Is Veganism Manly? A Post by Patrick

The basic idea.

I wrote this post because I wanted to call bullshit on the stigma that veganism isn’t manly. I argue that it is, because:

  • Men seek virtue, and shoulder the discomfort that comes along with it.
  • Men take charge of the outcomes in their life.
  • Men don’t leave things sitting around undone or make excuses.

I address each of these points below.

The problem with modern veganism.

Here’s a statistic that caught my attention: although veganism is surging in this country, only one in five vegans are men [1]. Why? Is veganism seen as a fashion statement? Are women just more caring, on the whole? Is it because women are told to think about their diet? Or maybe they’re just better at sharing the things that matter to them?

Who knows? In any case, there seems to be this stigma that veganism isn’t manly, in the traditional sense of the word. I’m writing this post to call bullshit on that stigma and to call out men on this issue. First I’ll spend some time talking about manliness itself, then I’ll explain why a “real man” would want to think about going vegan.

What does it mean to be a man?

Hell if I know. I can’t tell you what it means to be a man, or to be manly. Much less can I tell you that masculinity is a virtue. Everyone has their own perspectives on gender roles and personal identity. And so long as you don’t trammel on the rights of others, I will defend your perspective as valid. I’m talking about my perspective today not because it’s true, but because it’s valid, and I think a lot of people out there can identify with it, even if it’s not their own. Bear in mind that even though I’m discussing these things in the context of traditional masculinity, men have neither obligation nor monopoly to this line of thought, and the points I make basically describe being a decent human being.

So what do I mean by manliness?

Like most of us, I learned what a good man was by example. My father and his father were traditional Navy men who eventually got out of the military and worked farms. My mother’s father was a professor at a southern liberal arts school who placed immense value on a man’s thoughtfulness. When he retired, he started his own vineyard on a hill top with a good view of the sunset and made wine and cider. His father was a tool and die maker in mid-century America, forming by hand the things that industries used on their production lines.  You could say that my picture of a good man was something of a mix between Walker Texas Ranger, Thomas Jefferson, and MacGyver. Given my religious upbringing, there are certainly shades of Jesus of Nazareth in there as well, particularly his emphasis on seeking social justice for all people and leading as a humble servant.

This version of “manliness” has very little in common with the middle school notion of jacked, womanizing brute who is sure to let everyone know he’s in charge (“..and is, by the way, very very smart and successful, ok? And trust me, there’s no problem down there.”) This is a masculinity that embraces gay man and straight, pacifist and war fighter, artist and construction worker, liberal and conservative. It’s obviously nothing new and I’d say it’s a common notion in western culture. And just so you know, I don’t claim to be the manliest man around. Just last week, I got a second-degree burn. Not while fixing my jeep’s radiator or making fire, but while making a lemon-zest syrup for some European pastries. So I’m not pretending to be a paragon of masculinity here. These are just the principles I personally strive towards as a man.

Why is veganism manly?

I’ll break it down into three points.

Men seek virtue, and shoulder the discomfort that comes along with it. The right thing usually isn’t the easy thing, but men don’t hide from the truth.  And here’s the truth:

  • Climate change is real [2], human caused [3], and has the potential to wreck the planet [4].
  • Agriculture the second largest source of global carbon emissions [5], comparable to all vehicle emissions combined [6].
  • You can reduce your agricultural carbon footprint as an individual by 50% [7] [8] – 70% [9] by going vegan.
  • This isn’t limited to the scale of individuals. If the world cut animal products from their diets, agriculture’s carbon footprint would be reduced by 67% [10].

Doing the right thing for the planet is doing the right thing. For everyone. And unless you want to forgo having kids, sell your car, or get off the grid, eating local plant foods is statistically the single biggest thing you can do to reduce carbon emissions [11].

