Reproductive and Environmental Justice
hierarchy. Social ecology is just as concerned with relations of domination between
persons as it is with the domination of nature. Hence it should be of great interest to
On the social, mindful nature of mothering, see the work of Sara Ruddick, especially
"Maternal thinking," Feminist Studies, 6(2): 342-67; and “Preservative love and military
destruction: some reflections on mothering and peace,” in Joyce Trebilcot (ed.), Mothering:
Essays in Feminist Theory, pp. 231-62 (Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Allanheld, 1983).
Catherine Caufield, In the Rainforest, pp. 156-8 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
See Edward Hyams, Soil and Civilization (New York: Harper and Row, 1976).
See Petra Kelly, Fighting for Hope (Boston: South End Press, 1984) for a practical,
feminist green political analysis and program, with examples of ongoing movements
I am indebted to ecofeminist sociologist and environmental health activist Lin Nelson
for pointing out to me why the feminist health movement is yet to become ecological.
See Elizabeth Fee, “Is feminism a threat to scientific objectivity?" International Journal
of Women's Studies, 4(4): 378-92. See also Sandra Harding, The Science Question in
Feminism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986) and Evelyn Fox Keller, Reflections
on Gender and Science (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985).
H. See, for example, Evelyn Fox Keller, A Feeling for the Organism: the Life and Work of
Barbara McClintock (San Francisco, Freeman, 1983).
The cross-cultural interpretations of personal freedom of anthropologist Dorothy Lee
are evocative of the possibility of such an ideal of freedom. See Dorothy Lee, Freedom
and Culture (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1959).
Mad Cows and Sacred Cows
When I gave a speech at the Dalai Lama's 60th birthday celebration, he wrote me two
beautiful lines of compassion: “All sentient beings, including the small insects,
Berish themselves. All have the right to overcome suffering and achieve happiness.
I therefore pray that we show love and compassion to all?!
What is our responsibility to other species? Do the boundaries between species
have integrity? Or are these boundaries mere constructs that should be broken for
muman convenience? The call to “transgress boundaries” advocated by both
patriarchal capitalists and postmodern feminists cannot be so simple. It needs to be
ased on a sophisticated and complex discrimination between different kinds of
boundaries, an understanding of whom is protected by what boundaries and whose
Freedom is achieved by what transgressions.
In India, cows have been treated as sacred – as Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth,
and as the cosmos in which all gods and goddesses reside - for centuries.
Ecologically, the cow has been central to Indian civilization. Both materially and
Revolution, in turn, instead of viewing livestock as ecologically integrated with
crops, has reduced the cow to a mere milk machine. As Shanti George observes,
conceptually the world of Indian agriculture has built its sustainability on the
integrity of the cow, considering her inviolable and sacred, seeing her as the
mother of the prosperity of food systems.
According to K.M. Munshi, India's first agriculture minister after independence
from the British, cows
The trouble is that when dairy planners look at the cow, they see just her udder;
though there is much more to her. They equate cattle only with milk, and do not con-
sider other livestock produce - draught power, dung for fertilizer and fuel, hides,
skins, horn, and hooves.5
are not worshipped in vain. They are the primeval agents who enrich the soil-nature's great
land transformers—who supply organic matter which, after treatment, becomes nutrient
matter of the greatest importance. In India, tradition, religious sentiment, and economic
needs have tried to maintain a cattle population large enough to maintain the cycle.?
In India, cow's milk is but one of the many byproducts of the interdependence
between agriculture and animal husbandry. There, cattle are considered agents of
production in the food system; only secondarily are they viewed as producing con-
sumable items. But the White Revolution makes milk production primary and
exclusive, and according to the Royal Commission and the Indian Council of
Agricultural Research, if milk production is unduly pushed up, it may indirectly
affect the entire basis of Indian agriculture.“
Worse, trade-liberalization policies in India are leading to the slaughter of cattle
for meat exports, threatening diverse, disease-resistant breeds and small farmers'
integrated livestock-crop-production systems with extinction. In the United
Kingdom, giant slaughterhouses and the factory farming of cattle are being called
into question by the spread of “mad cow disease" (BSE - bovine spongiform
encephalopathy), which has infected over 1.5 million cows in Britain. While this
disease is sounding the death knell of the non-sustainable livestock economy in
Britain, India's “sacred cows” are being sent to slaughterhouses to “catch up" with
the beef exports and beef consumption figures of "advanced” countries. This
globalization of non-sustainable and hazardous systems of food production is
symptomatic of a deeper madness than that infecting U.K. cows.
