Vegan Dating: When Men Fake It to Make It

Heart-Beets-Arugula-Salad

I went vegan at 17, about the same time I started dating. Since then, I can probably count on both hands the number of men interested in me (I am straight) who declared themselves vegan as though it were the next level up from flowers and candy.

Many vegans consider themselves what obnoxious news journalists label “vegansexual.” That is, vegans like to date other vegans. For some, it simply comes down to the fact that kissing someone who’s just slurped down a cup full of frozen cow lactation is just gross. For others, dating nonvegans can be an intensely frustrating experience because veganism is such a strongly held political position. If someone able to do so does not care enough about the suffering of others to stop eating and wearing them, vegans will wonder if this is the kind of person they want to commit themselves to.

Of course, very few vegans were born vegans. Many were once those very same politically apathetic milkshake-drinking folks, easily in a position to be vegan but not especially interested in doing so. Of course, some are structurally marginalized from veganism and are never deserving of shame or exclusion; the “choice” to go vegan is not readily available to all. It doesn’t help to be close-minded. People can and do change. Circumstances change, too. “Vegansexuality” ignores the potential.

Another consideration is the inherent limitation of a small dating pool. At around 1% of a given country’s population, there’s just not many folks to pick from. Speciesism is still very much a social norm. I’ve been a country girl for most of my life, and you don’t find many vegans outside major metropolitan areas. This has meant for me that vegansexuality has not always been a realistic lifestyle.

While I have been relegated to dating nonvegan men without much choice, the other side of the coin is that these nonvegan men are probably dealing with a vegan for the first time and they simply don’t know how to act. For someone only loosely aware of what veganism is all about, it might not seem like such an offense to jump on the vegan bandwagon to get the girl.

In some ways, I can appreciate the gesture. Many of these fellas just want to demonstrate that they’re willing to be the man they think I want them to be. They want to show some sort of interest in my interests. Certainly, they’re a step up from the occasional macho-man wastes-of-my-time who felt the need to remind me every so often, “I eat meat, I’ll always eat meat, there’s nothing you can do to change that!” I also enjoy going to a restaurant and not feeling like an alien. The luxury of informing the wait staff that, “We’re both vegan!” when unfurling an order laden with special requests does not go unappreciated. Neither does a home-cooked meal prepared by someone other than myself for a change.

For the most part, however, the gesture backfires. It’s kind of like those movies where the male protagonist borrows a baby or a puppy to impress his lady love. Parenthood is a serious commitment. Much like veganism, it isn’t something you take on lightly. Speaking honestly, becoming vegan is a relatively big life decision—you’re changing most of your eating and purchasing patterns and you’re going to be the sore thumb at family gatherings for a couple of years at least until everyone gets used to it. I would think that most people might actually want to learn about the issues first and try to understand why doing something that’s initially such a pain is actually worth doing.

This lack of sincerity makes a difference. Inevitably, when the relationship fails to materialize or fizzles after a few weeks or months, these men generally return to consuming Nonhuman Animal products. When it’s clear I’m not interested in them, suddenly being vegan is “too hard” or it drops from their radar completely. I can’t help but assume that their putting on a vegan front is a red flag that they would be deceptive in other areas of the relationship as well.

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It is worth noting, however, that three men that I’ve dated went vegan and actually stayed vegan. What was the difference? In getting to know me, they also became familiar with the issues and my passion for social justice. They saw veganism as a political action and went vegan for the animals, not for me. In fact, two were vegan for months before they finally admitted their transition to me. One of them told me outright: “I didn’t want you thinking I was doing this for you.” Our relationship ended in 2007; he’s still vegan.

For me, veganism is an intensely serious commitment. I am vegan because I am a social activist fighting oppression. I am vegan because I believe Nonhuman Animals deserve equal consideration. I am vegan because the consumption of Nonhuman Animal products is also a human rights issue; speciesist industries impose immeasurable suffering on marginalized humans such as immigrants, people of color, and disabled people who labor in their dairies, slaughterhouses, and tanneries. Poor people in Western countries are concentrated in food deserts where toxic processed animal products are forced on them, laying waste to entire communities. They are also most likely to bear the burden of environmental chaos perpetrated by animal agriculture. Veganism is a struggle of life over death, freedom over oppression, and justice over exploitation. I don’t think it’s very cute when men reduce it down to throwing out their frozen pizzas just for a shot with me.