Let me take another tack on this: Men don’t hurt those under their control, those who can’t speak for themselves. Only cowards take advantage of the defenseless. That applies both the environment as well the animals you eat. It turns out that animals raised in industrial agriculture live short, terrible lives.  I’ll let you Google that one for yourself. While it’s obviously more humane to pasture-raise pigs or cows before you kill them, that doesn’t mitigate CO2 emissions [12] or change the fact that if you exchange the word “dogs” for “pigs or cows”, it suddenly sounds unethical.

And that’s part of the problem: we’ve been taught to ignore our values and our common sense. Society has told us that eating 1.5 times our weight in meat each year [13] (along with a lot of processed garbage) is normal, and that ignoring the suffering of animals at least as smart as our pets [14] is just fine. But a real man takes time to think about the outcomes he’s responsible for. Men don’t let anyone tell them who they are or how they should live, they figure that out for themselves.

Men take charge of the outcomes in their life.

It’s noble to do what’s best for animals and the planet, but closer to home, a man has a responsibility to take care of himself and those he loves. In a time when life expectancy is actually expected to drop from previous generations, it falls on a man to look after his body and ensure it is fit enough to do whatever is required. Fortunately, doing right by your health and doing right by the earth go hand in hand [15].  If you want to be proactive about your health and vitality, veganism is an obvious choice. The simplest way to put it is that vegans are 19% less likely to die from any cause in a given year than omnivores [9]. This is mostly due to reduced incedence of Type II diabetes, heart disease, and stroke [16]. So if you’re serious about taking charge of your health and being in the picture for the people who need you, be a man and go vegan.

And side note, if you’re worried about protein in veganism, black beans and ground beef both have 6 grams of protein per ounce [17,18], and these vegan body builders could (probably) kick your ass [19].

Men don’t leave things sitting around undone or make excuses.

When faced with a problem, a man doesn’t bitch and moan. He fixes it or he finds a way around it. But in this case, there’s no way around the fact that veganism is the responsible thing to do for the planet, your loved ones, and yourself. You can ignore that fact, or you can do something about it. “Doing something about it” doesn’t have to mean going cold turkey.  I took about a year to go vegan, and it wasn’t half as hard as I thought. You don’t even have to go completely vegan to start getting the results – most of the environmental and physiological benefits basically scale with “how much of the time” you’re vegan. So take it at your own pace.

But if we do nothing, if we see the problem in front of us and we look away, if we make excuses and put off doing the right thing, we simply aren’t the men we ought to be.

Sources:

Except for a few polls or primary sources, these are all peer-reviewed scientific articles or books. If you have trouble accessing one of the sources, just let me know.

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/01/vegan-woman-lifestyle_n_5063565.html

[2] http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg1/WG1AR5_Chapter10_FINAL.pdf

[3] http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg1/WG1AR5_Chapter08_FINAL.pdf

[4] https://climate.nasa.gov/effects/

[5] https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data#Sector

[6] http://www.worldwatch.org/files/pdf/Livestock%20and%20Climate%20Change.pdfv

[7] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jiec.12174/epdf

[8] http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-014-1169-1

[9] http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/file?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0165797&type=printable

[10] http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-008-9534-6

[11] http://www.inference.eng.cam.ac.uk/sustainable/book/tex/sewtha.pdf

[12] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673607612562#bib42

[13] http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/06/27/155527365/visualizing-a-nation-of-meat-eaters

[14] https://escholarship.org/uc/item/8sx4s79c

[15] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673609617591

[16] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673609617530

[17] https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list?qlookup=23568

[18] https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list?qlookup=16016

[19] http://www.greatveganathletes.com/bodybuilders

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My Vegan Wedding

I got married last June. My husband is a wonderful man who shares many of my core values, a big one being veganism. Veganism for both of us is much more than a diet. We seek to live our lives in a way that optimizes our health and happiness, does minimal harm to other living beings, and allows us to tread lightly on the earth. We still have a lot to learn, but veganism is a key part of that equation. I don’t think it’s dissimilar to how some couples are strengthened by a shared faith. All the hours we’ve spent visiting animal sanctuaries, cooking vegan meals, and learning about how we can be better environmentalists have surely increased the respect, love, and admiration we feel towards each other. As this lifestyle is such a big part of who we are, we knew it would be sown into our wedding. While planning my vegan wedding, I found it difficult to find resources of information, so now I’d like to be one!

