I get why vegetarianism used to be unmanly. No one likes the Neanderthal who says, “It’s partly health, partly ethical. Look, I don’t want to be the cave scold. You have your fun hunting woolly mammoths. I’ll stay here and gather with the ladies.”
But now that supermarkets rotisserie cook our factory-farmed chickens, there’s not even the danger of cutting a finger with a kitchen knife. The most dangerous meat eating most of us do is when we venture outside our hotel in Mexico. Yet a guy who orders a big bowl of kale and quinoa still seems like the kind of guy who would tell your wife you slept with a hooker at the bachelor party. Meanwhile, a guy who finishes 20 chicken wings is a man’s man. Which is ridiculous, since the way you have to eat those tiny wings makes you look like you’re at a tea party.
I eat meat. But I’m also a total wimp. If it were easy to eat more vegetarian meals, I gladly would. The only reason I ever cook beef or chicken is because I cave to my wife and son’s demands. I agree to meet people at hamburger joints because I don’t want to be pushy and suggest a different place. I once got chicken added to my Caesar salad only because my waitress was attractive and I have no training in saying no to anything a hot woman offers. I take the turkey sandwich offered at the meeting because I’m too lazy to get my own food later. I tend to just eat what’s around. When I do eat meat it’s usually because, ironically, I’m an anti-hunter.
Vegetarianism is a form of self-control. It’s the tough asceticism of Steve Jobs, who treated fish as an occasional indulgence. A two-year-old can down a soft, fatty cheeseburger, but to get through fermented tofu you have to be pretty tough. If manliness is Tough Muddering under barbed wire, Shackletoning across Antarctic ice and John Wayning away pain through gritted teeth, then it’s also eating your vegetables. To put it even more simply, there is nothing remotely feminine about how your farts smell after you eat broccoli.
Yet American manliness is irrationally defined by sloppy self-indulgence. It’s Henry VIII waving a turkey leg and having other people kill his wives. It’s John Candy eating a 96-ounce steak in The Great Outdoors and then having to goofily apologize that his gluttony made his son miss his date with a hot chick. It’s wrapping stuff in bacon and posting Facebook pictures showing how you wrapped it in bacon.
The feminization of vegetarianism continues because we let women control how it’s presented. You can’t eat a 96-ounce bowl of curried lentils while watching 100 screens of all the NFL games and choosing between 40 drafts on tap. No, you need to go to places like Café Gratitude, where you have to get items with names such as I Am Fulfilled (salad) and I Am Connected (hummus). I’m simply trying to order corn tacos, and I Am Embarrassed. The names of vegetarian dishes are always put in nonthreatening scare quotes, like “crab cakes,” or they’re cute puns, like “tofurkey” or “Fakin’ Bacon.” It’s like you’re having dinner with Hello Kitty. I wish more people would simply point out that beer is essentially vegan.
There are some attempts to make vegetables bold, like the blooming onion and the jalapeño popper. But we need menus with five-alarm carrots and portobello mushroom jerky. Pancakes, thanks to their stackability, have marketed themselves well. But most manly vegetarian marketing plans are like the one for Powerful Yogurt, which has a bull’s head logo and ads that brag about its 20 grams of protein that will give you better abs. This is brogurt that comes in blueberry açai, brags about being gluten-free and is way too focused on making me look at men with great abs.
Men aren’t helping either. Male vegetarians never ride around blasting Gwar from Hummers outfitted with gun racks (for skeet shooting). They always have ponytails and girlfriends who boss them around, and they listen to Phish. A study done at the University of British Columbia found that even vegetarian women find vegetarian men less masculine.
We have great masculine vegetarian role models, but we need to highlight them more. Mike Tyson is a vegan, unless you count the occasional human ear. Manly vegetarians have included Woody Harrelson, UFC lightweight Mac Danzig, Heisman trophy winner Ricky Williams, former NBA star John Salley and India, a country so tough, Pakistan is afraid of it despite all the musicals it makes.
Russell Brand, a vegan, has undoubtedly had sex with one of the women in this issue. Rip Esselstyn, who is a firefighter, triathlete and owner of the most manly name in the world, got his firehouse to go on his vegan Engine 2 Diet, despite the fact that his firehouse is in Texas. Former UFC fighter Luke Cummo is a vegan who drinks his own urine, which is the second manliest drink after grappa. There’s a whole group of badass power vegans: Bill Clinton, Steve Wynn, Mort Zuckerman, Russell Simmons and Biz Stone. Hitler was a vegetarian, and though he had plenty of foibles, he certainly was manly.
So whenever I’m in a manly situation, which is basically never, I’m going to order something vegetarian. As my chin drips with the blood of pomegranate seeds, I will tell my poker buddies, hockey fans or Rush concertgoers that I sustain myself with the earthy toil of farmers. Unless there are some hot chicks nearby. I don’t want them to think I’m a wimp.