Societies (Apr 2014)

You Are How You Eat? Femininity, Normalization, and Veganism as an Ethical Practice of Freedom

  • Megan A. Dean

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 4, no. 2
pp. 127 – 147


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In this paper I argue that the practice of veganism is, or can be, a Foucauldian ethical practice of freedom. I begin by sketching out the problematization of alimentary practices within a normalizing patriarchal framework, which some feminists argue is dominant within contemporary North American society. Within this problematization, eating—for many women—is a way to manage the body’s appearance and bring it into conformity with feminine norms, and also an ongoing opportunity to exercise the will over unruly bodily desires. I then consider the narratives of women who claim that veganism helped them to relinquish disordered eating habits, temper the emotional and psychological turmoil that surrounded their alimentary practices, and mitigate antagonism toward their own bodies. In short, the practice of veganism appears to have reproblematized eating for these women. Thus, I suggest, veganism can be an ethical practice of freedom: it can loosen the tight grip of patriarchal normalization as constituted in and through disordered eating habits, and constitute subjects that are “a little less governed” by this form of power. I conclude by considering objections to this thesis, and in particular, the concern that veganism is linked to healthism, another worrying form of normalization.