The obvious thing is the food. You can’t have a vegan wedding without vegan food. As soon as I began to think about it, my heart sank. I loved vegan food, and Patrick loved vegan food, but what about our guests? While I do largely believe that your wedding is the one day where it’s all about you and your partner, many of our guests traveled for hours and sent us very generous gifts. I wanted them to enjoy their meal, without compromising our morals. We did a few things to be considerate of our guests.

  1. We had an afternoon wedding. Our ceremony began at 1pm and reception ended at 6pm with an after party nearby. That way, if someone really wasn’t satisfied with a vegan meal, they could easily choose not to partake, or at least not make it a main meal of the day.
  2. We chose a themed menu. When most people think of vegan food, they picture twigs and berries. I married a southern, meat and potato raised boy, so we’ve never been ones to survive off salads and smoothies. Our wedding had a southern flair to it already by our choice in venue and rustic tastes, so we did southern comfort food. Baked bean casserole with cornbread, barbecue lentil sliders, chilled sweet pea soup, carrot cake and more. All vegan, with the help of our amazing venue/restaurant and a local vegan bakery.
  3. We were transparent. Vegan or not, nobody likes being lied to. That’s why I deliberately avoided dishes that tried to be “meaty” in any way. A lot of people aren’t so warm to tofu and other meat replacements, so we just focused on hearty plant foods. We served warm butternut squash pasta that was supposed to be similar to mac n cheese, but we didn’t call it that. Same with the “lentil sliders”, which were a lot like sloppy joes. One thing I’ve learned about veganism is that although there are some very good replacements out there for all kinds of omni foods, you should try to appreciate each dish for what it is and not compare it to something else. I think people enjoyed the food more because they weren’t expecting it to taste like something it wasn’t.
  4. We had plenty of booze and sweets. Give the people want they want. We had delicious red wine sangria, the carrot cake, grilled peaches, and fruit crisp at our reception. The after party was at a local park and we served two kegs of home brewed craft beer and a wide assortment of vegan chocolate, marshmallows, and graham crackers for s’mores around the fire. Our favors were little moonshines.
  5. We consulted our omni friends. We asked for honesty about our menu from people we trusted and incorporated their suggestions.

The fashion. This one is a little less obvious but pretty simple to incorporate with the right people to help you. There are four main departments for a bride to focus on.

  1. The clothing. Avoid silk and wool in dresses, veils, ties, and suits. Look for non leather shoes. I found mine on Etsy.
  2. The hair. I chose a salon that was able to accommodate my request for only cruelty free (not tested on animals) and vegan (containing no animal products) styling products.
  3. The makeup. I found a wonderful makeup artist who was happy to use only cruelty free and vegan beauty products.
  4. The jewelry. Pearls are my birth stone but I don’t wear them. I’d rather wear something else or a synthetic pearl than something that required a death.

Those are the two biggest areas to think about for a vegan wedding, but I’ll add some other things that we considered in our planning which were touched by our vegan values.

Paper products. For save the dates, invites, thank you cards, and the disposable plates and cutlery we used at our after party, we did our very best to choose recycled, compostable, and low impact. Even lower would’ve been going electronic, but we thought some of our guests might have a hard time with that.

Vendors. We tried to choose small, local businesses to help create our wedding. This is a point I honestly can’t explain very well. We married very close to where I grew up, and supporting the local dress shops, tailors, florists, etc just felt good and right. Community is very important to both of us.

Another great way to veganize a wedding is to register with an animal charity. We LOVED our many wonderful and heartfelt gifts which we will surely treasure for years to come, but  I also think this would be a neat idea. It used to be very poor etiquette to ask for money at all, but personally I’d be thrilled to donate to a worthwhile charity in the name of a couple if that was their wish. Animal Equality, Mercy for Animals and The Humane League are some of the best. Additionally, purchasing items like decorations and clothing secondhand is always a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.

