Colleen Patrick-Goudreau carves up the notion that there’s something manly about eating meat.
I’ve lost count of the number of times in the last 22 years my husband was asked if he would still be vegan if I weren’t around. Some have implied that I “whipped” him into giving up meat and that he would run for the nearest steak if I weren’t looking.
There has long been a connection in the public’s mind between eating meat and being masculine. Meat is macho; plant foods, effeminate. Meat connotes virility; plant foods, weakness. The media and those in the business of selling animal flesh (or cars or trucks or beer) reinforce these tropes with tired stereotypes and offensive ads, shaping the cultural perception that veggie burgers are for wimps, quinoa is emasculating and tofu will cause men to grow breasts.
Real men eat meat, so we’re told.
At this point, I know I’m supposed to counter these clichés by pointing out the fact that bulls and gorillas build muscle by eating plants and that countless vegan bodybuilders and endurance athletes are winning medals for their strength, speed and brawn.
And while that’s all true, that’s still a pretty myopic view of what makes a man. Having strength isn’t measured simply by the number of pounds you can lift. It’s also about standing firm in your principles, having the courage of your convictions and exerting control over your own choices. Conforming to social dictates and being afraid to challenge cultural stereotypes, or eat kale, doesn’t exactly signify strength, autonomy and independence.
Taking responsibility, possessing a sense of honor, showing respect and protecting the powerless — all of these are traditional masculine attributes to be proud of, and none of them are strengthened by the consumption of animals. In fact, I would argue it’s quite the opposite. Eating plants and sparing animals demonstrates concern, consideration and respect for others — and for self. The benefits are manifold and far-reaching.
My husband will tell you that he became vegan 22 years ago because it aligned with his intention to live simply and to let others simply live. It’s his strength of character I admire most, and that doesn’t come from eating a steak.
Real men eat plants, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
With a Perspective, this is Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.
Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is an author and animal activist living in Oakland.
This Perspectives piece was originally published June 30, 2021.