As an active feminist with a number of years of fighting patriarchy under my belt now, and a vegetarian, I have been witness to all sorts of strange reactions people get to both of those aspects of my identity. I have to also add that I’m Polish, which makes the idea of being vegetarian even less comprehensible where I come from. But it wasn’t until I started my vegan, feminist café stall in Brick Lane last weekend that the proverbial s… hit the fan… It appears that some men have a similar mental image of vegetables as they do of feminists – as scary, potentially deadly things!
Since I have started working on the idea of the feminist café, I have mostly had to deal with people’s fear of feminism, in terms of negative feedback, at least while the idea was just theoretical. But since the launch of my café stall, the news that I am selling vegetable-based muffins has spread a little bit, bringing another kind of interesting feedback my way. I have to say here, most people who visited my stall last Saturday were very positively surprised. The sweet potato muffin, in particular, attracted a lot of intrigued smiles and questions. But some of the feedback I got on the social media was of a different sort altogether… Apparently, parsnips can be deadly!? And there is such a thing as a red vegetables allergy?! The beet is certainly not on the Food Standards Agency’s list of allergens to watch out for… Not that I’d noticed anyway.
Now, this blog post is only half serious to the extent that I do think that the notion of fear of vegetables is just as ridiculous as the idea of feminism being this terribly scary thing, and you might laugh at this, but I do think this a symptom of something quite interesting and worth exploring. The great bell hooks wrote about the latter phenomenon very eloquently:
“As all advocates of feminist politics know most people do not understand sexism and if they do they think it is not a problem. Masses of people think that feminism is always and only about women seeking to be equal to men. And a huge majority of these folks think feminism is anti-male. Their misunderstanding of feminist politics reflects the reality that most folks learn about feminism from patriarchal mass media.”
Now, I have read about and discussed this issue so many times that I cannot count. I do think there is more to the bad rep that feminism gets than the mass media’s misrepresentation of it. Like it being pretty much a non-existent subject when it comes to school education. But that is a topic for another blog post altogether. I also think it is somewhat self-explanatory why many feminists believe that food is a political issue, and choose to be vegetarian or vegan. There are many reasons, be it ethical, health, or outright feminist. I have read countless analyses of why food is a topic close to the hearts of most, if not all, feminists. But I have never seen anything written about the connection between fear of feminism and of vegetables. You might think, it’s just because it’s a ridiculous idea! But my experience with the café seems to show that it might actually be less outrageous of a notion than it sounds…
Think about it this way: if feminism is simply the notion that women are people (Cheris Cramarae), and most feminists can admit that men often show symptoms of being afraid of it, then, by extension, we might also begin to imagine that there is something to the notion that those same people often times show something of a fright of veggies… And that the two things are both just as irrational, leading one to think that they might actually be connected somehow!
If you still think I have gone a bit mad here, think about it: if you’re a feminist, and you’ve ever spoken about feminism to a man who’s clearly oblivious to the notion, the likelihood is that the reaction was something of a combination of disbelief and ridicule. And again, I must take us back to Cramarae’s definition of what feminism is. If we take this simple definition, and admit that it is essentially true, we can then see just how irrational those reactions to the notion are, and we must therefore admit that they’re likely to be symptoms of fear. Now, going back to vegetables, those are very similar, if not the exact same, reactions to ones that men often have when told they should eat salad. Somehow green leaves seem funny and irrelevant to them, as if they were a little bit silly, not ‘real food’ for a proper man to have..! ‘Real’ men ‘need’ to eat meat, or else they won’t be big and strong, preferably red and bloody, and real women need to cook it for them… Chicken will do, as long as they don’t have it too often. Or else they might grow feathers or something… One might conclude…
Now, I had never realised that salad had gender, but hey, you live and you learn! But somehow, in the patriarchal collective imagination, the notions of meat and masculinity seem to be intimately connected! And so whenever I bump into a ‘proper’ masculine man and the conversation goes on to food (or feminism), their reaction to my lifestyle choices is usually very predictable. Men cannot survive without a daily portion of lamb or pork… Meat protein seems to be like air to them… Depriving them of it is cruel… And salad is for women (just like the outrageous idea that we are people…) Obviously! Everybody knows real women can’t eat anything but salad when they go to a restaurant, or else… A life of a spinster surely awaits them..! All one has to do to get this brilliant education on what it means to be a real woman is to watch a lot of Hollywood movies. It’s all oh so simple!
As I say it, I know I sound ridiculous. I know there are men out there who are vegetarians or sometimes even vegans. There are also feminists who eat meat. But there’s also a reason why I can only usually feel a 100 per cent sane when going out for dinner with a bunch of other feminists. They are the only group of people, in my experience, who do not make me feel ridiculous for suggesting a vegetarian – or even vegan! – restaurant on a night out. Hell, they don’t usually even notice the fact and love it without being utterly shocked that a meat-free meal can be both edible and delicious! Because most of them happen to be vegetarian themselves! And if they aren’t, they at least don’t have a problem with respecting the fact that I am.
Let me just finish on a bit of a clarification note. This is not a rant, even though it might read like one. I am just utterly fascinated by this idea that some people have such strong feelings about vegetables. And I am totally up for the challenge of slowly eradicating this veggie phobia using my café! So, just like the café was to be a space to challenge the stereotypes around feminism right from the start, it will now also be one that confronts negative connotations of vegetables! An unexpected turn of events indeed 😉