The day that we committed, in front of all of our family and close friends, to be best friends, life partners, and adventure buddies forever was only enhanced by honoring a very important part of us which has helped form us into two people who are thrilled to be together. We hope to make an amazing team for the rest of our lives, and continue being animal advocates, healthy livers, and  environmental activists.

Gatekeeping in the Vegan Community

Even if you’ve never heard the term “gatekeeping”, you’ve probably experienced it. Have you ever expressed  passion in something and been met with undue skepticism? Maybe been told that you’re not a “real” fan of something if you don’t do x, y, and z? Someone extra obnoxious may have even pop quizzed you about esoteric, arbitrary facts to determine your standing. That’s gatekeeping, and I think it’s nearly universal in places where folks find their identity rooted.

The urge to identify with a group is fundamentally human. We crave validation for our beliefs and actions. Vegans often feel misunderstood or even shunned by mainstream society, further pushing us into the arms of like minded people. Personally, veganism is such a core part of my value system, and has revolutionized so many aspects of my life, that I just love having people who feel the same way. Plus it’s nice having people to eat with.

The sense of commoradery that community brings is a wonderful thing, and I’ve learned so much from others within it. That’s a big part of why I can’t stand gatekeeping.

Let me let you in on a little secret. I may not be a REAL vegan. For one, I suffer from a chronic illness which requires me to take medication containing lactose, derived from milk. Mercifully, even the harshest vegan gatekeepers usually give me a pass for that. The Vegan Society defines veganism as “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” So I call myself a vegan. Both because it represents what I strive for, and it’s the quickest way to explain my diet.

It is my opinion that any self defined vegan who claims that their lifestyle causes ZERO harm to animals is incorrect. Car and bike tires contain animal products, as do many other rubbers. Many necessary medications, like my own, unfortunately contain animal products. I don’t give up. Of all the things I believe about veganism, this may be the most important:

Veganism is an effort. 

So many people tell me “I’d like to be a vegan, but I couldn’t give up cheese!”. And I say, then give up everything but cheese. The label isn’t everything. Remember why you’re trying to live this way, and strive to do the best you can. I’ll always encourage anyone who wants to take any step in reducing their consumption of animal products. My own journey to veganism sure was less as the crow flies, and more like a drunken ramble to a joyous conclusion.

I’ve struggled my entire life with perfectionism. I still do. It’s funny how it always sounds like a compliment, but it’s really a fault. I’ve cheated myself and others so many times by not trying very hard because I couldn’t do something perfectly. Why bother at all if it’s not 100%? Bother with this because every plant based meal you eat saves lives, water, reduces your carbon footprint, and nourishes your body. Don’t let perfectionism stand in the way of you moving towards the values you want to live. Just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference.

Veganism as I eat, live, and breathe it is really quite simple. It is an extension of compassion. Don’t forget compassion for yourself.

 

Traveling as a Vegan: Do’s and Don’ts

DO plan ahead by making a list of quick and easy meals you’d like to eat on your trip. Pack snacks for your plane, car, or bus ride. My favorites are Larabars, air popped popcorn, and homemade trailmix made of dried fruits, nuts, seeds, and of course dark chocolate. If you’re eating in a way that most people are not, you need to take responsibility for your own food.

DO embrace the local cuisine of wherever you travel. Trying new foods is one of my favorite parts of travel. I literally chose my honeymoon destination based on it being one of the most vegan-friendly cities in America. You don’t have to miss out just because you’re a vegan, you just might have to do a little research before your trip about what options you may have. I just traveled to the Caribbean, and while most people think seafood, I gorged myself happily on fresh local produce. Plus you get to feel good about supporting local farmers and helping the environment by not eating as much food that had to be driven hundreds of miles.

