“Your wife isn’t here. Aren’t you going to order real food?”
“Does she (wife) let you have steak in the house?”
Being a man who works in sports, I used to hear questions like these often and still do on occasion. Most of my formative years playing hockey were spent consuming pre-game meals featuring chicken and fish and countless nights in steakhouses where the only serious dilemma was going for the 16 or 24-ounce cut. When my vegan journey was starting, I would deflect these comments and do whatever I could to avoid the inevitable questions about protein, the taste of tofu, and how I could survive without chicken wings, turkey at Thanksgiving, and steaks large enough to feed a small village.
My vegan lifestyle has evolved in ways I never anticipated, with questions about my values and how to live an authentic and compassionate life. With this comes another question: why is consuming the flesh of animals considered to be masculine?
This question demands examination in a larger sense related to how we define masculinity in our culture. The days are obviously long gone where a man has to physically hunt (and maybe help with the gathering) in order to provide for his family. And with the rising costs of animal products, dollars are stretched further to provide food and other resources.
Compassion is a word that is closely associated with the vegan lifestyle and, in this writer’s opinion, a guiding constituent of masculinity. Choosing the path of least resistance typically revolves around doingthe things we’ve always done, for no better reason than that they are the things we have always done. In a world with scarce resources, we cannot afford to keep traveling this narcissistic path of denial.
The slightest bit of awareness can do amazing things in nurturing compassion. Once we acknowledge how animals are brutally slaughtered for our food or clothes, it is imperative to begin making small changes. Whether it’s donating a leather coat to Goodwill, embracing Meatless Mondays, or making your next pair of dress shoes the near-suede variety,
the capacity to reject the status quo of masculinity can be liberating and inspiring.
By recognizing the damage done to our environment by animal agriculture and transportation, we are empowered to join the waves of momentum now building for a cruelty-free way of life. By throwing off the chains of tradition and choosing the path of nonviolence, we can redefine what our culture views as masculine. Will it remain the flesh-eating, pill-popping, and swollen lout on the couch? Or is genuine masculinity found in the man who chooses vibrant and colorful foods that have taken the shortest route possible from earth to plate, and who carries this frame of mind out of the kitchen and into the world at large?
As these new tenets of masculinity continue to emerge, it’s only a matter of time before more cynics join the ranks of high-level athletes, entertainers and other game-changers looking to make positive choices for the prosperity of their bodies and health, animals and the environment.
An Arizona native who has lived in Minnesota, Montana, Texas and Saskatchewan, Canada, Matt Cunningham, VLCE now calls Colorado Springs, CO home where he works with USA Hockey in coaching education and player development. While playing college hockey at Minnesota State University, Mankato Matt earned degrees in Mass Communications and Sport Management. A graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Main Street Vegan’s Lifestyle Coach & Educator program, Matt is currently training for Ironman Arizona in November. His plant-powered lifestyle also fuels mountain biking, skiing and other outdoor pursuits. A certified yoga teacher, Matt’s interests include vegan fashion, travel, film and entrepreneurship. He writes the blog From the Ice to Ironman.