Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Does Being Vegetarian Make One a "Girly-Man"?

There are a great many issues that interest me about vegetarianism. The effect of the meat industry on the environment, the health effects of a heavily meat-oriented diet on our bodies, the health effects of a mostly vegetarian diet on our bodies, the cost factor in maintaining this way of life, the social stigma involved in the transition, the Jewish response to all of these questions, and of course the obvious moral and ethical dilemmas, are only some of the questions that I hope to answer for myself throughout this month. I must confess that I was heavily into my research on factory farming and noxious pollutants when The Husband expressed his greatest fear about my project. I was fully prepared for an extended whine concerning his suffering from malnutrition or his ambivalence toward tofu. I never saw this reality coming. My man was concerned that becoming a vegetarian would affect his masculinity in the eyes of his friends. He stated it bluntly.

"I don't want to be seen as a "vagiterian"!

I nearly fell off my chair laughing. The pun was priceless and extraordinarily clever, but it was a perfect elucidation of his point. Does adopting a vegetarian diet make a man feel less like a man?

Now, please understand. I have occupied the estrogen space in this house alone for the last twenty-five years. Being the only woman in a house full of men has taught me a great deal. No matter how enlightened they are, and no matter how feminist-conscious I have attempted to make them, they still are men and certain behaviours are in-bred. Toilet seats will always get left raised in a full salute. The Sports Illustrated swim suit edition will always be the only issue that is physically fought over. My boys loved stuffed animals when they were children, but they naturally gravitated toward video games. They both love to read, but while my idea of a classic is anything by Jane Austen, theirs is anything by Hunter S. Thompson. They like Borat and Judd Apatow and hate romantic comedies with Sandra Bullock. They love the theatre, and I have even managed to instill within them an appreciation for musicals, but they both gravitated towards Rent and Spring Awakening and loathed Hairspray. I get it. They are men, and men have a different way of viewing things then do women. So, when The Husband stressed over becoming a "vagiterian" I may have laughed, but I took the concern seriously.

There is a perception that has been fostered of man eating meat. A prehistoric male hunting and gathering and hauling the kill back for a meal. Fred Flintstone and his brontosaurus burgers and pterodactyl wings. Think of King Henry VIII holding a turkey leg or middle-ages knights dining on hindquarters of mutton. King Henry holding a tofurky drumstick doesn't quite fit the image, does it? Roman orgies wouldn't have the same cache if they only served stir-fries and couscous.

Men like meat. It is built into the DNA. They revel in the masculinity of finishing a 20 oz steak at the finest restaurant in the city, and bragging about the "meat sweats" in the aftermath. They discuss grilling and barbecues as lovingly as they discuss cars. They drool at the thought of chicken wings and ribs at their Super Bowl parties, and they mock those who eat said food with utensils. Real men gnaw on the bones. (Insert grunts and barks here!) The Husband was worried that he was going to be ridiculed for giving up that which he considered a vital part of his virility. In short, he was concerned about peer pressure and getting beaten up on the playground. And he would not be all that far off in his assessment.

In the vegetarian population, women outnumber men by almost 2 to 1. According to a 1992 Yankelovich study commissioned by Vegetarian Times, of the 12.4 million people who call themselves vegetarian, 68 percent are female while only 32 percent are male. There are some reasons behind this discrepancy, but the most obvious is health. The number one reason that most vegetarians forgo meat is to improve their overall health. Figures show that women tend to play a more proactive role in their overall preventative health care. Because women tend to pay more attention to health matters, they are more likely to change their diets in response to a health concern. Animal rights is another reason that people turn from eating meat. Men are certainly involved with animal rights organizations, especially in the upper echelon of these groups, but almost 80% of the membership of these groups are women.

There are recent concerns about what eating a meat-free diet and what excessive amounts of soy-based products specifically, will do to a man's testosterone levels. Anytime a report messes with manhood, there is a reflexive spasm that seems to occur in all men to grab their crotches. While all of the evidence certainly isn't in yet, the mere mention of raised estrogen levels is enough to scare off even the most enlightened man. There are other sources of protein that can replace soy in a vegetarian diet, and hopefully these will be enough to quell The Husband's fears, but the social stigma still remains. Holding up famous vegetarian figures like Jim Carrey, Albert Einstein or Paul McCartney does nothing to help the image that vegetarianism is girly. A few high profile pro athletes stepping forward, or an action star or two would certainly help the cause. How do we convince men that healthy and ethical eating is not effeminate? How do we turn "vagiterianism" into vegetarianism? Real men want to know.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps if they had to wrestle with the tofu and hunt down the black beans, then they would feel better about it?