Sunday, January 9, 2011

Queering the Kitchen

Unapologetic theory-talk:

I've really been digging Chaia Heller for a while now; eco-feminism without all the essentialism/racism common in other related work. She promotes an erotic relationship with nature, one based on mutuality and love. She critiques our typical romanticization of the environment/rural life/animals, which alienates human and non-human animal subjectivities from discourse and behavior surrounding the planet's well-being. She sees the erotic orientation to life as the one that radically transforms relationships one has with one's environment and its inhabitants.

I see this as the perfect platform to bring together my vegan and queer identity. Our typical food narrative demands we use animals in every aspect of the meal. They are categorized as lesser beings, incapable of thought or creativity or suffering so can therefore be slaughtered for the convenience and pleasure of the dinner table. Now I am all about pleasure (see: blog title) but one cannot experience mutual desire and pleasure at the expense of other sentient beings. To do so creates a fissure in the kitchen between the lived experiences of non-human animals and the carcasses we consume; we've renamed and reconstructed the identity of these creatures and turned them into "chicken nuggets" and "pork" or "beef tips" instead of recognizing their former, complex lives (thank you, Carol Adams).

Becoming vegan means opting out of this violence. It means not using anthropocentric standards to judge worthiness of life. It means knowing that for the dairy cow and the layer hen, even if allowed access to pasture and not tortured, end up in the same slaughterhouses as their fellow animals do for flesh when they've outlived their reproductive ("useful") lives. Being vegan queers the notion of the dinner plate, of the healthy life, of the identity of "human". It's a refusal to romanticize the "caveman" diet or the animal products from "the farm", which not only harms the non-human animals in those concepts but also the human animals subject to the pain of racism and ruralism. It means rejecting the heterocentric meat-and-potatoes narrative of the acceptable meal and reminds us that we can live well without living recklessly toward other creatures.

We can queer our diets and queer our cooking spaces. Queering the kitchen is a radical act: when we cook for others without trying to impress, when we co-create love and side dishes to rockin' tunes, when we make do with whatever we have in the pantry and indulge in a self-pleasure, single-person show, we queer the notion of what the kitchen feels like. The kitchen is the room in the house where fruits of the earth are transformed into cultural goods; this act of transition provides the space to fuck with food, fuck with the housewife as the queen of the dinner table, fuck with our silly ideas that we aren't good cooks and have to rely on corporate grown/marketed food just to survive. We can become gastrosexuals, seeking mutual pleasure in nourishing our bodies and satisfying those persistent cravings. Choosing to eat vegan at these moments provides another method for uprooting any non-erotic tendencies we've accumulated over the years.

Desire cannot be captured in a measuring cup but runs through the sifter and the strainer, un-containable and powerfully real. We desire tastes and scents and experiences but true desire requires consideration of the Other; non-human animals are not our beloved, they are their own creatures of self-driven existence.

For more information about veganism, check out the Boston Vegan Association.


  1. I agree that veganism is morally required of us. I don't understand most of what this post says though. What does "It means rejecting the heterocentric meat-and-potatoes narrative of the acceptable meal" mean?

    I really want to understand this post, really, but it contains a lot of jargon that doesn't appear to mean anything.

  2. Thanks for your comments. The jargon is indeed pretty heavy; I'm coming at this idea from a background in feminist theory. I'm sorry it wasn't more clear initially, but perhaps I can explain some things here:

    When we think of the traditional image of the dinner, we see woman cooking all day, some kind of roast with potatoes, as her part of the bargain for being part of the typical, heterosexual couple based family. I'm trying to argue that this traditional view of the meal is heterocentric, or that it automatically fills in a heterosexual couple as the anchor of a "family meal". This excludes other images of families/identities from the typical meal. Queering that notion means messing with it in some way: I argue veganism and taking animals out of this picture is one way to break up this image in favor of other identities.

    Does that make any more sense? Let me know if it doesn't.