It is also manipulative. Instead of an honest presentation, these men are fabricating an illusion designed to deceive. Veganism becomes another creepy tool of the pickup artist. Men’s vegan-fronting in relationships is a feminist issue, too.

But it keeps happening. So, I simply sigh, smile, and say, “Good for you!” After all, the activist in me holds out hope that maybe they’ll actually get interested in fighting oppression and stick with it. At the very least, their being vegan for the next few weeks or months will, theoretically, save a few lives. When it’s over, however, it’s no surprise to me when I run into them later and they’ve got their hand in a bag of cheesy Doritos. I just roll my eyes and feel satisfied that I made the right call in passing him over.

It definitely gets old. The original version of this essay was written some years prior, and my impatience with the nonvegan dating pool has grown. Now that I’m in my thirties, I’m in a better position to negotiate. I’ve given vegansexuality a try. I met my current partner on a vegan dating site, and never once have I had to deal with manipulative pretenses of veganism with him or awkward only-vegan-at-the-table moments. Now my radical, rage-the-patriarchy feminism, on the other hand, is a whole different ballgame…

 

ARationalApproachtoAnimalRights

This essay is a revision of “Why I’m Not Impressed When Guys ‘Go Vegan’ For Me” first published on June 14, 2013 with a now defunct feminist blog. You can read more about gender and veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies with Monmouth University, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory.

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Vegan Feminist Family Planning

Content Warning: This essay constitutes a trans/intersex exclusionary discussion of birth control. It also focuses on heterosexual relationships.

Not Safe for Work: Contains a discussion of family planning which, while not graphic, may not be appropriate in some office spaces.

A row of colored condoms

Have you considered if your family planning is vegan? What’s in your birth control? Was your birth control tested on Nonhuman Animals? Will the waste matter from their production and use harm free-living nonhuman communities? Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack tackle these issues in an advice column, “Is Birth Control Vegan?” which inspired me to think a little deeper about structural barriers in our activism.

They say the personal is political, and not much gets as personal as what we put into our bodies and how we express our sexuality. It makes sense to question how anthroparchy can shape our sexual relations. It is definitely worth asking how vegan your birth control is. However, it’s also worth asking how feminist it is.

Birth control has been lauded by the women’s movement as one of the great liberators from patriarchal confines. It freed women from mandatory motherhood and allowed them greater control over their life course. But birth control is not evenly enjoyed or evenly accessible.

Certain disabilities can seriously inhibit cis-women’s choices in hormonal birth control (for example, I have a hearing and balance disorder that is triggered by most mainstream products). Additionally, hormonal birth control can be extremely detrimental to women’s physical and emotional health. Among other things, it can cause debilitating depression, cardiovascular problems, and brain cancer. These are risks that men need not incur as a participant in the relationship.

GYN-visit

Indeed, the extreme burden placed on cis-women in heterosexual relationships is another issue we should consider when discussing vegan family planning. Obtaining and maintaining a birth control regime, especially for poor, teenage, uninsured, or undocumented women, is very difficult, expensive, time-consuming, and often physically and emotionally uncomfortable or traumatic. 

In the poor Appalachian community in which I grew up, uninsured girls and women would have to make multiple phone calls, make multiple visits, wait hours in the understaffed community health department, endure humiliating and sometimes painful exams, and sit through condescending lectures about sexual health by staff who presume that if you can’t afford birth control, you must also be ignorant of basic body functions.

Even after all of these hoops of fire vulnerable women are expected to jump through (and few will), they can still be expected to pay based on their income or that of the person with whom they are living. I can remember vividly the shame of being turned away when I couldn’t afford the ten dollars my health department required for reduced cost birth control. 

At the end of the day, it’s nobody’s business how anyone seeks to manage their own sex lives. We’re vegan in an imperfect world. If you can access vegan birth control and it doesn’t negatively impact your health, that’s brilliant: please keep doing that. If you cannot, don’t beat yourself up about it. There are some structural issues that are very difficult for activists to impact or to circumvent when living our politics. Much of our vegan philosophy is developed by elite, native-born, insured, well-paid, able-bodied white men. Their idea of perfection isn’t realistic for many marginalized communities. At least not yet.

Incidentally, vegan condoms are available. I have seen them for sale on vegan websites like VeganEssentials.com. However, their cost and the inconvenience of mail order means that even this option has its limitations (and condoms only have about an 80% real-world success rate in preventing pregnancy, 98% in “perfect” circumstances). Continued vegan activism will ensure that affordable vegan birth control will be more accessible as veganism popularizes. In the meantime, do the best you can.

