I just finished devouring a plate of char-lined, grilled sweet corn smothered with pico de gallo oil, mashed herbed potatoes with wild mushroom gravy, and grilled apple-sage grain-sausage kebabs with shallots, apple cubes, zucchini and smokey maple barbecue sauce.
The protein, vitamins and minerals, carbohydrates and phytochemicals are all surging through my bloodstream, replenishing, building muscle, and sustaining my bones, organs and various tissues - including that appendage that requires clear, healthy veins and arteries to stand at attention. This is not enough, however, to keep me from being emasculated by my meal.
Growing up, boys are often told to do certain things "like men". 'Be a man', they say. Or at least try to, 'act like a man!'. This phenomenon, an essential aspect of gender-assigning for boys, can basically be summarized as a call to shut down any feelings, toughen up, hide or mask any sort of sensitivity, and reveal no signs of weakness. I've seen a father reprimand his son for crying over a scraped knee, "Stop crying! Be a man!" I've heard the story of a friend who, at six years old, stood sobbing, finger on the trigger, as his father whispered coldly in his ear, "just shoot the goddamn deer. Don't you wanna be a man?" Stoicism - that invaluable Greek paragon of virtue, could be one of the most sought-after states of existence for the American Man. Unaffected, unreadable - perpetually poker-faced and methodically effective. And so we must "eat like men", too. Not like rabbits or 'chicks'!
this diet ad was marketed to men in 2011.
"Doing it like rabbits" flatters a man's virility, yet eating a diet that supports that same rabbit's virility is lampooned.
How do rabbits eat? They carefully chew vegetation. Strangely, few man scoff at being compared to a rabbit when it comes to sex. But men are warned against eating 'rabbit food', and instead, we consume entire animals with superstitious hopes of the contagious-magic that would allow us to appropriate their strengths. If we eat a lion's heart, we'd like to think we become courageous and strong like the lion. There are a plethora of books, websites and articles out there about how to cook, eat, diet and build muscle "like real men" and they're almost always centered around meat. Why?
It would seem that Popeye, with his can of spinach and bulging forearms - and that the towering Green Giant, with his pods of peas, exist in a sort of alternate universe where vegetables might construct masculine identity. But there are real-life Popeyes and Green Giants out there who have built incredible physiques and perform feats of awe-inspiring strength who are vegan. Some of them have never eaten meat in their entire lives, like Nimai Delgado, an IFBB-Pro bodybuilder who is on the cover of Muscle & Fitness's May 2018 issue . On Instagram, Delgado, who was born-and-raised vegetarian (and is now vegan for quite some time) said, "I’m so grateful for this opportunity to show the fitness industry that veganism is not a trend, but a way of life that does not limit your physical potential."
Another vegan guy who is getting a lot of attention for his athleticism is Jeremy Reijnders, who was named “CrossFit 2018 Fittest man of the Netherlands”. CrossFit is a subculture that wholeheartedly embraces the Paleo and Whole 30 diet fads, both of which not only disparage plant-based diets, but ridicule them outright in much of their literature. Jeremy said in an interview with Orangefit:
"Be Confident, Be Powerful, Be Happy and Be VEGAN"
- Dani Sidell, Vegan CrossFitter & Sports Physiologist
And Jeremy isn't the only CrossFitter performing at an elite level as a vegan. Danielle Sidell, a health coach and sports physiologist who competes in the top tiers of the CrossFit world, has proven herself to be an enduring force of nature, powered by plants. Outside of CrossFit, there's world-record-holding strongmen like Patrik Boubamian who has records for a 330 lb overhead keg lift and a 1,234.59lb, 10-meter yoke walk. There are Olympian lifters like Kendirck Farris who broke the U.S. record by lifting 831.1 lbs during the Olympic trials for Rio. Icelandic Powerlifter Hulda B. Waage holds a national record for her 452 lb equipped squat and national equipped bench press record with 254lbs. Ireland's Clarence Kennedy has a 407.86 lb snatch and a 485 lb clean and jerk, both of which he made before and after going vegan in 2016. And these are just strength athletes. The list of vegan endurance athletes and other specialist athletes - from Olympic boxers like Cam F. Awesome to born-and-raised IFBB pro bodybuilder Jehina Malik, goes on and on, as does a growing body of scientific research to back up what they all clearly demonstrate.
