Probably just an urban myth, but people will eat cats. Just generally other animals first. I’d say veganism is all about making this full of morality, like in Leviticus it says you must not eat shellfish. That’s said as a moral thing, “It is a sin.” When it was that shellfish is generally a lot more tainted than other animals.

Veganism is not the most ethical way of being a consumer, being a locavore is. I disagree that humans and cows are equal, as I’ve said before. It is my belief that industrial production of meat is bad, but vegetables can’t be grown on steep hillsides, but cows and sheep can roam. Plus, crop failure can be a much bigger problem if people rely more on vegetables. You need more vegetables than protein to fill you up and live healthily. Also B12 supplements can be quite expensive. I know this because my partner eats a mostly vegan diet (they hate meat but they’re not a vegan).

You seem to ignore a lot of my post. I was wondering why more vegans and vegetarians don’t combat the extremism in their own society, like other groups do? I used to be a type of vegetarian myself for most of my tween years, until I accepted that death was a part of life, and the best way to reform food practices is to make sure animals are well looked after until slaughter.

Holly Combe // Posted 4 August 2013 at 2:13 pm

@C. I don’t reckon it would be practical for every point to be responded to here. I’d also suggest some points of disagreement are fundamental enough to halt any subsequent discussion. For example, I imagine the point about certain animals “tasting better” wouldn’t be at all persuasive to people considering vegetarianism or veganism for ethical reasons. That doesn’t mean that point somehow shouldn’t be made but it’s an issue of animal welfare *within the context of meat eating*. This surely means it is unlikely to figure as a consideration to anyone grappling with the question of whether killing animals for meat is fundamentally wrong in the first place.

I also don’t think we can really compare the human use of quick methods to kill animals for meat to the less “ethical” and more “horrific” ways that animals hunt in the wild for survival. IMO, this is because we can’t apply the same moral standards to animals. Sure, we might say our human privilege means we have certain ethical responsibilities in terms of how we ‘hunt’ that other creatures do not. Or we might go as far as to say that we should use our human privilege to make sure we don’t oppress animals at all. Ever. Either way, I don’t think we can use the brutality of life in the wild to justify our more ‘civilised’ ways as automatically ‘better’ by default.

In terms of “wondering why more vegans and vegetarians don’t combat the extremism in their own society”, I think this is a symptom of an ongoing conundrum that every single movement faces. I would suggest the pressure to focus on this (to the possible detriment of those causes themselves) can sometimes serve as a diversionary tactic. Still, I agree there is a time and place for this and that extremism generally proves to be counter-productive and sometimes even ends up echoing the violent authoritarian practices it opposes.

This is just my own opinion but, in some ways, I think many vegan arguments and the one outlined here are actually similar, insomuch as they both see the act of killing animals for meat for precisely what it is. This is unlike most of the rest of society, where the reality of death is glossed over and prettified.

Anyway, I digress. Would be good to hear more about what people actually think of Man v. Food!

Ms Vanilla Rose // Posted 4 August 2013 at 8:15 pm

As a vegan, I find C’s comments deeply patronising, as well as illogical. I find it rude and inaccurate to compare veganism to religion. Would C compare feminism to a religion? I doubt it. Having ideals is not the same as belief in God or gods or goddesses.

Furthermore, the reasons for going vegan work whether a person considers humans to be equal to non-humans or superior to them. We’re not talking about the choice between eating a human and eating a cow. We’re talking about the choice between eating a vegeburger and ensuring the imprisonment and death of animals.

C writes, “all of the sheep farmers I’ve talked to have said a sheep’s one goal in life is to die”. Huh? But what is meant here is that sheep in captivity need looking after. There’s a difference between needing care and wanting to die. As a lot of humans would be only too happy to confirm.

C // Posted 4 August 2013 at 8:26 pm

If going into pure ethics, you have to consider all of the field mice and insects killed by tractors and pesticides, crushing and poisoning are not nicer than a quick bolt to the head and a knife to the throat. I’m not glossing over the facts of life and death. I’m being very blunt and honest, death happens, we cause death in so many ways. I’ve caused tens of deaths recently by leaving out some vinegar for fruit flies to drown into. I also murdered some bigger flies myself at the beginning of the sunny season, I hit them with an empty fruit box. If all deaths are equal, then those are the same as killing my neighbour.

If we can’t hold humans to the same moral standards as animals, then why are people saying that humans and animals are equal? Are you saying we shouldn’t oppress bees by having bee keepers? Even if the bees are what we need to pollinate the flowers for fruit and some vegetables and proper hive management includes changing the racks and so stealing their honey.

I just don’t notice anyone in the vegan/vegetarian community ever saying anything against PETA, like I see feminists against rad-fems, Muslims against Rad-Extremists, Christians against WBC. I seriously just never see it, this isn’t a diversionary tactic caused by BIG MEAT or whatever, it’s mostly an observation.

