Meatless Meals And Masculinity: How Veg*n Men Explain Their Diets
In the United States, women constitute most of the population of non-meat eaters. Likewise, the performance of ‘masculinity’ is often connected to the consumption of meat, such that expressing care for non-human animals by selecting veg*n foods can be seen as displaying a feminine trait. Indeed, some companies have attempted to capitalize on this narrative by encouraging men to “reclaim” masculinity by consuming meat. Situated in this context, this study analyzed qualitative data from semi-structured interviews with 20 veg*n men living in the Southeastern U.S., in order to analyze how veg*n men understand and explain their veg*n identity in relation to their broader identity.
The author noticed a number of interesting trends emerge from the data. For one, the vast majority of the study participants explained their dietary choice as motivated by rationality and research. In the U.S., people are commonly socialized to believe there is a gendered binary between reason and emotion. The “reason” side of the binary is more respected, and is also usually associated with men. Thus, the men were establishing that their choice should be respected based on the “superior” (and “masculine”) thought process through which it came about.
Additionally, many of the interviewees further situated their choice in relation to their class and education statuses. They emphasized seeking healthy, organic, local and sustainable food products, including “superfoods,” and were critical of processed or fast foods. These food choices are usually more available and accessible in white, middle- and upper-class communities, as is information about the ethics of many food choices. Despite this, the participants usually ignored the structural issues at play and attributed higher morality to themselves and those making similar food choices, while denigrating others who did not follow a veg*n diet as “lazy,” poorly educated, or otherwise inferior.
The author concludes that veg*n men may understand their veg*n identity in terms of a collective identity and a “redoing” rather than an “undoing” of gender. First, they see themselves as part of an elite group that is respectable and admirable for its morality. They simultaneously use masculine discourses to explain a veg*n diet in a masculine way, thereby “redoing” masculinity to include veg*n eating. As such, they are reinforcing expectations of gendered behavior, although it may also be the case that middle- and upper-class identities allow for more flexibility in gender expression and loosen the connection between gender and dietary choice.