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Literature on the ethics and politics of food and that on human–animal relationships have infrequently converged. Representing an initial step toward bridging this divide, Messy Eating features interviews with thirteen prominent and emerging scholars about the connections between their academic work and their approach to consuming animals as food. The collection explores how authors working across a range of perspectives—postcolonial, Indigenous, black, queer, trans, feminist, disability, poststructuralist, posthumanist, and multispecies—weave their theoretical and political orientations with daily, intimate, and visceral practices of food consumption, preparation, and ingestion.

Each chapter introduces a scholar for whom the tangled, contradictory character of human–animal relations raises difficult questions about what they eat. Representing a departure from canonical animal rights literature, most authors featured in the collection do not make their food politics or identities explicit in their published work. While some interviewees practice vegetarianism or veganism, and almost all decry the role of industrialized animal agriculture in the environmental crisis, the contributors tend to reject a priori ethical codes and politics grounded in purity, surety, or simplicity. Remarkably free of proscriptions, but attentive to the Eurocentric tendencies of posthumanist animal studies, Messy Eating reveals how dietary habits are unpredictable and dynamic, shaped but not determined by life histories, educational trajectories, disciplinary homes, activist experiences, and intimate relationships.

These accessible and engaging conversations offer rare and often surprising insights into pressing social issues through a focus on the mundane—and messy— interactions that constitute the professional, the political, and the personal.

Contributors: Neel Ahuja, Billy-Ray Belcourt, Matthew Calarco, Lauren Corman, Naisargi Dave, Maneesha Deckha, María Elena García, Sharon Holland, Kelly Struthers Montford, H. Peter Steeves, Kim TallBear, Sunaura Taylor, Harlan Weaver, Kari Weil, Cary Wolfe

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780823283651
Publisher: Fordham University Press
Publication date: 06/04/2019
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 1,192,745
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Samantha King (Edited By)
Samantha King is Professor of Gender Studies, Cultural Studies, and Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen’s University. She is the author of Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy.

R. Scott Carey (Edited By)
R. Scott Carey is a grant writer with a PhD in Kinesiology and Health Studies from Queen’s University.

Isabel Macquarrie (Edited By)
Isabel MacQuarrie is a Juris Doctor candidate at Harvard Law School with an MA in sociology from Queen’s University.

Victoria Niva Millious (Edited By)
Victoria N. Millious is a PhD candidate in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Queen’s University.

Elaine M. Power (Edited By)
Elaine M. Power is Associate Professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen’s University.

Read an Excerpt


Turning Toward and Away Cary Wolfe

Cultural critic and theorist Cary Wolfe began thinking about human–animal relationships as a student when he encountered animal rights activists on his college campus. This experience resulted in an intense sense of "not being able to turn away," and Wolfe became a vegetarian and devoted activist in his own right. During the same period, he began developing the nonhuman problematic as an object of legitimate scholarly inquiry. On the subject of eating, Wolfe observes that food is a multidimensional and complex problem, shares how his vegetarianism ruined one Thanksgiving dinner, and notes that people have "different kinds of investments" in food. We interviewed Wolfe by Skype on July 14, 2016.

SCOTT CAREY: Could you tell us a bit about yourself? This could include when and where you were born and raised; your formative cultural, intellectual, and political experiences; how you became an academic, whatever you'd like to share.

CARY WOLFE: Well, that's actually three questions! If I forget any of them, just remind me. I was born in South Carolina and lived there until I was about four or five years old, when I moved to North Carolina.

That's really where I grew up; it's where I went to high school and did my university work. Even though I was quite prepared to leave and kind of wanted to go somewhere else, I got this great scholarship to go to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. So I went to college and did my master's degree in Chapel Hill, and then, again, I was looking all over the country for the right PhD program. I had to decide whether I was going to do a PhD or an MFA, because I was both a poet and a scholar and was trying to figure out which one to pursue. I decided to do a PhD, so I was prepared to go anywhere else, again. But just at that moment Duke University experienced a kind of renaissance in the English Department and the Program in Literature; they hired all these fantastic people almost overnight. And I was living ten miles away, and Duke and UNC students could study back and forth with no extra tuition at both universities. So I ended up staying there again and doing my PhD at Duke, which was a fantastic experience.