By using crop wastes and uncultivated land, indigenous cattle do not compete
with humans for food; rather, they provide organic fertilizer for fields and thus
enhance food productivity. Within the sacredness of the cow lie this ecological ratio
nale and conservation imperative. The cow is a source of cow-dung energy, nutri
tion, and leather, and its contribution is linked to the work of women in feeding and
milking cows, collecting cow dung, and nurturing sick cows to health. Along with
being the primary experts in animal husbandry, women are also the food processors
in the traditional dairy industry, making curds, butter, ghee, and buttermilk.
Indian cattle provide more food than they consume, in contrast to those of the
U.S. cattle industry, in which cattle consume six times more food than they provide.
In addition, every year, Indian cattle excrete 700 million tons of recoverable manure
half of this is used as fuel, liberating the thermal equivalent of 27 million tons of ker
osene, 35 million tons of coal, or 68 million tons of wood, all of which are scarce
resources in India. The remaining half is used as fertilizer.
Two-thirds of the power requirements of Indian villages are met by cattle-dung
fuel from some 80 million cattle. (Seventy million of these cattle are the male progeny
of what industrial developers term “useless” low-milk-yielding cows.) To replace
animal power in agriculture, India would have to spend about $1 billion annually on
gas. As for other livestock produce, it may be sufficient to mention that the export of
hides, skins, and other products brings in $150 million annually.4
Yet this highly efficient food system, based on multiple uses of cattle, has been
dismantled in the name of efficiency and development. The Green Revolution
shifted agriculture's fertilizer base from renewable organic inputs to non-renewable
chemical ones, making both cattle and women's work with cattle dispensable in
the production of food grain. The White Revolution, aping the West's wasteful
animal husbandry and dairying practices, is destroying the world's most evolved
dairy culture and displacing women from their role in the dairy-processing
The Green Revolution has emerged as an enemy to the White, as the high-yielding
crop varieties have reduced straw production, and their byproducts are unpalatable
to livestock and thus useless as fodder. Further, hybrid crops deprive the soil of
nutrients, creating deficiencies in fodder and disease in livestock. The White
Ratcheting Up the Milk Machine
As the idea of the cow-as-milk-machine runs into trouble worldwide, multinational
biotech industries are promoting new miracles of genetic engineering to increase
milk production, further threatening the livelihoods of small producers.
Multinational corporations such as Elanco (a subsidiary of Eli Lilly), Cynamic,
Monsanto, and Upjohn are all rushing to put bovine somatrophin (BST), a growth
hormone commercially produced by genetic engineering, on the market, in spite of
controversy about its ecological impact.?
When injected daily into cows, BST diverts energy to milk production. Cows may
get emaciated if too much energy is diverted to produce milk. And, as in all other
"miracles” of modern agricultural science, the gain in milk production is contingent
upon a number of other factors, such as use of industrial feed and a computerized
feeding program. Finally, women's traditional role in caring for cows and processing
milk falls into the hands of men and machines.
itself as a disease until the infected animals are adults. Infected cows are nervous and
shaky, and rapidly descend into dementia and death. Dissection of affected cows
shows that their brains have disintegrated and are full of holes. In humans, this
disease is called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, named after two German doctors.
The first case of BSE in the United Kingdom was confirmed in November 1986,
By 1988, more than 2,000 cases of BSE had been confirmed. By August 1994, there
were 137,000 confirmed cases, more than six times the number predicted by the
government in their "worst case scenario.'
The epidemic spread by feeding healthy cattle the remains of infected cattle,
In 1987, 1.3 million tons of animal carcasses were processed into animal feed by
“rendering plants. The largest portion of the animal material processed, 45 percent,
came from cows. Pigs contributed 21 percent, poultry 19 percent, and sheep
15 percent. This created 350,000 tons of meat and bone meal and 230,000 tons of
tallow.14 Sheep infected with scrapie were thus fed to cows, which contracted BSE,
and their carcasses were again fed to cattle. By 1996, more than 1.6 million cattle had
become victims of BSE.
