I saw a Coca-Cola commercial recently that got me thinking about my choice to be vegan and people’s reaction to the news.
The commercial jumps around to different tailgaters at various football games and they proclaim that Coke goes great with steaks, brats, hotdogs, crawfish, wings, ribs, subs, burgers, etc. After these meat grillers, they cut to a 20-something dude who proudly declares, “Hummus!” as the pre-game food he’s brought to the party. Immediately, the music scratches to a halt and we smash cut to a crusty brisket-eater with a bushy mustache and cowboy hat; he sneers, “Humm-what?”
It’s as if this guy wants to hunt down the clown who brought the offending hummus and beat him to death with the silver-plated truck nuts from his jacked-up Ford F-350.
“How dare you bring a non-meat item to a football-related event, you un-American, yellow-bellied bean-sucker!”
Why would hummus offend somebody?
And in a Coke commercial no less.
What’s your issue, Hoss? You have something against garbanzo beans you’d like share with the group?
The truth is, this commercial reminded me of what it’s like being a vegan.
(Full disclosure: I eat a shit-ton of hummus, so I’m a tad sensitive.)
It’s not as if the guy brought a platter of human body parts to share, or a platter of steaming yak excrement, but the reaction probably would have been about the same.
I recently sailed past my 2ndvegan birthday without fanfare (hurray for me though, right?), and it’s clear I’m still learning about life as a plant-based eater. Interestingly, one thing I never anticipated when I made the decision to go plant-based was navigating the reactions I’d get to my dietary decision to go rogue, which somehow made me a Benedict Arnold to masculinity and everything America holds dear.
Mind you, I don’t go dancing down the halls singing about the fact that I’m vegan with crispy jazz hands. I am not one to proselytize. In fact, I try not to bring it up.
Why? Because some people lose their shit.
Lately, I’ve become increasingly interested in how the news that I — a middle-aged, suburban white guy, husband and father of three — am vegan stirs up odd reactions in some people.
The whole thing can be puzzling and uncomfortable, but it has made me look at the world and our culture with a fresh perspective.
It’s made me realize that there are deeply embedded, cultural norms that my “vegan-ness” seems to upset. Somehow, I’ve overturned an invisible applecart and the carnivores around me have lit it on fire in protest.
It’s opened my eyes to how strong the programming is ingrained, especially in men.
Meat = manly.
Fruits and vegetables = sissified.
How did this happen?
Interestingly, women are, by and large, supportive and curious. They offer their kudos and encouragement and ask generally supportive questions:
Is your wife vegan?
Are your kids vegan?
Do you miss bacon?
What do you make for dinner?
Do you feel better eating that way?
These are totally different from the questions some guys ask me when they hear the news:
Where do you buy your tampons?
Do you want me to kick your ass now or later?
How do you barbecue plants?
Do you enjoy life as a wuss?
What kind of man are you?
That’s right, from roughly 40% of guys I get an aggressive, hostile reaction, sometimes with humor but often with disgust and revulsion, as if I had just complimented their glutes and given them a very wet willie.
What the hell is going on here?
Is this some atavistic impulse that the male who doesn’t eat meat from the tribe’s hunt is possibly ill, and should be turned out into the wilderness at the tip of a spear?
Is it brainwashing from the meat industry that men need meat to be big and strong so that they can move furniture, hog the remote and watch ESPN highlights when “This Is Us” is starting?
Perhaps you think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. And it’s not like I’m from a manly and macho state like… um… Texas or Alabama or Alaska. (Apologies, but those were off-the-top-of-my-head “manly” states). I live in California, for God’s sakes, where you can actually spot a man wearing clothing from lululemon on a daily basis.
Can we agree this country is eating itself to death? American men, on average, die five years earlier than American women (and that lifetime is shrinking for the first time in decades). The obesity rate for adults in the U.S. is now over 31%, a jump of 5% in just one year! America is leading the world in obesity, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease and other diseases impacted by poor diet. So why all the antipathy toward plants?
After all, processed meat (bacon, ham, hot dogs, sausages) was recently declared a Group 1 Carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, which puts those foods in the same class as mustard gas, formaldehyde and arsenic.
So why do some guys get pissed when they hear I’ll have a salad instead? Sheesh.
This will take some more noodling on my part. Nevertheless, I believe the plant-based revolution has started. It will be an uphill climb — up a very greasy mountain of bacon! If nothing else, these reactions reveal the deeply-embedded grip the meat and dairy industries have on our culture after decades of effective messaging. Good for them, bad for us.
Maybe you have two cents you’d like to chip in on the subject. Let’s have it. Please comment below, and feel free to unleash your vitriol to prove my point.
Be sure to read my other musings on going plant-based: