Earlier this year, I published a piece called ‘No, My Food is Not Weird,’ and the response to it was immense. What started as a therapeutic semi-rant ended up being one of my most popular essays on Medium. And while the people in the responses largely shared my frustrations, one in particular stood out to me. A female vegan shared that she typically didn’t get the third degree about her eating habits, and suggested that my gender had something to do with it.
My knee-jerk reaction was dismissive, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. My girlfriend, also a vegan, has never had to fend off comments like “be a man and eat some meat.” She’s never been told that her “man card” has been revoked for her dietary choices. Sure, she faces frustrating comments from time to time, but those comments are less aggressive than the ones that I tend to get among other males.
This interested me, and I decided to do a little bit of research on the topic. I posted a question on one of my vegan groups on Facebook, asking if they ever noticed a gender-disparity in vegan criticism. What I found was that most vegan men, at least in my state of South Dakota (the good ol’ Midwest), have experienced similar comments and aggressions. Mostly from other men, of course, calling into question their manhood or masculinity.
The idea that veganism doesn’t coincide with masculinity or manhood is ludicrous, rooted in archaic beliefs and patriarchal views. The people that think veganism is for girls are the same people that put up billboards that say “Eat Meat. Wear Fur. Shoot Guns. Be American.” (Yes, that is a real billboard I drive past every time I visit my hometown in Iowa.) The truth is, the fuel you put in your body doesn’t determine your gender. It seems like a simple concept, but apparently not simple enough for everyone to grasp.
The vegan lifestyle is rooted in compassion for animals, humans, and the planet. Compassion is an emotion that most men have been programmed to hide from public view, and therefore, veganism is seen as a direct assault on classic masculinity — which is to say, toxic masculinity.
Take for example, the idea that you can’t bulk up on a vegan diet. I’ve been small in stature my entire life, and only recently has that ever been attributed by friends, co-workers, and relatives to my diet. I’m not, and have never been, a body-builder, nor do I have any desire to be. My small frame is fine by me. Yet, there are plenty of body builders living vegan lifestyles or eating plant-based diets. Look no further than Vegan Fat Kid on Instagram, or The Game Changers documentary on Netflix to prove that theory wrong.
I’m comfortable enough with my lifestyle and my masculinity to brush these comments off — now, at least. When I took my first step in my journey to veganism (going vegetarian), I felt shamed by the comments from my fellow men. A few times early on in my journey, I caved to the pressure and ate meat, and always felt horrible after. Now, I have no issue turning away non-vegan items, no matter the pressure. But the pressure is still there.
If my (or anyone else’s) vegan lifestyle offends you, that speaks volumes about you. Maybe my choices have caused you to hold up a mirror to your own, and you don’t care for what you see. That’s not on me; I don’t wish to pass judgement on anyone for their eating habits. “Live and let live,” as the saying goes.
So this one goes out to all my fellow men who might be starting their journey toward a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Be comfortable with who you are. Don’t allow anyone to make you feel like less of a man because of their own outdated beliefs. I see you all, and I’m right here with you. To end with a total cliché:
Don’t let the haters get you down.