Feminism and the Environment
Feminism and veganism should both be concerned with the environment, but I write should because there are many people who ascribe to these philosophies and do not value or actively participate in environmentalism. An ethic that includes the environment is integral to veganism and feminism.
Feminism, largely focusing on women, has long analyzed the environment because women have been equated with the environment. As far back as Darwin and even much earlier in Aristotle's writing, the female pronoun "she" is used to replace the environment. The environment has been feminized in literature; it has been equated with the female. This is extremely apparent in religions and stories that refer to nature as "mother earth" and bestow life-giving abilities in her. From the womb, the soil, she can make life. Although this is not a trait all women have, women alone have it.
Many feminists, most notably ecofeminists, have embraced this female-nature hybrid. They write that the land, like women, can be raped (read Tong's book Feminist Thought for more on this). Pain is experienced similarly because they are the same, or at the very least have historically been treated by men and patriarchy the same. Women, the land, and nature, have been dominated. This argument says that we should be concerned with the environment, as feminists, because this is a similar oppression to one we already oppose. To some, this is the origins of the oppression of women. Women are oppressed because they, like everything else (including nature) must be subdued. Along with that train of thought comes all sorts of complications (that puts females closest to nature, what about men or trans people?), but my point is only that the environment matters in a feminist discourse. The environment is oppressed in some way that maps onto female oppression and so to oppress the environment is similarly wrong as it is to oppress women.
The Nature/Culture Divide
Western society loves dualisms, especially nature/culture. Nature is set up as everything culture is not and culture as everything nature is not. They are incompatible opposites. There is no gradient and no overlap. The nature/culture dualism means that humans fall under culture (as creators of culture) and are not nature. Humans, and their creations, are not natural. This has led humans to be disconnected from nature. Every time a building is constructed nature is obliterated. Nature is something out there, not here, and our entrance into it often destroys it. One person can enter nature and become a small, insignificant, witness to nature, but if too many people enter it nature is gone. This is a problem because it means humans can never be part of nature, enjoy nature, or want to protect nature just because it is kin (although this is not true for all humans of course).
So we've got this nature/culture divide with humans on the side of culture, and I believe it it this divide that is to blame for our inability to realize that killing animals is environmental destruction. Cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, and other farmed animals are "made" by humans. We breed their parents (forcibly, we rape them with instruments or we arrange for their rape), we raise them, and if we don't like what we have, we selectively breed them so as to produce certain offspring. The farmed animals are part of culture because they are objects made by us, so we think. This ideology extends to all animals we kill eventually. The deer we hunt or the geese we shoot are not nature. We have allowed them to live in a land controlled by humans, their death only the inevitable end. We already owned them in our minds and thus, when they do die, we are merely ending the lives of our property and not nature. If they were their own free agents it would be a crime to kill them... but I get ahead of myself. All animals that humans kill are part of culture because as the creators of culture, we own them because we have the right to kill them. Humans feel as if we govern all animals.
The whole dualism is problematic, but the most troubling part is that animals are placed under culture and human dominion because it allows us to kill them without seeing this as killing a living being (a part of nature).
Killing Animals is Environmental Destruction
It's very interesting to define the environment; the first image I get in my mind is a bunch of trees. Then I remember that there are ecosystems and insects and mice and all sorts of animals that make up this system. Trees, on their own, are not really an environment. They are not a nature... right? Cutting down a forest because it is just trees is environmental destruction because the trees are the environment. It's interesting then that killing a deer is not environmental destruction. Why not? It has memory, sensation, and life... to take those things away is very destructive, and it is just as much part of the environment as the trees. The trees are nature, the environment, because they are out there. So are deer, but they are only dragged down by the illusion that we own them, but property rights is a human invention. It really has nothing to do with deer. Similarly, cows are part of the environment. We only fail to realize this because out contact seems to have contaminated them. They are, at their core, natural beings. If we had a field of cows, not owned by humans, this would be nature. Our sense of ownership is the only thing that gets in the way, but this sense is a human cultural fiction made up to allow us to continue using and killing animals without moral calamity.
When we return animals to the side of nature, it becomes destruction to kill them. Killing a cow is just as much an end to nature as cutting down a tree. No matter how many water bottles you recycle, you still participate in environmental destruction by eating cow flesh for lunch. The cow, an environment in itself, is destroyed. This is the relationship of dead animals with oppressor. A life, so much more active than a tree's, has been ended. It is wrong for feminists and environmentalists to eat animals because to do so is to participate in the oppression, and destruction, of the environment. The environment is not just trees.