Dan Cathy, CEO of the fast-food chain, Chick-fil-A, came under fire in 2012 for his public support of "traditional" marriage. (1) His comments generated immediate backlash from the LGBTQA community, and a heated ideological divide ensued between supporters of (exclusively) traditional marriage and supporters of same-sex marriage. Across the nation, thousands of loyal consumers waited hours in line at Cathy's chains on August 1,2012--"Chick-fil-AAppreciation Day"--to buy chicken sandwiches. Meanwhile, advocates for marriage equality, exclaiming "this is not about chicken!" protested the restaurant through public demonstrations of compassion and acceptance during "Chick-fil-A Kiss-ins." It was heartwarming to see the protesters come together nationwide to denounce heteronormativity. Such acts of compassionate protest are very necessary and important, but from the point of view articulated in this essay, they were inadequate because not the slightest concern was expressed for the voiceless, powerless animals born into the abhorrent world that is the global meat industry. Even in light of the media attention this case drew, the billions of sentient birds who are subjected to the unimaginable cruelty of modern factory farming and industrial slaughtering remained invisible. As both friends and foes of Chick-fil-A turned to social media, they single-mindedly focused on humans while ignoring the animals whose flesh comprises the almost 300 million chicken sandwiches Chick-fil-A serves annually. (2) As a contribution to the bourgeoning literature exploring the role of nonhuman beings in educational contexts (DeLeon, 2011; Dolby, 2012; Kahn, 2008; Pederson, 2009; & Rowe, 2009, 2011, 2012), this essay does not take animals for granted and attempts to rethink the Chick-fil-A controversy through the framework of posthumanism (Wolfe, 2010). (3)
Chick-fil-A is related to several areas of interest for scholars who study commercialism in education (Boyles, 2008; Molnar et al., 2013; & Norris, 2011). Food is a primary way corporations infiltrate educational institutions; they maintain a presence through school lunch, food services, advertising, vending machines, sponsorships, and curricular programs. The problems of this particular fast-food chain are much more insidious than serving fatty, unhealthy, greasy fast-food to school children (though we should not overlook the deadly effects of such food). Deron Boyles (2005) has provided a critical analysis of Chick-fil-A's partnership with schools. Chick-fil-Amarkets its conservative Christian, corporate fast-food agenda by way of the "character education" curriculum, "Core Essentials." Boyles finds that Core Essentials is essentially "a program funded by a fundamentalist Christian whose company uses kids meals' as a bribe for behaving in docile, disempowered, uncritical ways" (p. 55). While the program claims to impart values such as "courage," "honesty" and "respect," students are in no way encouraged to contemplate the honesty of the program, the values or motives of a company that profits from serving a fast-food diet to children, or the broader effects of corporate encroachment on public education. Food corporations like Chick-fil-A provide revenue for some school districts, but they are also part and parcel of the neoliberalization of the public sphere, undermining equity, health, political participation, and democratic education (Apple, 2001; Boyles, 2008; Norris, 2011; & VanderSchee, 2004). It seems, then, there is plenty reason to further scrutinize this case, but as important as these areas of concern are for education, my interest lies in extending the framework of criticality beyond the schoolhouse. This essay is ultimately not just about a single controversy over marriage equality, nor is it just about corporate fast-food in schools; it is about these issues but also much more. The Chick-fil-A case provides a launching point for a critical conversation of the parallels between human and animal exploitation.
This article serves several functions. First, I begin by moving beyond a human-only account of intersectionality (Crenshaw, 2005) to raise questions concerning species as a category of difference that interacts with other categories in constructing ideologies and hierarchies of domination. I hope to demonstrate that the plight of nonhumans is not a second-rate subdivision of critical theory or social activism. As I discuss, critical inquiry should not be hierarchal in positing humans over and above nonhumans; such a reductionist approach to grappling with problems of privilege and oppression only reproduces mutually dependent systems of injustice. The theoretical framework of posthumanist intersectionality, I argue, destabilizes the continued reliance on an underlying anthropocentric worldview that maintains the structures that exploit animals as well as human others perceived by their oppressors as "subhuman" or "animal."
