As an alum of the college, former assistant staff writer at the publication, and ethical queer vegan, I’ve been pretty heartbroken since I received my copy of the Spring/Summer 2013 Vol. 109 Issue 2 of Vassar, the alumnae/i quarterly of Vassar College. I got chills when I saw the theme of the issue was “Eat.” Before perusing, I sensed that there was a significant chance that this issue theme would be grossly mishandled. I suspected that Vassar would likely glorify eating (and exploiting) non-human animals by highlighting the work of notable non-vegan alums like Anthony Bourdain, and other so-called food celebrity alums.
It turns out I was right about my suspicions: “Eat” issue is one of the most troubling things I’ve ever seen branded with Vassar’s name. There’s too much offensive material in this 91-page volume to cover all of it, but I’ll share some highlights:
On page seven, the article “The Gritty Life of a Food Activist” profiles a white male alum with a five-o-clock shadow staring at a dead pig head, ostensibly of one of the “heritage” varieties he purports to care about saving through–you guessed it–raising them to be slaughtered:
“[Heritage Foods]‘ mission is to preserve rare breeds of turkeys, pigs, cows, lambs, bison, tuna, salmon, chicken, ducks, geese, and goats by creating a market for them…Martins believes that eating heritage breeds is the only way to save them.” (p. 7, Vassar, “Eat” Issue).
Anyone who has read Carol J. Adams’ work The Sexual Politics of Meat can understand the unique sexual politics related to a (white) man presiding over a dead pig’s head, ostensibly one he’s helped kill in order to “save” it. Hmm.
Page 16 features a recipe for Gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp) complete with shrimp pictures, courtesy of Vassar alum/cookbook author Penelope Casas. Yikes. No vegan option in sight, no explanation, just meat-eating continuing to be perpetuated as the norm and something to be celebrated.
Next, on page 17, there’s an article called “Conscience in the Kitchen” discussing how chef Seth Caswell cooks “fresh oysters right from the shell.” I couldn’t believe the article title. Where, exactly, is the conscience in Caswell’s cooking? I can only assume the writer is referring to the fact that Caswell works in a LEED-certified kitchen when he serves “ever-popular chicken Parmesan” The truth is, meat is not conscionable on any level, and certainly not to the chicken who needlessly gave his/her life.
Page 18 features an alum who runs a restaurant called “Fish Fowl Beef Pork”–I’m gagging. Of all the amazing work Vassar alums are doing in the world, they have to feature someone whose work glorifies killing fish, birds, cows, and pigs? There’s even a mention of this guy’s “grilled Sullivan County fois gras” — besides being incredibly cruel, I have to ask: is Fois gras even legal anymore?
Perhaps the worst article in this issue is “Greener Pastures,”on p. 21 featuring Justin Leavenworth ’96, who is characterized as an effeminate “skinny jeans-, hipster glasses-wearing guy” who somehow finds a way to get along with his fellow “macho men” of the meat industry. If this isn’t a classic sexual politics of meat trope, I don’t know what is. The message is, look, even effeminate Vassar men can be “manly” by showing they know what’s what about killing animals. There is so much wrong with this article, I don’t even know where to start. How about this:
“Some ranchers mistrust the grass-fed movement, considering it a way to move the country one step closer to the ‘liberal vegetarian ideal.’” (p. 21). Side note: Vassar editors, who, exactly, do you think your readers are?
Then there’s a fudge recipe with animal products making up about 50% of the ingredients hailed as “Vassar tradition,” no vegan option included. One could easily substitute coconut milk for the butter and cream and it’d be amazing. Why wasn’t a vegan option even considered? There’s way more offensive material in this issue, but I’m exhausted already. And yes: Anthony Bourdain gets his obligatory profile as well.
Based on my experience working for the Quarterly during my Senior year of college, I recognize that the primary function of the publication is to inspire alums to donate to Vassar through emotional stories relating to the school and its notable attendees, faculty, staff, and community members. What better topic to relate to our emotions than our food, our sustenance, our culturally-linked second heart? I get why the editors of this magazine chose this theme. But writing about food in a way that completely ignores vegan perspectives is really limited, and ignores the great work Vassarians do in this arena.
Couldn’t Vassar editors have chosen to profile even one vegan perspective? We have many notable vegan alums, including but not limited to: Haley Burke, a cancer center doctor living and working in Texas; Pulin Modi, a force for good in this world at Change.Org; activist Lauren O’Laughlin, and on and on.
There are also lots of other incredible current Vassar student vegan activists, like Ali Seiter, Alan Darer, Rocky Schwartz, and more. I met some of these activists at the Marti Kheel Ecofeminist Conference at Wesleyan, and THEY are what makes me proud to call myself a Vassar alum. Vassar does great work in the field of human- and non-human animal welfare; why not highlight it, or at the very least, refrain from mocking it?
I’m pretty happy to report that there was at least one vegan mention in the publication–my contribution to Defiant Daughters: 21 Women On Art, Activism and The Sexual Politics of Meat gets a nod in the Mixed Media section on p. 40.
Final words: I am really disappointed by this issue of Vassar. It doesn’t include or recognize perspectives that are central to many Vassar community members’ activism. It certainly doesn’t make me feel inspired to pull out my wallet. Despite this, I am going to remain hopeful that the good work Vassar students, faculty, alumnae/i and others continue to do in this world for human- and non-human animals will ring far louder than puff pieces aimed to rake in donations.
I encourage anyone interested to e-mail the Director of Alumnae/i Communications, Editor Elizabeth Randolph and let her know what you think about this issue. She can be reached at email@example.com.
UPDATE: Lagusta Umami of Lagusta’s Luscious has confirmed Foie gras is currently legal in New York State, but banned in California.
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