If you have grown up any time in the past century, you have been taught that killing animals and eating meat is closely linked to masculinity. In our culture, in advertisements, and the media, we are shown that strong men eat animals. But, with the current consumer trends of huge increases in vegan meats, and vegan dairy and egg alternatives, it might be finally time to ask, “is there anything ‘manly’ about eating meat?”
Growing up as a vegetarian myself, and then going vegan while in the military, I was able to see this idea has not only been validated by society, many people become very defensive when this idea of eating meat being masculine is challenged.
When looking at popular culture in America, it is clear to see why children at a young age are exposed to the idea that eating meat is related to masculinity. There are commercials upon commercials, movies, video games, and many other outlets that focus on the idea that eating meat somehow makes you more of a man, and the manliest way to eat meat is to kill the animal yourself.
This idea of eating meat and masculinity being linked is no clearer than in the 2006 Burger King "Mantham" commercial that focuses on a song "I am Man" that parodies Helen Reddy's "I am Woman" with men acting like cavemen to get a burger. Although this commercial was aired over a decade ago, the idea that eating meat and being "manly" are still intrinsically related.
Going vegan means that you are not buying into cultural stereotypes, and that you are able to follow your beliefs even when society is telling you to do something different.
Anotherstigma of being masculine, is that you need to be brave. Hunting in past societies creates this image of strong men going out into nature with only an arrow or a spear to kill an animal to save the lives of those depending on him. But in a society where hunting is nothing like what it used to be, and where hunting is no longer necessary, is hunting still manly?
Hunting was seen as masculine when it was a necessity for a person's community or village to survive in an indigenous society, but in first world countries today there is no such need for animal consumption. Also, consider that it has been calculated that it is actually more expensive to pay for everything needed to hunt (weapons, permits, equipment) than it is to buy store bought meat, so it would be difficult to argue that hunting is necessary to provide for anyone’s family.
Hunters will also argue that there is a need for hunting to maintain control over animal populations. But how did these populations not overpopulate before human intervention? The answer is that natural predators in nature have been in charge of population control, but today hunters also kill the predators primarily to protect their livestock. This means that the only reason hunters are necessary for population control is because we are killing the natural predators to protect our animal industry.
But what about killing an animal, that's manly right? As someone who has been to boot camp without ever firing a rifle beforehand, I was able to shoot a target from 500 yards away and hit center mass after only one week of rifle training. As standard in USMC boot camp, we are trained to use rifles for only one week in the 13 week training schedule before we are required to test our marksmanship. I was able to achieve the second highest rank of sharp shooter less than 5 days after shooting a rifle for the first time, along with hundreds of recruits that are taking the same rifle qualification every week. This realization that a firearm or hunting gun takes the bravery out of modern hunting entirely, leads to the realization that there is no bravery involved with hunting an animal in nature that has no way to defend themself.
Also, since most animals aren't hunted, but instead raised for meat production, is there anything manly about eating purchased meat? There's no question that most animals that are killed for human consumption are no longer hunted, but raised in larger farm animal facilities known asConcentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s) and are then purchased from a store or restaurant. This process removes any bravery from the act of eating meat entirely.
When thinking about bravery in the modern age, we think of people like Martin Luther King Jr. who stood up for their beliefs even when the majority of the population did not agree with them. If that is our standard for bravery, then what is more brave than animal rights activists who stand up against society for their beliefs?Vegans only account for 1% to 3% of most developed nations, but their demand and their actions have created a shift in recent years towards plant based products, and have led many non vegans to try plant based options.
As I mentioned, during my experience in the military, I also faced a large amount of discrimination personally for my decision to not eat meat. Although I was a vegetarian during the beginning of my enlistment, I still dealt with many people questioning my manhood as someone who chooses to not eat meat. Just last month in the news, a young middle schooler was physically assaulted by a bully for not eating bacon. In this story who is more brave and “manly,” the child who is forcing their beliefs upon others due to the standards that society has given him, or the young boy who stood up against fear and hatred to defend his beliefs?The vegan boy would be the one who had much more bravery in this situation.
Many Americans associate the military and football with manliness, so surely everyone who performs at the highest level in football eats meat. Well there is currently a large movement in the National Football League (NFL) to eat more plant based foods. Many people associate this shift with David Carter, a retired NFL linebacker who decided to go vegan while in the NFL after watching the documentary "Forks Over Knives". Carter’s main concern with going vegan was being able to keep his mass since he needed it for his position, but he noticed that not only was he ableto keep his mass, but noticed huge improvements in his ability to recover after practice and workouts. Since then he has started a chain reaction of many NFL players going vegan or cutting down immensely on animal products to perform better.
If veterans and NFL players are going vegan to perform better, then what other role models are there that still need meat to perform. ? If you think of action movie stars, then you are in for disappointment. Many of the stars of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are going vegan. The growing number of vegans has never been more prominent than looking at the cast for the Avengers movies. If you look at the giant green Hulk as a symbol of masculinity, then you may be surprised out find out that the Hulk is portrayed by actor Mark Ruffalo who advocates for a meat free lifestyle. You can argue that Ruffalo only plays Bruce Banner, and the big hulking monster is CGI, but what about Thor? The God of Thunder must need meat to maintain his huge muscles right? Actor Chris Hemsworth who portrays Thor went vegan from advice from his brother actor, Liam Hemsworth, to go vegan. Liam and his wife, Miley Cyrus, have been strong voices in the world of animal rights. There might be more super heroes ditching meat than you think. In fact actors all over Hollywood have been embracing the meat free lifestyle.
When looking at masculinity and femininity from an objective perspective, what is the root of masculinity? Masculinity is seen by many as the ability to perform sexually. Ironically, one of the early warning signs of heart disease is erectile dysfunction, and is caused by a meat and animal product heavy diet. This creates a cruel irony who are, in many ways, giving up their masculinity in favor of their diet.
So not only are members of the military, and NFL players going vegan, but even the superheroes are all removing animals from their plates. Going vegan means standing up for your health, for the environment, and for the innocent animals that are born into an industry that only sees them as a commodity, and what could be more "manly" than that? The year 2019 has started off with huge advancements in the world of vegan food alternatives, and it is time leave behind outdated stereotypes of what masculinity means, and realize that bravery looks best on people that are willing to stand up against government regulations, large corporations, and society as a whole for what they believe in.