In the second half of the essay I discuss eating animals as a matter of aesthetics, turning introspection to the body's gustatory and gastrointestinal systems. We are conditioned to view animal exploitation, in the form of meat eating, as normal, acceptable, or even necessary. (4) The causes of this socialization are many but the role and influence of the body should not be undervalued in the fortification of this habit. My intent is to contribute an educational perspective to the somatic turn in philosophy and more specifically to the discipline Richard Shusterman (1999) has developed, somaesthetics--"provisionally defined as the critical, meliorative study of the experience and use of one's body as a locus of sensory-aesthetic appreciation (aisthesis) and creative self-fashioning" (p. 302; italics original). What I want to develop is a more concrete way educationists might think about somaesthetics in the context of eating animals. In my response to a provocative question Susan Laird (2008) has posed--"Could philosophers of education deploy somaesthetics to theorize means of teaching and learning discernment of hungers, tastes, and satiety?" (p. 4)--I set out to sketch the preliminary characteristics of a pedagogy of food that concentrates attention mainly to the sense of taste and the body's gastrointestinal tract. As a particular area of somaesthetic interest, I undertake an exposition of eating animals as a way to give more "systematic attention to the body's crucial roles in aesthetic perception and experience" (Shusterman, p 310). What I call "gastro-aesthetic pedagogy" aims to reduce the cognitive dissonance between the living body of the eater and the dead body of the eaten-enhancing the relationship between corporeality and consciousness for a more fleshly way of knowing. The unification of the (human) self and (animal) other through this somatic act incarnates the theoretical posthumanist call to dissolve the human/animal binary--human flesh physically intersecting and absorbing animal flesh. The profundity of the gastro-aesthetic, I submit, is that it characterizes transformation in its most fleshly and intimate form: becoming through eating. With the gastrointestinal system as the "locus of sensory-aesthetic appreciation," my argument is that corporeal transformation should not be overlooked in discussions on becoming and transformative education--discussions that have taken on a noticeably abstract character. Yet I will exercise caution here by troubling the assumption that becoming and transformation are unquestionably positive and desired (certainly they are not so in the context of consuming animals). Finally, I conclude by calling into question anthropocentric discourse employed to differentiate and elevate our kind of animal above all other animals on Earth. In an effort to reconsider ourselves as human animals in a posthuman world, I imagine what it might look like to reclaim our animality by looking "below" to our animal kin.
The question of eating animals is ultimately driven by our intuitions about what it means to reach an ideal we have named, perhaps incorrectly, 'being human.'
--Jonathan Safran-Foer, Eating Animals (2009, p.264)
Should Cathy's opinion on marriage warrant our attention and criticism? Well, if the issue was just as simple as that--an individual's opinion--then no, but there are more important issues and persons at stake. In a Huffington Post op-ed titled, "We are not arguing over Chicken," Conor Gaughan (2012) commented to Chick-fil-A patrons: "Eat all the chicken sandwiches you want. But realize that behind this debate are real people" (para. 7). The "real people" Gaughan is referring to are the queer persons who live with routine psychological and physical abuse, some even beaten to death because of their sexuality; the real people are the same-sex couples that experience institutional discrimination (if they are even recognized as a couple) and denied equal access to the same public benefits as heterosexual couples; and the real people are the gay and lesbian teenagers who "are four times more likely to take their own lives" (para. 4). By refocusing the discussion from the purchasing of chicken sandwiches to the broader political and social meaning of the debate, Gaughan captured a common sentiment of those in support of marriage equality and LGBTQ rights: The Chick-fil-A standoff was not really about buying or not buying chicken; it was, and still is, about a basic level of dignity for all persons, regardless of their sexuality. The real people behind the debate are related to my discussion but, admittedly, they are not my primary focus. With this section, I discuss another entry point to help understand the scope of this case, one that speaks up for another group of persons, the chickens.
Posthumanist intersectionality investigates the interrelationships of human and nonhuman oppression, attempting to interrogate, understand, and disrupt hierarchies of...