I grew up in a region tainted by toxic masculinity. When men in the North East get upset, they’re told to ‘man up’ and ‘get on with it.’ Crying is virtually taboo. Underfunded mental health services strain under the weight of depressed male adults, who often turn to suicide as their only way out. In addition, there’s a permeating ‘lad culture’ of going out with your mates and downing pints until you’re all so drunk you can barely walk. Wake up the next day and post on Facebook: “Mint night with the lads” despite being unable to remember it, or the girl you tried to pull on the dance floor.
It’s unsurprising then, that vegan men in the North East and elsewhere often hear about how manly steak is, or how meat keeps you strong and healthy and lads couldn’t possibly make the switch. As someone who comes from a martial arts and fitness background, it’s high time we address this pervading myth that meat is, in any form, a ‘manly’ thing to consume. Here are my favourite myths:
Would a lion eat grass?
This is often the first thing people spout at me when I say I’m vegan. Females get this too, but I think it’s more of a ‘male’ argument. We like to associate ourselves with being ‘alpha’ – and lions are apex predators that embody strength, power and savagery. I’ve been asked ‘would you want a lion to eat grass’ so many times as a justification for eating meat that I’m sick of it.
We are not lions. They are obligate carnivores; built to hunt, track and kill prey. They have no moral agency, they MUST consume flesh – raw. We, on the other hand, can exist easily without meat. We have the intelligence to see what we’re doing to animals in factory farms, and to choose to not consume them. Lions do not. We would sicken and die if we ate carrion or raw flesh like lions do. Plus, comparing yourself is silly, really. Shy of a gun or bow, would you ever go toe to toe with a lion to prove who is the better predator? Even with a weapon, I know I’d think twice.
Eating plants makes you ‘soft’
I’ve had this one tossed at me before, usually in the guise of ‘does this mean you’re a hippy treehugger now?’ It seems odd to me that having compassion for animals is viewed as a bad thing, at the same time as a video of a man saving a cat from a wildfire in California or a man dragging a dolphin back into the sea goes viral. Somehow, people assert that being vegan makes you some kind of compassion elitist, that there’s a limit to the empathy you should have.
I call bullshit on that. The measure of a person is how they care about others. How they interact with the world, and the kindness they show. That doesn’t make a man less of a man – if anything, it makes you more.
We hunted and survived on it when evolving; we should keep doing it now
The caveman argument is brought up often, as if comparing ourselves to our ancestors is a good way to gauge morality. The same ancestors who died young, killed each other over tribal issues and could be finished off by an infection from a graze. It’s true; humans evolved the way they did partly due to learning to cook and consume flesh. However, we now live in a society where virtually all of our meat is farmed. Is it masculine to wander down the supermarket and pick up a steak, then throw it on your grill?
We need meat for ‘gains’
Go and Google search Nimai Delgado. He’s an IFBB pro, and has never consumed meat – ever. Regardless of whether he’s natural or not (almost all pro bodybuilders have taken steroids) he’s an example of how you categorically do not need meat for ‘gains.’ Meat is not associated with muscle – it’s the protein within meat that is. Plant foods are abundant in protein, but many newcomers to the vegan diet can’t work out how to build protein rich meals. That said – protein overconsumption is also a problem. We shovel down chicken breasts, drink protein shakes and rush to the gym, generally underfuelling with complex carbohydrates and forgetting entirely about micronutrients.
Plus, the more I read about meat’s association with heart attacks, kidney disease and more, I’m not sure how viable animal protein is as our main source of protein. However, I’m not a nutrition expert so I’ll bow out at this point. Take a look at Nutritionfacts.org, a not-for-profit website ran by Dr. Michael Greger, and learn for yourself.
All that said, we do not need to eat meat for gains – nor is it hard to replace the meat with plant protein. You can even continue to chug protein shakes if you want to, there are plenty of plant-based powders around now.
So, we’ve covered some of the main masculine bullshit that gets thrown at me for being a vegan male. There are plenty more, but for me it all comes down to one thing. Do you feel an innate desire to protect animals when you see them? If you do, that makes you caring. And for me, that’s all I need to feel like a ‘real man.’