 


Corey Lee WrennMs. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Activist Vegan. She is a Lecturer of Sociology with Monmouth University, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. In 2015, she was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory.
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The Sexual Politics of Breast Milk in the Amazon

Content warning: Contains images of victimized Nonhuman Animals.
Not Safe for Work: Contains images of people unclothed.

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Image credits: Domenico Pugliese | Image was not altered by VFN

In a story with Bored Panda, a photographer’s account of an indigenous tribe in the Amazon highlights the practice of breastfeeding nonhuman species. The above image is used to bait readers into clicking and visiting the site, suggesting that the practice is considered shocking and strange.

From a vegan feminist perspective, this “click bait” is intriguing.

Why stigmatize when humans breastfeed other animals? It erodes that hierarchy of power and dominance–it reminds us that we are all animals.

SqA cow being milked by machineuirrels aren’t the only opportunists. Many humans consume enormous quantities of nonhuman breast milk. Importantly, it is mechanically collected. Why is it stigmatized to drink directly from the breast of other animals? Again, it reminds us that we are animals. Separation also helps to commodify and objectify the persons exploited in the process. This is necessary because intimacy and empathy disrupt oppression.

It should also be noted that breastfeeding in general is rather stigmatized in the “developed” world. Again, this likely has to do with breast feeding reminding us that we are animals, too. Of course, it also uses a sexualized body part for something other than male pleasure, a cardinal sin in the patriarchy.

As shocking as these images may be to some readers, humans breast feeding other animals is not new or unheard of. It is, however, rarely visible in patriarchal, elite-run media spaces and historical accounts.

Image credits: Domenico Pugliese

Image credits: Domenico Pugliese

What is also interesting from this story is that the Bored Panda story fails to include any images from the collection that depict animals in various states of death, decay, and butchery. This gruesome theme featured prominently in the original photographer’s gallery.

But nonhuman suffering does not fit into the journalist’s one-with-nature paradise narrative. Consider the images below, for instance. Bored Panda chose to share the image of a man kissing a monkey, but did not include the image of the monkey broiling for dinner.

The photographer is quoted:

They feed the squirrels and monkeys like they feed their kids, breast feeding. [ . . . ] It highlights how far we have come from where we were. [ . . . ] They are so close to nature. [ . . . ] In fact, it is not even close – they are part of nature.

Indeed, indigenous communities are frequently subject to this romanticization, a process that is objectifying in itself. Inaccurate and infantilizing, these stories make good entertainment for the perceived white audience in the West.

Image credits: Domenico Pugliese

Image credits: Domenico Pugliese

Image credits: Domenico Pugliese

Image credits: Domenico Pugliese

 


Corey Lee WrennMs. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. She is a Lecturer of Sociology with Monmouth University, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. In 2015, she was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory.

From Domestic Violence in a Homophobic and Meat-Centric Country to Animal Rights Activist: Destroying the Hero Worship

Trigger Warning: Discusses sexual abuse, domestic violence, heterosexism, eating disorders, and suicide.

Destroying-the-Hero-Worship By Raffaella Ciavatta

Before I dive into this article I have to confess that writing it was not an easy decision. I’ve been wanting to write about it for a very long time but undressing myself before the eyes of people I’ve never seen, talked to or interacted with in any way can open the door to a lot of hatred. But it also opens the doors to all of you out there, who can relate to my experiences, and my hope is that you too, can turn violence into activism. This story is for you, brothers and sisters.

Pink flowery sheet set up as a tent with blankets and pillows insideI too have regarded women as prizes. I am no heroine. And for that I am sorry.

I was born and raised in Brazil, a tropical paradise, people say, where everyone is always partying, LGBTQ flags flapping on a hot breezy day, gunshots and pools of blood, a country which has as many steak houses as the U.S has Starbucks’ stores.

Growing up there was far from paradise. I discovered glimpses of my sexuality at a very early age, so young I’m not sure how old exactly I was but I’m going to estimate 5 years old. I remember this girl came to play with me and I took her to my bedroom. I loved to pretend I was camping so I used to make tents with my bed sheets. I invited her in. I kissed her. We touched each other.

About a year later, age 6 a man came to live with us. I’ve always had a talent to read people and I knew something about him was terrifying. I refused to call him father not because I was jealous that my mother was with someone but because I could smell the violence in him. I called him “Big Bee” (if you translate it from Portuguese), probably because I had been stung by bees before and I knew it hurt a lot.

