"Are you man enough to be vegan?" said no one, ever. But why? According to most statistics, 79% of vegans are women. Even vegetarianism lacks that great of a divide, with only 59% identifying as female. So what's behind the gender divide when it comes to living a vegan lifestyle?
To be clear, veganism takes commitment. It's not a diet, nor a fad. When The Vegan society was founded in 1944, they laid out that "veganism is 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." Its ideology is mostly popular among the young, as it takes an environmental and civic consciousness to give up all animal products for the sake of the planet and of humanity at large—which is to say that it's a public act of empathy and hope to live a vegan lifestyle. And traditionally, those aren't "manly" traits.
Writer Melanie McManus wrote, "Meat is masculine. And eating it proves you're one tough dude." She recounts how American media has always uplifted the "man as hunter" trope, highlighting the hunter-gatherer image of the male as the family provider and strong predator in his own right. His consumption of meat signifies his dominion over animals, his ability to protect his clan, and his own virility, as his protein-rich strength suggests that he's a superior mate among his species.
As ridiculous as it sounds when laid bare in 2019, those are the driving connotations of meat consumption. McManus cites that meat has been advertised with sexual connotations up until 2017: "For years, burger chain Carl's, Jr./Hardee's ran commercials featuring beautiful, scantily clad women suggestively noshing on its hamburgers" before being discontinued in March 2017 due to public dismay.
Dr. Richard Twine, a senior lecturer in social science at Edge Hill University, agrees that evolutionary sexism is at play: "Meat remains for many men a stable, if arbitrary, hook on which to hang their gender identity," says Twine. In particular, men who have rigid views on gender identity and have internalized the (false) binary between the sexes have greater difficulty accepting the ideologies of veganism. Twine notes, "Men who are invested in inflexible models of masculinity as opposed to seeing gender identity as socially constructed and changeable tend to have more problems with the idea of compassion to other animals, as historically that has been antithetical to dominant models of masculinity." In contrast, "Vegan men are more likely to espouse a view of gender identity as changeable and refuse the notion equating meat with muscularity and masculinity," adds Twine.
Still, health concerns may convince some men to make the transition, in addition to open-mindedness and social awareness. Male vegan celebrities already include Liam Hemsworth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zac Efron, and even Bill Clinton, who began a vegan lifestyle after experiencing heart problems (after all, heart disease remains the foremost cause of death among men).
For other men, environmentalism inspires themto give up meat, if only for a vegetarianism lifestyle. Meat production is infamously responsible for a large percent of carbon emissions that contribute to greenhouse gases and ultimately climate change. Veganism has been called the "single biggest way" to reduce your individual carbon footprint, and with young demographics making vegan lifestyles trendy, more vegan options are becoming accessible in both fast food chains and common grocery store chains.
So how can we counteract this strange intermingling of food and sexuality after such a long history in human society? Manly men eat meat as a sign of strength, virility, and ruthlessness as a hunter-gatherer. Women eat plants because they're docile, passive, and weak. Veganism's strange divide between genders points to the deep-seated patriarchal and repressive stereotypes that have pervaded such everyday rituals as eating. As McManus points out, some even theorize that more women are drawn to veganism because it can disguise disordered eating habits; and based on known statistics, more women experience eating disorders than men (though more men than reported surely do experience eating disorders but don't report them due to stigma).
Laura Wright, professor and author of The Vegan Studies Project emphasizes, "The consumption of meat is so clearly aligned with white, heterosexual masculinity as to be, at his point, inseparable from it." She concludes, "Until straight, white men decide that they are willing to stand up to other straight, white men...and call them out for their racism, sexism, speciesism, and homophobia, then this is where we are, and this is why most men aren't vegan. I can talk all day about veganism, but who cares? I'm just a woman. The only way that any of this changes is that the people with privilege in these arenas recognize and renounce it. Loudly."