Many of us are familiar with the ongoing and recent disturbing actions of some mainstream vegan groups that aim to sell veganism while reinforcing problematic sexual politics of meat. I won’t fill up space discussing them in this post. If you’d like to read some excellent blogs on the subject, I suggest: Carol J. Adams’ post here, Vegansaurus’ post here, and Gena Hamshaw’s post here.
In light of certain vegan groups’ tactics that I believe greatly undermine the integrity of the vegan movement, I was very nervous when I saw VegNews‘ new “The Vegan Man Issue” on the newsstand. I was nervous because I like VegNews, and I knew there was a lot at stake for them to put out an issue focusing on man. I have worked with their advertising department (some really nice folks), and was once even offered their coveted residential internship while I was in college (I had to turn it down due to date conflicts with my study abroad program). I adore and admire many who write for them, including regular stars Laura Beck and Gena Hamshaw. I really appreciate and respect VegNews for supporting vegans of all backgrounds, and covering issues that many vegan media outlets do not. They regularly champion vegan minorities, authors, and organizations like Bryant Terry of Vegan Soul Kitchen, Jasmin Singer and her nonprofit media outlet Our Hen House, and Ari Solomon, vegan business owner of A Scent of Scandal and vocal advocate for queer-vegan rights. VegNews helps build vegan community, too. I’ve met some seriously awesome people at their sponsored vegan drinks in SF.
I was scared to read their latest issue, if only because I really didn’t want them to let us down. But I knew I had to buy a copy and review it on Queer Vegan Food. I read it cover to cover. There’s some great stuff in this issue: Gena’s wonderful kale chip recipe looks fantastic, Laura’s timeless wit and ever-useful advice column rocks as always (no more body shaming! hooray!), and there’s some other winning recipes, an article on environmentalism, nutrition advice, book reviews, and more. “The Vegan Man Issue” isn’t all bad, but I feel strongly that the stuff that’s wrong and damaging needs to be identified.
So here goes:
First, there’s the Editor’s Note by Elizabeth Castoria. The whole Esquire satire is weird at best, offensive at worst. Gendering VegNews as feminine (“I bat my editorial eyelashes”) and Esquire as masculine (“the rugged jawlines of your studly cover subjects”) is weird and confusing. I know Esquire advertises itself as a “guide for men who want to live a fuller, richer, more informed and rewarding life” but since when is VegNews a “women’s magazine”?
Then it gets even worse: the editor writes: “I don’t think you know what a man is.” That’s where I started to get interested. Great, I thought, VegNews will contest society’s problematic gender constructs. But editor Castoria doesn’t contest anything in her editorial; instead, she reinforces all of these constructs. Castoria writes: “There are men aplenty in your pages, many of whom even have the six-packs to prove it. You suffer no shortage of testosterone.”WHAT?! Since when is being a man contingent upon having a six-pack or testosterone? What if the tables were turned, and VegNews were writing to Cosmopolitan editors suggesting they were featuring “real women” because they “had the D-cup to prove it”? Do cancer patients who have low levels of testosterone suddenly no longer qualify as men, VegNews? What about transmen? What the heck are they trying to prove with this hormone discussion? This reads like VegNews is a magazine only for “women” that is doing a “men’s special” just like Cosmopolitan occasionally puts out special sections “for the boyfriend“.
This all feels so bizarre, and overall insulting to VegNews‘ diverse audience and scope. The editor’s note also suggests that vegan men are coming into more positions of power, without acknowledging that men in general have much more power in the world than women, and doesn’t establish that there might be some intersections or connections that anyone even remotely familiar with Carol J. Adams’ The Sexual Politics of Meat and the Pornography of Meat would understand.
VegNews does quote Carol J. Adams and someone named Jovian Parry, who is apparently a doctoral student in meat, gender, animality and pop culture at York University in the issue-anchoring article “The Evolution of Man,” but the article misses a few important marks. First, it promotes the idea of men being powerful as vegans without questioning what this power looks like in terms of gender, race, class, sexual orientation, ethnicity, abelism, etc. The rise of the power vegans articles seem to reinforce the notion that the powerful white male majority can stay powerful while being vegan. (A note about the ads: I have never seen this many full-page supplement and protein ads in the magazine! I guess they think “men” want to be advertised to about protein and supplements.)
The article also cites the case of how a Wall Street trader felt he was being called gay because he was vegetarian, but doesn’t point out the nuance of him being called anti-gay slurs as being homophobic. Why did writer Joshua Katcher not discuss how using a homophobic slur in reference to someone’s veganism is about homophobia, a subject this article never even broaches? I think that this example would have been a great opportunity to point out parallels between multiple oppressions, but VegNews writer Katcher passed. To visually reinforce the privileged white-male attitudes of the article, the overwhelming majority of the “evolved men” profiles at the bottom of each page of the article are of powerful white men who happen to be vegan. Perhaps this wasn’t intentional, but it’s a poor representative sample of the diverse man-identified people who represent the face of the vegan movement.
There’s more, but I feel I’ve shared enough. While I am glad to see that VegNews acknowledges the sexual politics of meat are at play for man-identifying vegans (and everyone else, too), “The Vegan Man Issue” only reinforces these problematic ideologies.
My veganism is first and foremost about my sense of ethical and moral responsibility to respect the lives of all creatures on this planet. I believe veganism is about inclusion and empowerment. It is about breaking down oppressive power structures that exploit human- and non-human animals of all stripes and species. I feel it is my responsibility as a compassionate vegan to draw attention to what I believe degrades and hurts human animals. When Quarry Girl exposed VegNews was using stock photos of actual meat, I held my breath and waited for them to recognize they were in error and change their ways. And they did! That’s the kind of magazine I think (and hope) VegNews wants to be–the kind that constantly looks for opportunities to improve and more effectively cater to their diverse readership. It is my hope that if enough of us weigh in, VegNews will recognize how they have blundered with “The Vegan Man Issue” and will take steps to ensure that sexism and heterosexism have no place in their pages. This is my hope, and it is my call to action. Thanks for reading.