But let me back up a second. My parents met as high school English teachers in an urban environment outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, in the 1960s. So I grew up in that sort of household — where there was a lot of literature, a lot of '60s culture. Not really of the hippie variety, but more of the informal, liberal '60s environment, even in the South at that time. Then my dad eventually became an academic. He first worked for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, where he was the head of their English and Foreign Languages division. He got a PhD, strangely enough, at Duke and went on to be an academic in English education at Old Dominion University in Virginia, specializing in the relationship between writing and learning, especially for kids from kindergarten through twelfth grade. So I grew up in an academic household; I was always around literature, poetry, and music, and art to a lesser extent. To jump back to my experience in school, my graduate school training was really a combination of Marxism and pragmatism. I did a lot of work with Fredric Jameson, Frank Lentricchia, Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Franco Moretti, Terry Eagleton, and a long list of other great people.

But one day when I was in graduate school, I was walking through the Pit, one of the central areas of the UNC campus, and I stopped by the student animal rights group table. And they had all these pamphlets and things displayed, including some material about biomedical research that was taking place on, I believe it was, primates, on the UNC campus. I just idly stopped by and started looking at these materials and I remember saying to the people at the table — who later became very good friends of mine — "You guys have got to be kidding. You're making this stuff up, right?" And they said, "No, it's going on in that building right there." And I was in disbelief. I realized much later, especially with my own work with students, that I had been completely in the dark about this entire infrastructure of exploitation and violence toward animals, and it never occurred to me it that it existed, really. I wouldn't call it a "conversion" experience necessarily, but it was definitely an intense ethical sense of not being able to turn away from what I had learned.

So I got really involved in the animal rights movement. And in that part of North Carolina, the so-called Research Triangle, there are a bunch of colleges and universities, including Duke, UNC, and NC State, so there's a high concentration of PhDs — in fact the highest concentration of PhDs per capita in the United States. So there was a very strong state animal rights group, and that was the core of it. I became very involved in this group called the North Carolina Network for Animals; I was in the newspaper and on television and at protests. I was a hardcore activist for a number of years.

But the interesting thing is that while that was going on, I realized more and more that my academic training in Marxism and pragmatism really didn't have much to say about the plight of nonhuman life. That eventually became a very productive divergence; it's what led me to help invent, over many years, what would later be called animal studies, or human–animal studies. Because at that time there was no freestanding theoretical vocabulary that was taken seriously with regard to nonhuman life. In the academy, if you were talking about animals it was taken for granted that you were talking about some sort of symbol or metaphor for a human problematic. In many cases this was in the form of the grotesque, or monstrosity — like Dracula, that type of stuff. But it wasn't a freestanding theoretical problematic in the way that feminism clearly was, or that queer theory became. It took a number of years to build that vocabulary and, in a kind of "Trojan horse" way, bring it into the ivory tower. Fast-forward twenty-five years and it's a different world. People in all different kinds of disciplines take seriously how we relate to nonhuman life — how we represent it, how we talk about it, and so on. So that's the relationship between my official academic training and my background and how I got here.

And I remained active in that way for a long time. When I took my first professorial job, at Indiana University, I was on the Board of Directors for the county Humane Society there. There wasn't really a formal animal rights group in that area, so that was the center of the humane community. Through that I ended up being the Humane Society's appointee to the city's Animal Control Commission, which was a very interesting experience, to say the least. I continued doing that kind of work until I moved to my second academic position, at the State University of New York, and at that point my academic life was becoming increasingly time consuming and demanding. And honestly, I was burned out. This is what happens to activists. The people you're opposing, they get paid to do what they do as an eight-hour-a-day job. What you're doing, you're doing after hours on top of your regular job. So I reached a point when, between the increasing demands of my academic life and being burned out by my activist life, I just decided, I'm putting a whole lot into this now in a different way, in my writing, lectures, and teaching.

