“The belly which has no ears”: Saturday Kitchen, sex, and institutionalised violence

As Matt and I lumpenly watched Saturday Kitchen on the BBC this morning, I felt the familiar feeling of living in ill times.

The Hairy Bakers served up confectionery-studded portions of rich chocolate cake as big as your head to tiny eager children and amused themselves by breaking eggs into a wheelbarrow of wedding cake-mix. Rick Stein boiled up some corpse on the bone and garnished it with bird’s egg. Some wild food man competed at the Women’s Institute with an under-collagened jelly. James Martin, the host, served up an egg and butter pie with two sorts of cow cream. And eight male finalists cooked for the homecoming British troops at the Imperial War Museum with contorted animal parts or derived substances in every course of every menu. Basically, the programme was a piece of institutionalised violence against animals (and in the background, between the troops and their adversaries) in the almost total absence of women.

The mixture of sexist slight and revolting display of death and dismemberment had me mentally reeling and a memory came of a vegan academic friend of mine talking about the ecofeminist Carol Adams – here she is through the eyes of a Harvard student who attended one of her lectures. Carol Adams authored The Sexual Politics of Meat. I went to look at it on Google Books to see if I could get a little insight. In common with my friend, I am wary of the views of Carol Adams because I don’t think her vegetarianism hangs together with her feminism to my satisfaction. Also I don’t want to “negate the dominant world” as such, and I don’t think her premises are borne out in actuality. For example, “eat rice, have faith in women” is not going to cut it, and the current woman-free vogue for baking on Saturday kitchen spoils the virility=meat argument (p16), notwithstanding our collective male-hunter / female-gatherer past. And I’m not convinced that it is inherently patriarchal to believe that the end justifies the means (p23). Yes, people with power have always eaten meat – and the first thing poor people do when their circumstances improve is improve their diets, usually with meat, and to ascribe this to status-seeking is missing out a hell of a lot. And I don’t think you can tell all that much about contemporary society from cherry-picked Greek myths, and have never understood why so many critical theorists attempt this. And though I have a very womanly lack of self-belief which I think resides in poor gender role-models who themselves had poor role-models, in combination with neglect by the men who have professional and political power over me whose decisions circumscribe a lot of mine, I have law on my side and am not inclined to consider myself as oppressed by men.

And while I’d shun the comparison which does most of the work in the following from Isaac Bashevis Singer, maybe I shouldn’t if I accept the implications of his point, and I think I do.

“As often as Herman had witnessed the slaughter of animals and fish, he had always had the same thought: in their behaviour towards creatures, all men were Nazis. The smugness with which man could do with other species as he pleased exemplified the most extreme of racist theories, the principle that might is right.”

Which leaves me where? Humans are a menace? Is that what I think? I don’t think I think that. So is the comparison wrong? It feels right… It’s not the same as comparing George Bush to Hitler. Perhaps I think of humans as sophisticated animals with tendencies we recognise as needing to be restrained – by each self, preferably, with the law as a protection against that failing. Would somebody care to respond? Besides my friend, who is in the throes of her thesis and can’t talk much, Norm and Eve Garrard (I should read that book) are the only people I’m aware of with my kind of politics who care much about this.

However, the following points are worth thinking on:

“Justice should not be so fragile a commodity that it cannot be extended beyond the species barrier of Homo sapiens” (p22).

“When one lacks power in the dominant culture, such disempowerment may make one more alert to other forms of disempowerment” (p22).

Apparently 80% of the animal advocacy movement is women (p21).

True, I lack power – but it’s because I don’t find it right to seek it in a hierarchical system, knowing that I’d only be climbing it to flatten it takes a lot of character, brain and energy. Still, maybe this sheds some light about why I often wonder about how it happened that Al Gore could make a seminal film about climate change which passed over the huge climactic problem of farmed cows, his family’s business. And why I also often wonder about the time a single-issue campaigner, who thought so hard and argued so eloquently for the rights of one social group, smacked his lips over my Guardian supplement on the ill treatment of pigs, the cover splash of which was a large close-up image of fried bacon. And, not to let him off the hook, after my cold wordless anger had subsided I acknowledged that I consider more social ills to be connected than most people do, and that this makes me vulnerable to totalitarianism which I so far recognise and avoid, but maybe over-aggressively and to the detriment of making arguments for change. And maybe it’s part of the reason why I spend so much time troubled by how it came to be that so many of the most prominent totalitarian socialists are unrelatedly a) men and b) eat animal parts and substances.

And that’s as far as I’ve got.

“It is a difficult matter to argue with the belly since it has no ears” is attributed to the Roman statesman Marcus Porcius Cato.


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