DON’T be afraid to ask for a customized meal at restaurants. Sometimes they won’t have anything explicitly vegan, so you may have to get creative. You can ask whether or not a dish can be made vegan, or my trick in a pinch is to piece together side dishes and build my own meal. For example, when I get Mexican food I might just ask for a big plate of rice, beans, salsa, peppers and onions, and guacamole. If you’re going to pay for it and you treat the staff with kindness and respect, they will usually happily accommodate you.

DON’T give up your booze if you don’t want to. Most alcohol is vegan although some is not due to animal products used in the filtration processes. I use a site called Barnivore to check if the drink I want is vegan friendly. But remember how I just said I was in the Caribbean? Yeah, I was the rummy drink Queen.

DON’T succumb to pressure. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard “but you’re on vacation!” or “but you used to like this!” or “*someone’s* feelings will be hurt!” I’d be a very rich woman . Your health comes first, and only you own your body, so you need to do what you think is right. Other people can make their own choices, they don’t need to make yours. Your body belongs to you and nobody else gets a say as to what you put in it.

DO be food positive. Try to eat things you enjoy. There are more innovative and delicious foods out there for vegans every day, because we’re a growing population. Every time you order a vegan meal at a restaurant, thank you. You are using your dollar to cast a vote for what kind of food you want available. Plant based food is exploding and even meat giants like Tyson are taking note and investing in the plant based food industry. I truly appreciate anyone who casts a vote with their dollar by ordering plant foods. Remember why you are choosing veganism and try to think about all the amazing food you DO want eat, not what you DON’T want to eat. Love yourself and your body by giving it the best nourishment possible.

Why I Became a Vegan: The True Story

Many people ask why I became a vegan, and they get the reader’s digest version. “For my health”, I say. “Environmental reasons”, I might tell another. Every long-time vegan is familiar with the game of quickly sizing up whoever asks that question and trying to decide if they might care about animal welfare, the environment, or health causes. It’s similar to something I think many women are familiar with, which is feeling like you won’t just be seen as an individual, but as a representative for your gender, or, in this case, lifestyle. You want to say the right thing, basically. Well the truth is, I AM a vegan for all those reasons and a million others, but that’s not why I BECAME one.

I never put much thought into what I ate and how it affected me or the world around me until I was a teenager. I suddenly became very weight conscious and flirted with disordered eating behaviors that are still difficult to talk about. Ironically, a very low carb diet is what triggered my transition to veganism. It was very popular when I was in my early years of college, eating a lot of animal products and strictly limiting sugar, even from plants, to enter the body into a fat burning state called ketosis. Well, I’m not a nutritionist or dietitian or anything like that, so all I can tell you is, I hated it. Sure, I could go for a while avoiding carbs, but then I’d eventually binge on them. I spent a long time hating myself and my body, wishing I could just be strong and restrict my calories. I’ve never even been very big, my largest was 140 at 5′ 2″. Eventually I gave up entirely on low carb, and the pendulum effect took over. I wanted nothing to do with meat, eggs, or dairy, and I started eating as much fruit and vegetables as I could get my hands on. Convinced I was just hopeless, I stopped worrying about calories. When I was hungry I ate plants, and that’s it.

While I was ignoring the scale, I began to realize that I felt better and better. My skin was clearing up, I wasn’t so tired, and I just had a more positive attitude towards food. Something was coming back to me, something I’d known as a child but forgot as a young adult: food should be fun. I still 100% believe this. You have to eat to live, so why not enjoy it? I started to remember that none of the shame and frustration I’d associated with eating was necessary. None of it made me any happier. None of it made me any healthier. As I continued relearning how to love food, I began relearning how to love myself.I had more energy so I exercised. I wasn’t terrified of going out to eat because of the calories, so I spent more time with friends. I started to believe that I deserved to be happy, and I started to forgive myself for punishing  my body all that time. I felt like I’d woken from a daze and I could live again.  Over the next two years, 30 pounds dropped away unnoticed. No calorie counting, no restricting, just eating plants. So yes, I AM a vegan because I love animals, and I care about the environment, and I care about the health of my body. But I BECAME a vegan because it set me free. Eating is joyful, weight management is effortless, and I love myself.