If meat consumption is one of the factors in destroying the planet, giving humans cancer and heart disease, contributing to 11 million deaths worldwide, then perhaps it’s time to look to veganism as a potential solution for both the global health of humans, and the health of the earth itself. But there’s one thing standing in the way: gender politics.
At this point in time, the global climate is changing rapidly because of humans, and the earth cannot sustain itself under the stress that animal agriculture induces. Each pound of commercial meat takes 12 pounds of grain to produce — each pound of beef produced requires 1,799 gallons of fresh water. The production of animal products and the mass death of animals for human consumption is destroying the planet.
As a vegan myself, I know there is no sugar-coating the reality: meat is not a sustainable, or arguably healthy, food source. It is an ongoing system that promotes the undue cruelty and death of animals for the pleasure of humans.
So why does it continue to be seen as a symbol of manliness to eat meat?
Meat, masculinity, and the intersection of the two have been investigated by countless social scientists. The most famous and well known may be Carol J Adams in her 1999 work The Sexual Politics of Meat.Adams investigates and details the relationship between advertisement, meat consumption, and the patriarchy, determining that in American media, meat has been gendered and deemed a symbol of masculinity in order to boost sales.
To be frank, the earth is too fragile to accommodate animal agriculture for the sake of fragile masculinity.
In a Twitter poll directed at men, 45 per cent of respondents reported their biggest barrier to leading a vegan diet was social stigma. Thirty-nine per cent responded their biggest barrier was masculinity. But why?
In reality, vegan men who look like Nick Squires, a champion powerlifter and vegan of five years, are combatting that narrative. When asked about his relationship with masculinity and powerlifting after he adopted a vegan lifestyle, Squires said, “There’s so much in the way of traditional gender roles that I think cause men to be reluctant about veganism. Putting aside the misinformed conception that you need animal proteins to build muscle, there’s an idea that men need to be muscular, and to most people this is tied to the consumption of animal products.”
When I asked him what he thinks it will take for more men to take on a vegan lifestyle, Squires said that he thinks that unfortunately appealing to traditional gender roles may be the way to go. “I’d love to say that I hope the idea that empathy will stop being viewed as feminine, but I don’t know if that will happen. What’s more likely is that the rise of vegan men will be caused by the more traditionally masculine packaging or advertising of vegan food products, as well as the presence of high-profile vegan men who exhibit traditionally masculine physical traits.”
He continued, “If you look at the phenomenon of the term ‘Soyboy’, there’s this pervasive idea that a man who doesn’t consume animal proteins is feminine, weak. Fast food commercials sexualising women to sell burgers, Father’s Day sales on BBQs, TV characters like Ron Swanson — don’t get me wrong, one of the best characters in television — [are] all subconsciously telling us that eating meat is masculine.”
You can still have your bacon cheeseburger, you can still become a champion powerlifter, and you can prove your mental strength by resisting a narrative which only benefits advertisers and people who don’t believe in climate change. If you care about the planet, veganism, or even just reducing your own dietary risks, then men: it’s up to you to make the change.