by Lindsey Morgan
Ruby’s Diner is a classic American burger joint, popular in Southern California. After a long afternoon at the beach, nothing is better than a stroll down to the Ruby’s at the end of the pier for burgers and a milkshake while you watch the sun set over the ocean. The walls are covered in old black and white pictures of surfers, and murals recalling the 50’s era classic diner with waitresses in dresses and aprons, and young people with tidy haircuts dangling their feet from barstools. A few murals feature rolling hills and pastures, giving you a feeling of connection to the fertile California farmland that provides you with food. The waitresses wear the same little dresses, aprons, and hats featured in the decorations, promptly serving milkshakes and burgers on shiny round trays. It’s not just a restaurant, it’s an experience. Ruby’s creates an idealized, American dining experience.
Restaurants like Ruby’s create a comforting lie that masks the fact that objectified, exploited animal bodies are served for consumption.
The last time I went to Ruby’s I had been vegan for a year or two, and hadn’t been there since my transition to veganism. I was meeting a group of friends and that was the restaurant that the majority chose, because, who doesn’t like Ruby’s? I immediately felt uncomfortable when I walked in, not just because they serve meat, but the whole restaurant was a claim, a justification, a statement. It said: this way of dining is good, wholesome, and American, and you are good, wholesome, and American for dining like this. Eating the flesh of unethically treated animals is good, wholesome, and American. Drinking the milk of another species whose reproductive cycle is exploited for us is good, wholesome, and American. Being served exclusively by cute women in little dresses and aprons who function as live decoration, this is also, good, wholesome, and American. The visual story of Ruby’s was painful for me as a vegan and a feminist. Not one, but two kinds of flesh were being served: animal flesh for eating, and human women’s flesh for viewing, both under the banner of wholesome America in the good ol’ days.
My experience at Ruby’s seared into my mind the intersection of veganism and feminism: living creatures, human or animal, should not be objectified and treated as a commodity to be bought, sold, & consumed. We normalize the mistreatment of animals for our own convenience, and thus it’s no surprise that the same breed of violence appears in the treatment of humans.This violent exploitation appears in the form of objectification in advertising, domestic violence, rape culture, and sex trafficking. In a New York Times article, Diana S. Urban, Connecticut state representative, stated, “Animal abuse is one of the four indicators that the FBI profilers use to assess future violent behavior.” Violence in once sphere leads to violence everywhere. We can see that pattern in our culture at large as well as in individuals. Female animals’ reproductive potential is exploited via routine insemination with a device called a “rape rack” by those in the industry. No wonder rape culture seems normalized and women’s reproductive choices and rights become a politicized debate.One of my favorite visual illustrations of the overlap between feminist and vegan concerns comes from a scene in P!nk’s music video, “Raise Your Glass.” Women are pictured strapped down in chairs, blindfolded, with milk pumps attached to their breasts, and their milk is being fed to a cow. The human and animal roles are reversed to show us how bizarre it really is to forcibly take another species milk for ourselves, and then like a one-two punch, we remember that human female bodies are often exploited too.
I identify as a vegan, not just “plant-based,” because I want the violence and exploitation to end. Veganism is a political & economic position, not just a personal nutritional decision. My goal as a vegan is to spread compassion, empathy, and a value for life and freedom that extends into all spheres of culture and relationships.
As an athlete, and a woman, athletics have been a way for me to protest in my own body the sexist messages that say that women should look a certain way and have certain characteristics such as fragile, dainty, thin, and weak. Sports have been a way for me to take back my body from the image assigned to me and discover instead that I am strong. I can enjoy the experience of living in my body and identify with it as a subject, instead of constantly monitoring my appearance in my status as a visual object. In a sense I see this confidence as freeing me up to be a vocal feminist and a vegan. As a vegan athlete I am motivated by a cause that’s beyond my personal development but also connected to it. The freedom and enjoyment I have learned to experience in my body should belong to all of us, human and animal alike.