In terms of growing up as a southerner in the United States, the thing I want people to understand is that the South is actually a really heterogeneous region. The part I grew up in — the so-called New South or Upper South, the North Carolina–Virginia bandwidth — was actually pretty progressive politically when I was a kid. North Carolina was a solid, progressive Democratic state for decades and decades, going all the way back to a lot of legislation that came out of World War II that helped the textile mills and tobacco farms. I think they'd had only one Republican governor in forty years when I was a kid, something like that. And other parts of the South are the same way. The part of the South I grew up in, especially because of the universities and everything, was a lot more like the rest of the country in many ways.

I had a roommate in college in North Carolina who was from Camilla, Georgia, which was about as far south as you can go and still be in Georgia. He got married when I was in college; I went down there for his wedding, and I had never been to the Deep South. I was actually in shock, because it was so unlike the part of the South that I'd grown up in. I went down there and I said, "Oh, I get it: five rich white families run the county and everyone else lives in shacks." It was almost like going into a feudal environment. The takeaway from this is that, for a lot of people who haven't lived there, it's hard to realize just how different various parts of the South are from each other. So I didn't have a stereotypical, quintessential southern upbringing in that sense. Although my grandfather and great-grandfather — my grandfather, 105 years old, and still alive — they were both Baptist preachers. So I had this interesting mix of some really traditional elements and some really progressive elements in my background.

SAMANTHA KING: Did your animal activism mark your first foray into activism, or did you do other kinds of political work before that?

CW: No, that was my first experience as an activist. It really was an ethical leap. I didn't really have a fully formed and articulated platform that I was working from. It was more of a "hold your nose and jump off the cliff" situation, in which I didn't have a fully articulated ethical platform, but I knew that this stuff was wrong, and it bothered me enough that I wanted to do something about it. All the complex theoretical apparatuses I developed came later, beginning in the early '90s and continuing to the present. That was my first and really only experience as an activist, but it's not one that you forget. I have a soft spot in my heart for activists because I understand what they do and what it takes. Even if I disagree with them, I respect them because I understand what's involved.

SC: What do you see as the primary purpose of your academic work — why do you do what you do?

CW: That's a really hard question. I do what I do for lots of different reasons. One reason is that I really enjoy it — that is, my research, scholarship, and writing — and find it very fulfilling. I enjoy working with students and graduate students and watching the changes they go through. And not just in relation to the ethically complex or hot issues we're talking about today. If I had to sum up what I try to do in my work, including work with students, I'd see it as a process of existential exposure: You have to be very careful not to over-manage or over–stage- manage. Especially through my work with students, I have realized that people come to these issues, and work through these intellectual and ethical questions, very much on their own timetables. Over the years, I've had some students who were extremely resistant to questions involving animals and ethics; often they were raised in a very traditional situation with very traditional viewpoints. But I'll see them five, six, seven years later and they'll tell me it took them years to work through for themselves the relationship between what they do in their everyday lives — what they eat or what products they use — and the kinds of ethical issues we are talking about here. For that reason, teaching really is an art form, especially with these kinds of hot issues like animal rights, or reproductive rights. As a young professor I had to learn a lot about how you can push students, but also how much space you need to give them in terms of their own relationship to these questions. Because a lot of students will just shut down if you put it all out there at one time, very intensely; it is almost too much to process. There is a kind of paralysis that students can experience when they start trying to confront how everyday life — the shampoo they buy, cleaning products they use, food they eat, or car they drive — is completely wrapped up in this structure of violence and exploitation toward nonhuman life. It's almost too much to deal with and then they just say, "To hell with it. I can't think about it. I'm not going to worry about it" and they just go back to the status quo. What I try to do in my teaching, and in my research, is create an experimental space, a laboratory space, in which this kind of existential and intellectual transformation can happen, but is not dictated. The skills you have to use to make that happen, and the settings, may vary widely, but I think that is what characterizes my work with students, and my work as a scholar. I am very much drawn to work that is not about closure, and not about achieving right answers, and not about drawing direct lines between philosophical foundations and political actions that derive from them, but actually work that is quite the contrary. We just did a project in the Posthumanities series called Manifestly Haraway — Donna Haraway's "Cyborg" and "Companion Species" manifestos, together with about a four-hour-long conversation between the two of us — and I was reminded during those exchanges that this is something Donna and I have in common: how we think about the relationship between the ethical, political, and intellectual dimensions in the work we do.