British farmers, increasingly dependent on industrial cattle feed, demanded that
the sources of cattle feed be labeled, but the feed industry has denied farmers' and
consumers' “right to know.” Instead, the feed industry has been labeling its feed on
the basis of its chemical constitution, thus camouflaging its biological sources.
Junk-food chains, including KFC and Pizza Hut, are under attack from major
environmental groups in the United States and other developed countries
because of their negative environmental impact. Intensive breeding of livestock
and poultry for such restaurants leads to deforestation, land degradation, and
contamination of water sources and other natural resources. For every pound of
red meat, poultry, eggs, and milk produced, farm fields lose about five pounds of
Irreplaceable top soil. The water necessary for meat breeding comes to about 190
gallons per animal per day, or ten times what a normal Indian family is supposed
to use in one day, if it gets water at all.
KFC and Pizza Hut insist that their chickens be fed on maize and soybean. It
takes 2.8 kilograms of corn to produce one pound of chicken. Egg-layers also need
2.6 pounds of corn and soybean. Nearly seven pounds of corn and soybean are
necessary to produce one pound of pork. Overall, animal farms use nearly 40 percent
of the world's total grain production. In the United States, nearly 70 percent of
grain production is fed to livestock.
Maize, though not a major food crop in India, has traditionally been grown
human consumption. Land will be diverted from production of food crops
for humans to production of maize for chicken. Thirty-seven percent of the arable
land in India will be diverted toward such production. Were all the grain pro-
duced consumed directly by humans, it would nourish five times as many people
as it does after being converted into meat, milk, and eggs, according to the
Council for Agricultural Science and Technology.
The food culture of India is as diverse as its ecosystems and its people, who
use a variety of cereals, pulses, and vegetables as well as cooking methods to suit
every need and condition. However, advertising is already having a negative
impact on Indians' food and drink patterns. No longer are homemade snacks
and lime juice or buttermilk offered to guests; instead, chips and aerated soft
Reversing the McDonaldization of the World
Globalization has created the McDonaldization of world food, resulting in the
destruction of sustainable food systems. It attempts to create a uniform food culture
of hamburgers. The mad-cow-disease epidemic tells us something of the costs
hidden in this food culture and food economy.
In 1994, Pepsi Food, Ltd., was given permission to start 60 restaurants in India
30 each of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) and Pizza Hut. The processed meats
and chicken offered at these restaurants have been identified by the U.S. Senate as
sources of the cancers that one American contracts every seven seconds. The
chicken, which would come from an Indian firm called Venky's, would be fed on
a “modern” diet of antibiotics and other drugs, such as arsenic compounds, sulfa
drugs, hormones, dyes, and nitrofurans. Still, many chickens are riddled with dis
ease, in particular chicken cancer (leukosis). They can also carry salmonellosis,
which does not die with ordinary cooking.
Both KFC and Pizza Hut have guaranteed that they will generate employment
However, according to studies conducted by the Ministry of Environment on other
meat industries, Al-Kabeerl5 has displaced 300,000 people from their jobs, while
employing only 300 people at salaries ranging from Rs. 500 to Rs. 2,000 per month
Venky's chicken has not employed one extra person after getting the contract for
chicken supply from KFC and Pizza Hut. In fact, the company is being encouraged
to mechanize further rather than use human labor.
"What man does to the web of life, he does to himself” How we relate to other
species will determine whether the third millennium will be an era of disease and
devastation, and of exclusion and violence, or rather a new era based on peace and
non-violence, health and well-being, inclusiveness and compassion.
Unsustainable outcomes are the inevitable result of the deepening of patriarchal
domination over ways of knowing and relating non-violently to what have been
identified as “lesser species, including women. But sustainability can be created by
an inclusive feminism, an ecological feminism, in which the freedom of every
species is linked to the liberation of women, in which the tiniest life form is recog-
nized as having intrinsic worth, integrity, and autonomy.
Women of our generation especially have to decide whether to protect the
knowledge and wisdom of our grandmothers in the maintenance of life or whether
Reproductive and Environmental Justice
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Toward a Queer Ecofeminism
Although many ecofeminists acknowledge heterosexism as a problem, a systematic
exploration of the potential intersections of ecofeminist and queer theories has yet
to be made. By interrogating social constructions of the “natural,” the various uses of
Christianity as a logic of domination, and the rhetoric of colonialism, this essay
finds those theoretical intersections and argues for the importance of developing a
The goal of this essay is to demonstrate that to be truly inclusive, any theory of
ecofeminism must take into consideration the findings of queer theory; similarly,
queer theory must consider the findings of ecofeminism. To this end, I will examine
various intersections between ecofeminism and queer theory, thereby demon-
strating that a democratic, ecological society envisioned as the goal of ecofeminism
will, of necessity, be a society that values sexual diversity and the erotic.
