By now, you've hopefully heard the myriad reasons why you should consider going vegan: it's the single biggest thing you can do for the environment, it is much better for your health in nearly every way you can think of; and it would help stop the murder of the at least 9.2 billion animals who are slaughtered in the United States every year, all of whom suffer immensely. But if all those reasons have failed to convince you to give a plant-based diet a try, I would like to suggest one more timely motivation for giving the middle finger to animal products this World Vegan Month: Donald Trump.
This election cycle, Donald Trump has been criticized in headline after headline for treating women "like pieces of meat." Indeed, he seems to believe he can do just that — saying he doesn't need to ask permission to kiss or grope our bodies. When he was caught on a hot mic in October bragging about sexual assault, I, like many people, was not surprised — he was taking his proven objectification of women to its inevitable conclusion of violence. But the incident also made me think of one image in particular: Trump posing in front of a pile of raw animal flesh — flesh that he believes he can own, consume, and sell, just like women's bodies in a beauty pageant.
Trump Steaks™ , like many of Trump's business ventures, was brief. In the summer of 2007, he attempted to sell his own brand of steaks to the American public, with very limited success — the venture lasted only two months. But it left an imprint on the American psyche, and during this election, the ad for the business resurfaced as a joke, an example of his goofy incompetence.
But I believe it represents something far more insidious: Trump Steaks™ is a perfect encapsulation of the way the presidential candidate sees the world — and the ways in which we are all complicit in that worldview.
"Trump holds to a very restricted view of who is actually entitled to be treated like a human being," Carol Adams, author of the seminal book The Sexual Politics of Meat, tells Bustle. "A human being, in his view, is a white man. As a result, women are treated ... like objects for his use, like the other animals." Trump sold steaks for the same reason he builds tall, flashy towers and denigrates women. "Trump wants to create an atmosphere of masculine privilege, wants to, in fact, bask in it himself," Adams says.
Trump refers to women as objects ("Oh, it looks good."); he separates them into parts ("Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?"); he talks about his right to consume women ("...When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything"). Yes, these comments are disgusting, but consider, for a moment, the way society talks about eating animals. We refer to certain animals as objects so that we can eat them comfortably (cows become "beef" and "burgers," pigs "pork" and "bacon"); we separate them into parts ("I love a fatty thigh," "I prefer dark meat,"); we talk about our right to consume them ("humans are meant to eat animals," "if they weren't meant to be eaten, why are they so delicious?").
When Fox News' Megyn Kelly called Trump out on his sexist behavior during the GOP debate on Aug. 6, she reminded him, "You have called women you don't like 'fat pigs,' 'dogs,' 'slobs,' and 'disgusting animals.'" This kind of language — "reducing" women to animals, calling a Miss Universe contestant "Miss Piggy" — is indicative of the way Trump views the world.
"As countless cookbook titles, meat advertisements, and cultural moments remind us, if one wants to 'eat like a man,' one needs to be eating meat," Adams says. "The anxiety about meat eating and masculinity shows how it is both normative and unstable — so more steaks, more red meat, they are always needed. It becomes a marker — this is what real men do, they eat meat. They aren't 'sissies,' they aren't 'effeminate.'"
This is why it's no accident that after primary contests and at other times during the past year, Trump was offering steak at his celebratory events. Eating animals means being a winner — and those of us who raise ethical objections are losers.
We are outraged as a nation when pictures of Trump's sons posing with a leopard they killed or holding the tail of an elephant surface — yet we make excuses for the equally-conscious beings delivered to our dinner plate. We condemn Trump for talking about women's bodies as if they were somehow meant for his consumption — yet allow ourselves to believe that a dairy cow was somehow designed to be enslaved, forcibly impregnated, and milked for our benefit until she either dies from exhaustion or is sent to slaughter. The belief that the rules and rights are somehow different for humans is called "speciesism" — and it's founded on the exact same logic as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, or any belief that one group deserves a different right to freedom than another.
What if we, as feminists and citizens of planet earth, confronted the ways in which we are also complicit in the world Trump was raised in?
Adams believes that the seeds of misogyny can be found in speciesism. "By challenging oppression on both sides of the species line, by saying that animals matter, too, and so we won't eat them, we are also saying anyone who is compared to an animal matters and is due equal treatment," she says. In other words, what if we didn't only stand up against women "being treated like animals," but questioned the ways in which treating animals "like pieces of meat" creates our culture of violence and domination in the first place?
What if on Nov. 8 we didn't simply protest misogyny with our electoral vote, but also voted with our wallets and stomachs? What if we, as feminists and citizens of planet earth, confronted the ways in which we are also complicit in the world Trump was raised in? What if we stopped making excuses for eating and exploiting animals, because we're sick of seeing men make excuses for the assault of women and people of color and LGBTQ bodies? What if we stood in solidarity with the billions of animals every year who also grieve the children who are taken from them, who suffer enslavement, rape, and murder, all because we have decided their thighs and their breast milk tastes good?
We might think we are better than Donald Trump, but his first lesson in dominance as a little boy also began at the dinner table. It is where nearly all of us learn to believe that we deserve to dominate and consume another body, to dictate a female body's reproductive freedom. It is where all of us first become implicated in the cycle of suffering and destruction humans have perpetuated. We don't realize the lesson we are being fed as children; it is not our fault. But as adults, we have the choice to opt out.
As the writer Alice Walker once said, "If I'm eating food I know was a creature in a cage, it brings up memories of segregation and the stories from my ancestors, of being in captivity and denied their personalities, their true beings. Animals were not made for us, or our use. They have their own use, which is just being who they are."
Conscious, loving, enslaved female animals no more want to have their bodies inseminated, groped, raped, or murdered than we do. That is the uncomfortable truth that Donald Trump will likely never understand, as he stands before the pile of body parts he serves at his celebrations. You have more than one vote to cast this November. In fact, you cast it multiple times a day. What side of history do you want to be on?