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