Why I Became a Vegetarian

I grew up immersed in horse culture: my friends and I took riding lessons in elementary school, and when I was eleven, my sisters and I were given a pony, Jimmy.  I remember preparing the stall for his arrival, and walking him down the street from the stable to our barn. I immediately began a scrapbook:

 "Owner" refers to owner of the scrapbook. Three sisters were given Jimmy (we settled on "y" for his name after I started the scrapbook) and shared responsibilities for him.

"Owner" refers to owner of the scrapbook. Three sisters were given Jimmy (we settled on "y" for his name after I started the scrapbook) and shared responsibilities for him.

 I like the way I hypothesize the possession of another being, and identify him as part of "our family"

I like the way I hypothesize the possession of another being, and identify him as part of "our family"

Eleven years later, at the end of my first year of Yale Divinity School, I returned home. As I was unpacking I heard a furious knocking at the door. An agitated neighbor greeted me as I opened the door. “Someone has just shot your horse!” he exclaimed. Thus began my political and spiritual journey toward a feminist-vegan critical theory. It did not require that I travel outside this small village of my childhood—though I have; it involved running up to the back pasture behind our barn, and encountering the dead body of a pony I had loved.

Those barefoot steps through the thorns and manure of an old apple orchard took me face to face with death. That evening, still distraught about my pony’s death, I bit into a hamburger and stopped in midbite. I was thinking about one dead animal yet eating another dead animal. What was the difference between this dead cow and the dead pony whom I would be burying the next day? I could summon no ethical defense for a favoritism that would exclude the cow from my concern because I had not known her. Because I was already a feminist, and had been part of the New Haven's Women's LIberation Center during the past year, where we discussed how the personal is the political, I was primed to see my personal actions in a larger, ethical and political framework.

Sandra Bartky observes that feminists are not aware of different things from other people. Feminists, Bartky says,  “are aware of the same things differently. Feminist consciousness, it might be ventured, turns a ‘fact’ into a ‘contradiction.’” I was a feminist and a lifelong meat eater when I bit into a hamburger in 1973. That night, I saw the same thing—meat eating—differently. Midbite, a fact turned into a contradiction.

In "Pussy Panic versus Liking Animals: Tracking Gender in Animal Studies," Susan Fraiman makes a persuasive case that the field of animal studies tells a masculinist creation story of its origins. She sets out to correct this male bias. In part, she uses the origin story of my vegetarianism and juxtaposes it with Derrida's famous naked encounter with a cat (told in The Animal that Therefore I Am http://fordhampress.com/index.php/the-anima-that-therefore-i-am-paperback.html). 

Fraiman offers an interpretation of my experience that is sensitive and resonant. Fraiman writes: "Adams’s epiphany comes, first of all, as both disruption and continuation of her theological training. Hers is a feminist theology, but as the blood, thorns, and martyred animal of this story imply, Adams rejects the patriarchal aspects of Christianity while retaining its iconography of suffering along with its ethic of neighborliness and care for the meek. Caught in spiritual transit, still unpacking the baggage of her year at Yale, she is brought home by this act of violence to her calling as an independent activist-scholar— one for whom the rites of academia will always be less compelling than the justice issues raised in her own backyard. ... Made suddenly aware, the night her horse is shot, that she is feasting on dead cow, her first response is similar to Derrida’s; shrinking back in shame at the 'strangeness' of animals, she dramatizes the nonrecognition allowing them to be killed for human use. Like Derrida, her subsequent work proceeds in a critical mode; instead of celebrating intimacy with animals, she, too, is more interested in tracing the discursive patterns authorizing human violence against them."

Fraiman continues, "In contrast to Derrida, however, Adams does not respond to her shame by blushing to be ashamed. ... Exposed in her shame, she is moved not to cover but rather to examine and reimagine herself. It would be another year before Adams would actually convert to vegetarianism, some seventeen years before her feminist-vegetarian critical theory would be (as it were) fully cooked. But the basis for these have been laid in the 'metaphysical shift' described here—a shift over to the side of animals, disavowing the identity of meat eater in order to identify, instead, with the eaten. It is, I would note, a shift inextricable from its occurrence in the early 1970s, underwritten by the civil rights, antiwar, and women’s liberation movements. Thanks to her formation as a radical feminist, Adams is primed to recognize the emotions of shame, grief, and sympathy as sources of knowledge; to imagine herself in relational rather than autonomous terms; and to bring a sophisticated analysis of patriarchal structures to bear upon human-animal relations." (You can find the entire article--well worth reading!--here: http://criticalinquiry.uchicago.edu/uploads/pdf/Fraiman_pussyPanic1.pdf).

In my study, a relic from those years hangs, a reminder of a relationship and all that it catalyzed in my life: