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Locating Ecofeminism in Encounters with Food and Place

Abstract

This article explores the relationship between ecofeminism, food, and the philosophy of place. Using as example my own neighborhood in a racially integrated area of Philadelphia with a thriving local foods movement that nonetheless is nearly exclusively white and in which women are the invisible majority of purchasers, farmers, and preparers, the article examines what ecofeminism contributes to the discussion of racial, gendered, classed discrepancies regarding who does and does not participate in practices of locavorism and the local foods movement more broadly. Ecofeminism, it is argued here, with its focus on the ways that race, class, gender, and place are ontologically entangled, helps to highlight the ways identity and society are made and re-made through our encounters with food.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Later this article will explore some of the reasons for differential participation between whites and people of color in locavorist practices. Although I do not here locate economic factors as the primary cause of this phenomenon, certainly it is the case that the often priceyer cost of local and organic produce forms a barrier for many, and of course race and class tend to be highly correlative in US society.

  2. 2.

    The most recent US census reports that West Mt. Airy, Philadelphia is nearly 50% African American and 44% white—a demographic make-up in a single neighborhood that is a statistical outlier not only for Philadelphia, but the entire nation (http://cml.upenn.edu/nbase/). The 90% figure for co-op shoppers is reported in Tukey 2009.

  3. 3.

    Personal conversation with Henry Got Crops! farmers and direct observation.

  4. 4.

    I use the word “organic-ish” to designate food that is grown without chemical inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides, but does not have an official USDA Organic designation. Many farms, including the one that I write about here, eschew obtaining the official designation, though their practices meet—and often exceed—the federal standards for “organic.” The watering-down of standards for “organic” as “big ag” has recognized the market value of the organic label and muscled into ensure its market share actually produces much consternation among food activists, and locavorism in part has been founded as a way to bypass the problem. When farmers can be queried directly at a farmers market regarding their food-growing practices, there isn’t as much need for a label from an outside certifying agency that may have been captured by the industry it is charged with regulating.

  5. 5.

    Coined by environmental philosopher David Abram (Abram 1996), this term is used to refer to that which we call nature (environment, etc.) without inadvertently dualizing and hierarchicalizing the relationship between the natural environment and people by referring to it as that which is not human.

  6. 6.

    Although I have here put it in the singular, in actuality there are many ecofeminisms and there are important nuances and internal debates that distinguish them. It must also be noted that academic ecofeminisms are critical of an essentialist stance that holds that “women are closer to nature” (as has been especially well articulated by Chris Cuomo in her book Ecological Feminisms: An Ethic of Flourishing (1998) and Vicki Davion in her article “Is Ecological Feminism Feminist?” (1994). It is beyond the scope of this article to delineate all of the varieties of ecofeminism (if such a task could be done in the first place), but I do want to make clear to the reader that ecofeminism as theory, practice, and/or politics is not at all a monolith. However, a theme that runs throughout all ecofeminisms is that, at a minimum, environmental degradation and social oppressions (such as, but not limited to, sexism) are intertwined, and that feminism and environmentalism each must incorporate the perspectives and commitments of the other.

  7. 7.

    Key authors and works include Karen Warren’s watershed article, “The Power and the Promise of an Ecological Feminism” (1990), as well as Warren’s influential edited anthologies Ecological Feminism (1994) and Ecological Feminist Philosophies (1996), as well as her monograph Ecofeminist philosophy: A western perspective on what it is and why it matters (2000); Val Plumwood, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature (1993) and Environmental culture: The ecological crisis of reason (2002); Rosemary Radford Ruether, Integrating ecofeminism, globalization, and world religions (2005); Noel Sturgeon, Ecofeminist natures: Race, gender, feminist theory, and political action (1997), and Environmentalism in popular culture: Gender, race, sexuality, and the politics of the natural (2009); Ariel Salleh, Ecofeminism As Politics: Nature, Marx, and the Postmodern (1997); Catriona Sandilands, The Good Natured Feminist: Ecofeminism and the Quest for Democracy (1999); Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature: Women. Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution (1980); Vandana Shiva, Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development (1988); Greta Gaard, Ecofeminism: Women, animals, nature (1993). My own contributions to the ecofeminist literature include the following articles: “What Is Ecofeminist Political Philosophy?: Gender, Nature, and the Political” (2010b), "The Spiritual is Political: Gender, Spirituality, and Essentialism in Radical Forest Defense" (2010a), “Val Plumwood and Ecofeminist Political Solidarity: Standing With the Natural Other”(2009), “Ecofeminism and a Politics of Performative Affinity: Direct Action, Subaltern Voices, and the Green Public Sphere” (2008), and “Ecofeminism and Forest Defense in Cascadia: Gender, Theory, and Radical Activism (2006).

  8. 8.

    I thank Sally Scholz for bringing this particular example to my attention; another example of the connections between the conceptual and material can be found in the work of feminist economist Marilyn Waring (1988), and in the writing of ecofeminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether (2005).

  9. 9.

    Bailey’s article offers a thoughtful defense of the feminist vegetarian position: the position that feminism implies vegetarianism because of the links between the oppression of women and the oppression of animals, against the accusation that such a position is potentially racist and classist (because it may condemn poor people and people of color’s traditional ways of eating or deny that they should be getting animal protein even when all nutrition is scarce.) In her article Bailey treats this critique in a sympathetic and nuanced way even while she ultimately disagrees that critics of the feminist vegetarian position are correct. A bit of knowledge of the history of ecofeminism helps Bailey’s reader to see that her argument is deeply endebted to the original constructors of the ecofeminist-vegetarian position such as Marti Kheel, Carol Adams, Greta Gaard, and Lori Gruen, who each link an attitude of domination over nature and the consumption of meat to the construction of gender and particularly masculine identity. The recently-deceased Kheel in particular is an important figure in this regard. Kheel co-founded the group Feminists for Animal Rights (FAR) and is author of numerous articles and the recent book Nature Ethics: An Ecofeminist Perspective (2008). For a detailed review of Kheel’s book, see Richard Haynes (2008).

  10. 10.

    (http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/2008/02/03/48-whole-foods-and-grocery-co-ops/; accessed 10/11/11).

  11. 11.

    WHYY, 90.1 FM.

  12. 12.

    http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/in-the-gap-voices-from-the-health-divide/item/27149-african-american-farmers-aim-for-better-food-choices, accessed 10/11/2011.

  13. 13.

    Ibid.

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Acknowledgments

The author is grateful to the farmers and members of the Weavers Way Co-op in Philadelphia who reviewed earlier versions of this article, and wishes to thank Sally Scholz for her many helpful editorial suggestions. The author wishes as well to acknowledge the very helpful comments and feedback on oral and written presentations of this paper by of the following members of the Feminist Working Group Initiative: Dana Berthold, Celia Bardwell-Jones, Kimberly Garchar, Rochelle Green, Jennifer McWeeny, Amy Story, Lisa Yount. I would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers of an earlier version of this paper for their helpful comments.

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Correspondence to Chaone Mallory.

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Mallory, C. Locating Ecofeminism in Encounters with Food and Place. J Agric Environ Ethics 26, 171–189 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10806-011-9373-8

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Keywords

  • Ecofeminism
  • Local foods
  • Gender and raced embodiment
  • Co-ops
  • Community Supported Agriculture
  • Philosophy of place