Fresh Food

The Animal Activism Gender Fight

Female activists play the biggest role in animal welfare and the meat-free movement

The Lempert Report

Today there are more than 30 cell-cultured meat companies across the globe, a few within striking distance of getting the first slaughter-free meat to market. The people who have created or are leading these startups, and the venture capital funds and organizations that represent them, are mainly white men. There is nothing wrong with that, but the interesting fact is that the animal welfare movement is propelled in large part by vegan activists, and it has been estimated that some 79% are women. 

Erica Meier leads a watchdog group called Animal Outlook, which gets the undercover, boots-on-the-ground activists into dairy farms, slaughterhouses, egg barns and feedlots to collect images and video footage of how animals are treated.

In research published by the journal Social Movement Studies in January 2019, researchers reviewed at least six studies that explored the subject of animal rights activist burnout. Within each of those studies were interviews with activists, including one who described being “treated kind of like a charming but benign presence,” who was often “spoken over” while male activists took credit for her ideas. Others interviewed described the work environment a "bro culture" built around language that “does not translate at all to women.”

Not all of these organizations are dominated by men, reports Quartz. Ingrid Newkirk remains the president of PETA 40 years after she helped found it in 1980.  

After sexual misconduct was discovered at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and the male president resigned, longtime activist Kitty Block was named president, the first woman to hold the position since the organization’s founding in 1954. Since the leadership change, women have come to make up the majority—at least 65%—of the top roles at HSUS.  

So why aren’t we seeing more women leading the Silicon Valley food startups? Some suggest that there is money to be made and the "machine" says young white boys get this money.  

Michele Simon created and increased the membership of the Bay Area-based Plant Based Foods Association. Jess Krieger co-founded cell-cultured meat startup Artemys Foods. And Isha Datar is pioneering the cellular agriculture field through the influential support that her diverse nonprofit organization, New Harvest, provides to researchers.

Tracye McQuirter—who is celebrating more than 30 years of promoting healthy living and a vegan lifestyle and is an accomplished author and speaker and truly one of the leading authorities on American Health initiatives—is often asked about joining animal rights organizations, and she never advises people to shy away from them. She cautions, though, that they should have a community of people outside of work that they can “go to and talk to and breathe with.” The same rule, writes Quartz, applies to women looking to work within the Silicon Valley-driven animal welfare ecosystem.

Isn’t it time for a change?

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