Like most predators, he took some time to unveil his true self. Before that he had to gain our trust and approval, which he tried to get from me by buying me things, taking me to places I wanted to go, and by supposedly making my mother happy. I pretended to give him my trust but inside I was shaking.

Then the days when he would come home somewhat drunk started. At first it was because he had a bad day at work, long hours of art direction call for some whiskey. Those days started to get more frequent, the tone of his voice started to raise, his hands also started to raise. I put myself between him and my mother day and night, I begged him to stop, leave her alone. For some reason I knew I was immune to him. I didn’t fear for my life, I feared for my mother’s.

Every night I knew he was coming home because I could hear the revving sound of his car entering the garage. Sometimes I would hear it for minutes because he was too drunk to drive through it. I would never fall asleep before knowing he had arrived, even when it was very late and I secretly hoped he would die alone in a car crash. But he never did. He always came back.

Car headlights at night

He would come straight to my bedroom since my mom had started sleeping with me. Sometimes she would come out to talk to him. Inevitably I had to go out to stop him from beating her because he always did.

I studied a lot then, from 8am to 4pm. I loved school and I hated home. I never told anyone about what was happening at home. I became so hollow and cold I remember this one time I was looking at myself in the mirror, forcing myself to cry right before I went to school to see if one of my friends would notice so I could tell them what was going on. Not one single drop came out. I grinned and beared. It was almost relieving, to live this double life. In the eyes of the world I was just this kid, innocent and naive.

The drinking then started to happen at home. He would sit in his study, writing his pathetic poetry, pretending to be some kind of artist while quenching his thirst with a Johnny Walker bottle. He would fall asleep with his mouth open, in such deep sleep I imagined myself throwing all sort of disgusting things in it.

I have almost completely erased the 6 years of abuse from my mind without erasing the consequences of it, of course. But I vividly remember one night when I must have fallen asleep and I woke up to sounds heavy suffocation. I jumped out of bed. He was giving my mother a choke hold. My mother, someone who suffered from asthma, a choke hold. I jumped on him, I took him off her. I think this was also the same night when he had almost broken her wrist.

Leonardo Dicaprio, black and white image. He is young with shaggy spikey hair. Holding a large pair of plastic lips that read "kiss me"In anticipation of people saying I became gay because of an abusive male figure in my life, even though it’s a fact I was already attracted to girls before, I started to give boys more of my interest but let me point out, I was obsessed with Leonardo DiCaprio – androgyny anyone? I was reassured not all boys were abusive and violent but I knew I didn’t want to be with them.

Not long then my mother had a brain aneurysm, right in front of me. She told me she covered her face because she felt like her eye was coming out. She was identified with aneurysm pretty quickly. I told her it was going to be okay, but that she was going to look like Sigourney Weaver in the movie Alien – basically saying that she was going to have her head shaved, operated.

She survived. With no neurological damage. A true miracle if you ask me. It would all have been good if we hadn’t gone back home and it had taken another act of violence from him to finally dictate that we were leaving for good. I was in my pajamas.

Not surprisingly my sense of justice and determination to fight against injustices only grew bigger: the same way I felt it was my responsibility to protect my mother, I felt like it was my responsibility to also help others. “Trauma and activism appear to be in contradistinction—the former defined by exclusivity and concealment, being hidden and out-of-sight; and the latter by action, out-in-the-open, in public,” says Outspoken.

I had always been drawn to helping animals, cats and dogs for the most part, but insects, birds and fishes also. At age 15 I also thought I was helping women by getting involved in relationships in which women seemed to need my help with a specific issue: straight rebel girls who wanted to piss off their parents, girls who couldn’t feel anything at all, girls who were taking a break from their current relationship, later in life married women, women who were just as lost as me. I would immerse myself completely in them, ensuring that they were completely in love with me. It was almost like art for me, how they would put me up on a pedestal.

The cycle basically went down like this: get involved into a relationship with a woman who supposedly needed an issue resolved, be the heroine of the day, get bored because the “challenge” was finished, leave. A few things to point it out is that this cycle was very gradual. It was never about the sex, quite the opposite, I despised one night-stands. It was for me a narcissistic need for attention, to feel loved but to anticipate the inevitable destruction of that relationship and so be the one who leaves it first.

