How did I come up with the ideas in The Sexual Politics of Meat?

 CJA with Jimmy the pony, the spring after he arrived into our lives.

CJA with Jimmy the pony, the spring after he arrived into our lives.

At the end of my first year at Yale Divinity School, I returned home to the small upstate town where I had grown up. 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 mid bite. 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. I became aware that I was a meat eater; simultaneously I realized that with this awareness that I was eating animals, I needed to stop eating animals.

In the fall of 1974, I became a vegetarian. My life was filled with feminism: a coveted class with Mary Daly, a history of women and American religion, a class on the theory of women’s history at Harvard Divinity School. My mind started thinking of vegetarianism within a feminist context: numerous nineteenth-century feminists who were vegetarian; novels like Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s Herland, Marge Piercy’s Small Changes, Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman. Like the three apples that click into place in a slot machine, these vegetarian-feminist references suddenly clicked into place. There was a connection! I quickened my pace, and began to see all the scattered references I had been encountering as part of a larger whole.

 CJA with Jimmy the pony, a year before his death. 

CJA with Jimmy the pony, a year before his death. 

I was fortunate to be in Cambridge; Mary Daly allowed me to pursue the issue as a paper for her class; the women at New Words, a feminist bookstore, suggested other books that contained pertinent references. In the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College, I encountered the manuscripts of Agnes Ryan, an early twentieth century feminist- vegetarian. The women in the Harvard metahistory class listened to my presentation and offered other associations. References spiraled into connections; connections gestured toward a theory. I interviewed over 40 feminists in the Boston-Cambridge community who were vegetarian.

By 1976, I knew there was a connection; many feminists were responding with energy (both positive and negative) to my ideas. I felt that I would have only one chance to claim a connection between feminism and vegetarianism, and in 1976, I did not feel that what I had written was sufficient. It wasn’t “cooked”.

How exactly did I explain the connections? What was my theory? Eleven years later I had the answers, and completed the book.