But let's get back to understanding a specific view of masculinity that is dripping with bacon-grease and blood.
Is meat gendered?
What I am interested, here at TheDiscerningBrute.com, is the underlying question, which is, "why do we associate manliness with meat-eating?" In Santino Panico's film, From the Ground Up, James McWilliams, PhD says that masculinity is found in the power of controlling and domesticating animals - even more so than the brutal strength associated with the hunter-archetype. "We're looking at a historical phenomenon", he says. "One of the biggest and easiest ways for a man, in particular, to assert his authority was to domesticate animals... by domesticating animals, by controlling them, you've asserted your manhood... controlling animals is essential to rugged individualism and manhood." Carol Adams, author of The Sexual Politics of Meat, asserts in the film that meat-eating has been redefined by American settlers, and has grown to be seen as an inalienable right - but a right that is male-defined and that, "has implicit male identification. If men are the ones who have the right to eat meat, to not eat meat is to give up your male privilege".
The Journal of Consumer Research published a paper in 2012 called "Is Meat Male?". In it, the authors observe that:
Meat seems associated with strength and power, two features generally attributed to males. In a traditionally male-dominated world... meat has generally been considered to be a particularly appropriate food for males, one that promotes manliness... It is also commonly understood that physical strength, an attribute more characteristic of males, requires optimal nutrition, and meat is often seen as the most nutritive and strength (i.e., muscle) inducing of foods.
Plant-foods in general have long been perceived as less-than, as a sacrifice of both pleasure and substance, whereas meat is seen as a source of superior nutrition and virility. So the mainstream Western man's resistance to veganism can be understood through this lens, but not this lens alone. Meat is also a symbol of power over nature and animals. The JCR article additionally observes that "cross-culturally, human females are devalued relative to males at least partly because females are seen as closer to nature and, hence, less civilized or cultured creatures than males." Since women were traditionally perceived as being overwhelmed by hysteria and the whims of feelings and emotions (as opposed to the manly regimen of rationality), the compassion associated with veganism becomes a serious threat to mainstream-masculinity because it undermines rational systems of animal exploitation. Veganism asks us to empathize with animals, and that simple act, on a large scale, has the power to change those rational systems.
In The Atlantic's The Sad Ballad of Salad (2016), author Julie Beck observes,
"'Salad,' as a word, as an image, as a category of food... is shorthand for 'joyless healthy eating.' It evokes diets and weight-consciousness in a way that no other entire category of food does. ...because it’s healthy, dainty, diet-y, light, less-than, the salad has always been associated with women."
If meat is the currency of manliness, then abandoning it would be like throwing money away; a sort of suicidE.
In 2008, Holly Brubach wrote for the New York Times Blog "...among men [veganism is] regarded as, if not a girl thing, then at least a girlie thing — an anemic regimen for sensitive souls subsisting on rabbit food and tofurkey. Meanwhile, meat eating persists as a badge of masculinity, as if muscle contained a generous helping of testosterone, with the aggression required to slay a mammal working its way up the food chain".
So 'girlie' veganism is perceived to be that in 2012, Scholz & Friends designed an ad which shows a steak branded with the words ‘Tofu is gay meat'.
While it was never actually used in public, they won an Art Directors Club award for it.
There is also a homophobic sentiment surrounding vegan men. This is a symptom of associating plant-foods with weakness, powerlessness and therefore femininity. When men do give up meat, there is an assumption they have given up all heteronormative masculine pursuits, including a sexual interest in women. Giving up meat is seen, therefore, as a figurative castration; a giving up the spoils of patriarchy, which include entitlement to both animal's bodies and women's bodies. In the production of animal-protein, it's the female reproductive system that is exploited for milk and eggs, and then almost always the flesh of those same female animals are consumed. So interchangeable are animals' and women's bodies in the advertising and marketing of meat, that there's an entire slideshow presentation on the subject.
Is mainstream masculinity a roadblock to sustainability?