Sexualizing Nature, Naturalizing Sexuality
Progressive activists and scholars frequently lament the disunity of the political
left in the United States. Often characterized as a “circular firing squad” the left of
progressive movement has been known for its intellectual debates and hostilities,
which have served to polarize many groups that could be working in coalition: labor
activists, environmentalists, civil rights activists, feminists, animal rights activists,
indigenous rights activists, and gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender (GLBT) activists
Meanwhile, it is observed, the conservative right in the United States has lost no
time in recognizing the connections among these various liberatory movements and
has launched a campaign (most recently articulated in the “Contract with America")
to ensure their collective annihilation. As a result, the future of progressive orga
nizing may well depend on how effectively scholars and activists can recognize and
articulate our many bases for coalition. In theory and in practice, ecofeminism has
already contributed much to this effort.
At the root of ecofeminism is the understanding that the many systems of
oppression are mutually reinforcing. Building on the socialist feminist insight that
racism, classism, and sexism are interconnected, ecofeminists recognized addi
tional similarities between those forms of human oppression and the oppressive
structures of speciesism and naturism. An early impetus for the ecofeminist
movement was the realization that the liberation of women the aim of all
branches of feminism - cannot be fully effected without the liberation of nature,
and, conversely, the liberation of nature so ardently desired by environmentalists
will not be fully effected without the liberation of women: conceptual, symbolic,
empirical, and historical linkages between women and nature as they are con
structed in Western culture require feminists and environmentalists to address
these liberatory efforts together if we are to be successful (Warren 1991). To date,
ecofeminist theory has blossomed, exploring the connections among many issues
racism, environmental degradation, economics, electoral politics, animal
liberation, reproductive politics, biotechnology, bioregionalism, spirituality,
holistic health practices, sustainable agriculture, and others. Ecofeminist activists
have worked in the environmental justice movement, the Green movement, the
antitoxics movement, the women's spirituality movement, the animal liberation
movement, and the movement for economic justice. To continue and build on
these efforts toward coalition, I would like to explore in this essay the connection
between ecofeminism and queer theory.
“We have to examine how racism, heterosexism, classism, ageism, and sexism are
all related to naturism,” writes ecofeminist author Ellen O'Loughlin (1993, 148).
Chaia Heller elaborates: “Love of nature is a process of becoming aware of and
unlearning ideologies of racism, sexism, heterosexism, and ableism so that we may
cease to reduce our idea of nature to a dark, heterosexual, beautiful mother” (1993,
231). But as Catriona Sandilands astutely comments, “It is not enough simply to add
'heterosexism' to the long list of dominations that shape our relations to nature, to
pretend that we can just add queers and stir” (1994, 21).' Unfortunately, it is exactly
this approach that has characterized ecofeminist theory to date, which is the reason
I believe it is time for queers to come out of the woods and speak for ourselves.?
The first argument linking ecofeminism and queer theory is based on the observation
that dominant Western culture's devaluation of the erotic parallels its devaluations of
women and of nature; in effect, these devaluations are mutually reinforcing. This obser-
vation can be drawn from ecofeminist critiques that describe the normative dualisms,
value-hierarchical thinking, and logic of domination that together characterize the
ideological framework of Western culture. As Karen Warren explains, value dualisms
are ways of conceptually organizing the world in binary, disjunctive terms, wherein
each side of the dualism is seen as exclusive (rather than inclusive) and oppositional
(rather than complementary), and where higher value or superiority is attributed to one
disjunct (or, side of the dualism) than the other” (1987, 6). Val Plumwood's 1993 cri-
tique of Western philosophy pulls together the most salient features of these and other
ecofeminist critiques in what she calls the “master model” the identity that is at the core
of Western culture and that has initiated, perpetuated, and benefited from Western cul-
ture's alienation from and domination of nature. The master identity, according to
Plumwood, creates and depends on a "dualized structure of otherness and negation"
(1993, 42). Key elements in that structure are the following sets of dualized pairs:
other (Plumwood 1993, 43)
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