One thing which I think is great about Man v Food (the few episodes I have seen) is how he goes to all of these American blue collar/working-class establishments, really gets into the community spirit about things, and tries to understand how their lives work. He seems like a very community focused man. While meat is heavily gendered in society, he does focus a lot more on the community aspect of food, rather than the masculine side.

Also meat is a very cultural thing, I’ve recently seen a post by a female friend on how their traditional polish diet would be quite erased if they had to get rid of the meat. Plus I find a lot of Man V. Meat is a very telling look at US culture, much like the show about the Pawn Shop.

Corey Lee Wrenn // Posted 4 August 2013 at 9:02 pm

To address C’s arguments:

1. Backyard chickens. Where do you think they come from? They come from the same hatcheries that other chickens come from. Boy chicks are suffocated or ground up alive in and industrial grinder. Also, with the rise of backyard chicken keeping, shelters and sanctuaries have been flooded with “spent” hens. Farm Sanctuary in NY alone gets 400+ chickens each year.

2. Morality. Using the argument that “other animals do it, so it’s okay for us to do it” would also mean that other animals commit infanticide, cannibalism, and rape, so that’s okay for us to do as well.

3. Locavorism. “Veganism is not the most ethical way of being a consumer, being a locavore is.” Actually, the research shows this to be the opposite. Do a Google Scholar search.

4. Sheep and the benevolent farmer. *We bring them into existence in the first place.* Why celebrate the farmer for checking in on them when he brought them into existence to exploit in the first place? Sheep are intentionally bred to have wrinkly skin so they produce more wool, this is what makes sheering difficult. Wrinkled skin on their behinds also collects urine and feces which invites flies and maggots, so farmers slice this skin off without anesthesia as a preventative measure. They also castrate them by tying a rubber band around their testicles, cutting off circulation until they die and fall off. Incidentally, when sheep are no longer useful to the farmer, they are shipped to slaughter. In Australia, sheep are shipped to Middle Eastern countries on boats for ritual slaughter.

5. As for your comment on animals killed in grain production, are you not aware that 70-80% of grain produced in the United States goes into animal feed? If you’re really worried about animals dying accidentally in production, perhaps you should stop supporting the death of animals intentionally killed in animal agriculture.

6. Equality. You may not agree that humans and cows are equal (which in a way, we are all guilty of, we all favor our own species and our own in-group), but that doesn’t mean that it’s suddenly acceptable to inflict any manner of harms on others because it is convenient or pleasurable for us.

7. “Emotions.” If you want a logical argument and not an emotional one (by the way, social psychological research shows that social change happens in response to emotional reaction more so than logical ones), I suggest you check out Gary Francione’s “Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog?”

Ms Vanilla Rose // Posted 4 August 2013 at 9:43 pm

C, if you aren’t reading anything about vegans criticising PETA, you clearly haven’t taken the time to read Corey Lee Wrenn’s blog.

Your comments on animals accidentally killed during harvesting have been addressed many times. I addressed it in detail last year (http://vanillarosetangents.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/scoring-again-and-again-with-statistic.html), but I am sure other vegans have also written about it.

You wrote, “Are you saying we shouldn’t oppress bees by having bee keepers? Even if the bees are what we need to pollinate the flowers for fruit and some vegetables and proper hive management includes changing the racks and so stealing their honey.”

I’m saying that bees managed to pollinate plants for a really long time before humans came up with the concept of bee-keeping. And no, I don’t want to take their food and replace it with something inferior.

Amy // Posted 4 August 2013 at 10:12 pm

Corey and Ms Vanilla Rose – thank you for your comments! These are all such important issues and I am glad you raised them :-)

I actually wrote one of my dissertations on PETA campaigns, and how they are derogatory to women, C, these things are being campaigned and researched about.

Ms Vanilla Rose // Posted 5 August 2013 at 9:19 am

Re: support for “local” farmers. It’s not as if no vegans support organic box schemes or grow vegetables or choose to eat locally! You can find out about the Vegan Organic Network or the Movement for Compassionate Living. Those who followed Corey’s advice on googling locavorism and veganism may have already found this link”: http://www.worldpreservationfoundation.org/Downloads/ReducingShorterLivedClimateForcersThroughDietaryChange.pdf (which includes fully referenced evidence that going vegan is better for the environment than eating locally as an omnivore).

When all is said and done, it boils down to whether one is feminist because it is right to fight oppression (including but not limited to sexism and heterosexism) or feminist for other reasons. It side tracks the debate to bring up wool (quite a lot of the wool on sale is taken from slaughtered sheep) and bees. We do not have the “right” to bring the lives of sentient creatures to a violent and very premature end. Because they “taste nice”.

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