A lot has changed in ten years regarding the perception of veganism and plant-based diets (for one, spell-check software has stopped telling me that "vegan" is not a word). But one of the reasons I started TheDiscerningBrute.com back in 2008 was that I saw mainstream masculinity (that of the gender binary) as big roadblock to realizing a sustainable and compassionate world.
REFUSING MEAT IS seen as REFUSING ACCESS TO A POTENT SYMBOL OF MACHO POWER, and therefore a refusal of manhood itself.
Compassion is a red flag, warning others that you may cave-in under the weight of empathy. Following-through and getting-the-job-done are put at serious risk when overwhelming emotions are added into the equation. Men so often strive to be emotionless in this culture - because a man's worth is measured by his ability to do 'that which needs to be done' without pause. Shoot the animal. Bring home the bacon. Launch the missile. Cut open the cat's head to observe (objectively) the workings therein, without letting feelings get in the way.
THE TEST(OSTERONE) OF MANLINESS
Meat, we are told by guys in the field of manliness-expertise (yes, that exists), is a guarantee of testosterone, and lots of it! Eat animals and become manly. Forgo animals, and your testosterone will be depleted. Eat soy and get feminized with loads of estrogen! According to Chad Howse, author of The Man Diet and a how-to-become-an-alpha-male type website warns that "...this stuff needs to be said... for those fellas who are being coaxed into a vegetarian diet by their ladies." That's right, he believes women will lure us into abandoning our manhood by way of plants.
Testosterone is really just a euphemism for manliness in this context. It doesn't matter that scientific research has shown that vegan men actually have higher levels of testosterone than meat-eaters, that soy-milk-consuming men can have up to a whopping 70% reduction in cases of prostate cancer, and that the most potent source of phytoestrogen is actually beer (and phytoestrogen isn't the same thing as estrogen), or that milk and cheese can actually damage testicles. What matters is the enduring mythology of contagious-magic; if we want to be strong as an ox, we should eat the ox's muscles. To make matters worse for cis-men banking on meat to affirm their manliness, diets heavy in meat and dairy have been linked to poor sperm quality and erectile dysfunction, not to mention heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other diseases, while the opposite has been found for plant-based diets.
Men eat power. They eat the things that they hope to be: muscle.
Almost a decade ago, Esquire Magazine proclaimed "Eat Like A Man" (September, 2009) and printed a sixteen-page cover-story entitled "How Men Eat".
It's a total meat-fest. A greasy frat party wrapped in bacon and bathed in blood. From Coca-Cola Brined Chicken to a three-meat-plus-bones gravy.
Chris Jones jokingly wrote that "The Only Candy A Man Should Eat" (Esquire Magazine, Sept 2009), like Jujubes, must contain powerful dead animals. But how much of a joke actually is it?
"People whine about some of them being made from dead horses... but they don't know the Jujube eater's darkest secret: By consuming dead horses we're taking their power and virility and making it our own. Eating Jujubes is like eating powdered rhino horn or seal penis without any of the messy sociopolitical ramifications or bureaucratic hassle. Look! It's just candy.... a candy that can be eaten in pin-drop quiet... without recrimination from wives or healthniks... We'll eat our jujubes...in determined silence, growing ever stronger, until one day we will rise with the thunder of a thousand of those same dead horses, our bellies hard-packed with their souls and gelatin and out teeth stained by their blood, and we will trample your pesticide-free fields, an army of raging stallions once again."
Being as "tough as an ox", "strong as a gorilla" or referred to as a "stallion" connotes brute strength and virility... YEt those animals are eating plants.
Masculinity is a cultural construct that varies. In much of the Western world, we've placed a lot of emphasis on obtaining and displaying masculine qualities through meat - especially red meat. What becomes clear after considering all of the mythology and the science is that anyone, masc or femme, can be physically strong without harming animals, and that has little to do with 'manliness' per se. As Carol Adams said in an interview I did with her several years ago, "Why do we have to redefine masculinity? Why don't we release masculinity? ...It's not whether we bring a diet forward, it's whether we put behind us ways of configuring humans that are so limited and clearly untrue."