Twenty-five years. Silver Anniversary of The Sexual Politics of Meat

In honor of the twenty-fifth anniversary of The Sexual Politics of Meat, I asked my editor of the first (and tenth) edition to offer some comments. The Sexual Politics of Meat was originally published by Continuum Publishing, which is now Bloomsbury Academic. 

"Both of us" means "Frank and I." "I had ever had" is "I ever had." Simple. I have confidence you could make this better in many different ways, just as I wanted to sculpt "Against the Texts of Meat." (It would then be atrue manifesto.) Last: I left out anything on the absent referent since the concept (like Freire's "banking chapter") is covered innumerable times and there is nothing I could add.

Evander Lomke writes:

The publisher of Crossroad/Continuum with all-male editors by 1988, nonetheless featured a significant backlist in women's studies including Josephine Donovan's Feminist Theory, and many more; and to build on this, he decided the company ought to offer a prize for the best book in the general field of women's studies, and to make this an annual event. 

In those pre-social-media days, the word went out to submit full manuscripts for the Crossroad Continuum Women's Studies Award. If the winner were in "the secular category," her book would appear under the Continuum imprint. Carol, who could narrate this part of the story since I truly don't know details, submitted her manuscript. The pile of mss. was enormous but not unmanageable. Since I had once been hired by Scribner to weed out mss. submitted for their fiction contest, I had plenty of experience with the so-called slush pile: Read the first sentence ("It was a dark and stormy night...") and have someone return the ms. Of course, the C/C Award contest brought a higher grade of submissions--and considerably fewer than I had encountered at Scribner. 

The office next to mine belonged to Frank Oveis. Frank was an enterprising and resourceful editor of theological works (the complete translation of Karl Rahner's magnum opus in many volumes), including ecumenical-feminist texts, with an emphasis on Roman Catholic. He came into my office and asked, "Did you know Frankenstein's Monster was a vegetarian?" I had never thought of it. But realizing a little about the Shelleys, I was not surprised. Since secular works were assigned to me, Frank turned over "Against the Texts of Meat" by one Carol J. Adams. 

Both of us were excited by this book. I had never thought about the obvious connection between the way women have been historically treated, especially in the West, and the treatment of animals on factory farms--a subject that got my attention with the Continuum publication of a book called Old MacDonald's Factory Farm. Carol's work was polished. She clearly had spent much time on it and had an unusual way of seeing the world. But it was more a work of literary criticism than social philosophy, which was the contribution I felt it made. As I read further, it became clear this was an underground classic. I can't say I have edited too many of them. Nor had the copy editor selected to refine certain elements of the book, a wonderful man and mystery writer named Bruce Cassiday who didn't have a clue (bad pun) to the theoretical underpinnings of the book.

I gave Carol some recommendations: emphasize some aspects, de-emphasize others, so that the book would appeal to a larger audience. Ultimately the Awards Committee, of which Donovan was also a member (the others being scholar and Boston College dean Carol Hurd Green and Elizabeth Rechtschaffen of the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck), gave this first Crossroad/Continuum Women's Studies Award to "Against the Texts of Meat." (Only one other book was even in the running. This is how good "Against the Texts of Meat" was.) But the aforementioned publisher of Crossroad/Continuum, Werner Mark Linz, didn't think this was much of a title for a groundbreaking book at all, potentially a lead title in the catalog. At an editorial meeting, Frank and I looked at one another as Linz opened to the table of contents. "'The Sexual Politics of Meat.' Use that title!" 

At the time, Crossroad/Continuum was distributed to the book trade and to the academic world by HarperCollins. There were many independent bookstores at that time and publishers' sales reps attended large-scale sales conferences two or three times per year, wherein editors presented titles. The idea is to give the rep, who had one minute to present a title to a bookstore owner or buyer, "a handle: a tagline." The Sexual Politics of Meat was difficult to explain. I decided to read a portion from the book, the part about a bloodied-battlefield table after all the animal corpses had been consumed. I left the reps with the Frank Purdue quip: "Now when Purdue asks, 'Are you a leg man or a breast man?' everyone will understand the larger implications of a dumb joke." I was proud of the presentation: by my reading from the first proofs, Carol was presenting herself. Afterward, one of our editors said: "You did the worst thing possible: Reading to the reps." Oh, boy. I had blown it!

This was in November 1989. On December 28, 1989, at the MLA in Washington, DC, the world first saw the cover of the book in poster format. Since we were with HarperCollins, our location in the exhibit hall was front and center. The reactions, laughter, gasping, thoughtful by turns, were incredible. We must have sold out the thirty copies we had brought by the first afternoon. We held one back for the following day-and-a-half of the conference. Aside from selling a copy of another book to Angela Y. Davis at the same conference the year before, this was the most memorable experience of hand-selling I had ever had. Articulating Carol's work was liberating and a joy. My only hope was the sales reps, armed with Frank Purdue's "joke," were getting the same reaction as they made their rounds.