SC: Thank you. Not everyone speaks to teaching when responding to that question.

CW: Well, I've learned so much about all the things we are talking about from twenty-five years of working with students; I can't imagine discussing any of this stuff without talking about my work with students. There is a lot that I have learned, processed, and then brought into my own theoretical work on the basis of working with students — including my critique of animal rights philosophy in the book Animal Rites, and later into my work on posthumanism. That partly derived from my work with students; I recognized that there was something they were resisting in animal rights philosophy that they were right to resist. But they didn't really have the theoretical vocabulary to describe it; they just felt like, "I'm being pushed into a corner here in a way that I don't like." So I took that up and then later worked through it in my own research and in my writing.

SK: Your students' resistance to traditional animal rights theory — was this resistance around its normativity, or its moral prescriptiveness?

CW: I think that was a big part of it. I think another part of it has to do with the specific transferential psychodynamic of the classroom space. Students don't really like being told what to think, and to that I say, "Good for them." So part of the resistance just comes from that. Because if you think about the humanist articulation of animal rights philosophy — in either Singer's utilitarianism, or Regan's Neo-Kantian version — it is a kind of "if P then Q" propositional structure. And at a certain point you can see the students saying to themselves, "That's not how ethical life is. It doesn't work that way; people don't live that way." This is where, if you compare what counts as ethics from the humanist side of animal rights philosophy — let's say from the Singer/Regan line — with the absolutely opposed account of ethics from contemporary continental philosophy and poststructuralism, Derrida for example, people often think, "Well, Derrida is the crazy outlandish contemporary French philosopher who is all esoteric." But actually Derrida's account of what ethics is and how it works is much more in tune with what the students think ethical life is, and that is, as Derrida puts it, "confronting the ordeal of undecidability" in every ethical instance without having a formula in your back pocket that you can just whip out, prescribing what is the right thing to do in any particular situation. So it is actually the contemporary continental philosophers — and not just Derrida, but I would say Foucault, and Lyotard, and others — whose descriptions of ethics actually match up with what the students think about the complexity of ethical life. I think that is a big part of what they were resisting: the reductive, oversimplifying, and propositional analytical nature of the ethical argument from the humanist side. Something in them was saying, "No, this actually isn't how people confront, think about, and live through ethical challenges and complexities."

sc: Thank you. Speaking of complexities — you've been a leading figure in the development of posthumanism as a philosophical and ethical framework. Could you discuss how you continue to find this approach useful, and what you see as the promises and/or constraints of posthumanism?


Excerpted from "Messy Eating"
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Table of Contents

Introduction : Messy Eating
Samantha King, R. Scott Carey, Isabel Macquarrie,
Victoria N. Millious, and Elaine M. Power | 1

1. Turning Toward and Away
Cary Wolfe | 19

2. Subjectivities and Intersections
Lauren Corman | 36

3. Being in Relation
Kim Tallbear | 54

4. The Tyranny of Consistency
Naisargi Dave | 68

5. Justice and Nonviolence
Maneesha Deckha | 84

6. Doing What You Can
Kari Weil | 99

7. Waking Up
H. Peter Steeves | 112

8. Entangled
María Elena García | 128

9. Disability and Interdependence
Sunaura Taylor | 143

10. Asking Hard Questions
Neel Ahuja | 157

11. Interspecies Intersectionalities
Harlan Weaver | 172

12. Living Philosophically
Matthew Calarco | 188

13. Taking Things Back, Piece by Piece
Sharon Holland | 204

Coda : Toward an Analytic of Agricultural Power
Kelly Struthers Montford | 223

Coda : Thinking Paradoxically
Billy-Ray B elcourt | 233

Acknowledgments | 243

Recommended Reading | 245

List of Contributors | 255

Index | 259

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