I would then start to destruct the relationship, usually by cheating. I have cheated on almost every single girlfriend I had and I had many – I will not get into detail of every individual since I don’t have the consent to share our story publicly. I had given them what I thought they wanted and it was time for them to be on their own. So I abandoned them. “If I could recover from all the atrocities I had gone through, they sure could recover from a breakup,” I told myself over and over again to justify my behaviour.

Those relationships made me feel alive, made me feel like I was in charge. Between my self-destruction spiral with anorexia, a disease in which one disappears to be seen, bulimia nervosa (and very shortly with alcohol), my attempt of suicide, and my struggle with homophobia (Brazil has highest LGBTQ rate of murder in the world), from verbal to physical abuse, those relationships were something I had control of and I didn’t even have to feel guilty about it: it was consensual.

Image of fox that contains quote: "You become responsible forever for what you have tamed"

My favorite character in The Little Prince was the Fox, “People have forgotten this truth,” the fox said. “But you mustn’t forget it. You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose.” My mother, seeing my vicious patterns tried to warn about the consequences. But I did not want to take love advices from her. Not after everything she had put me through.

I left Brazil to come to the US in hopes to leave my demons behind. But they followed me. I became involved in LGBTQ activism, feeding the homeless and became involved again into helping cats and dogs. My good deeds were still taking place while I continued to treat women like trophies, to self-destruct and of course, I continued to eat the flesh and drink the secretions of non-human animals.

It was time to go back to therapy. I was 26 and I was still getting involved in relationships in which I was the heroine, bragging to my friends about my “adventures.”

In parallel I became the board director at a dog and cat rescue. It was then that I came to realize the hypocrisy into saving some animals but not all by watching slaughterhouse videos, today I recommend this one. Long story short, I went vegan overnight, and most importantly I became a vegan activist.

I knew I needed help. To understand why self-destruction was taking over my life and how I could end my relationship patterns. It was because of doctor Laura and over 1 year of intense therapy (this was followed by other years of therapy I had done) that I was able to identify my mechanisms and make sure my patterns were broken. It was not easy. It was painful, humiliating in many ways, but enlightening.

I am a product of a broken home, like Placebo would say. It is true that childhood trauma affects and changes someone forever:

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study is something that everybody needs to know about. It was done by Dr. Vince Felitti at Kaiser and Dr. Bob Anda at the CDC, and together, they asked 17,500 adults about their history of exposure to what they called “adverse childhood experiences,” or ACEs. Those include physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; physical or emotional neglect; parental mental illness, substance dependence, incarceration; parental separation or divorce; or domestic violence. For every yes, you would get a point on your ACE score. And then what they did was they correlated these ACE scores against health outcomes.

What they found was striking. Two things: Number one, ACEs are incredibly common. Sixty-seven percent of the population had at least one ACE, and 12.6 percent, one in eight, had four or more ACEs. The second thing that they found was that there was a dose-response relationship between ACEs and health outcomes: the higher your ACE score, the worse your health outcomes. For a person with an ACE score of four or more, their relative risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was two and a half times that of someone with an ACE score of zero. For hepatitis, it was also two and a half times. For depression, it was four and a half times. For suicidality, it was twelve times. A person with an ACE score of seven or more had triple the lifetime risk of lung cancer and three and a half times the risk of ischemic heart disease, the number one killer in the United States of America. (Nadine Burke Harris 2014)

Do my destructive relationships have do with my past? Absolutely. But it does not excuse me or anyone else from seeking help. Multiple times if you have to. Our past cannot be used as an excuse to justify our actions.

Author stands at protest holding a poster of a pig that asks, "Will You Let Me Live?"

I overcame my personal trauma and transformed it into a catalyst for activism. It was most likely because of my trauma that fighting against injustices was so dear to me. However, as you have seen, I am no heroine. Despite my exhaustive dedication to Animal Rights and for that matter, to all forms of oppression, I have treated women like trophies. I have never been a predator, or engaged in any form of nonconsensual act but I have used those relationships as a way to feel empowered and then to self-destruct. I have also never shared anything about the women I was with publicly without their consent but I have disregarded the feelings of countless individuals.

What triggered me to write this article was the return to Facebook of Hugo Dominguez, former Direct Action Everywhere organizer, who has admitted to sex crimes. I see a few parallels between us, this is why I want to bring him into this story.

Hugo may have acknowledged his behaviour but he hasn’t actively and truly sought help. Someone who wants to get better will remove themselves from situations that will trigger the behavior again, and in his case his attention-seeking addiction is being fed by his latest return to Facebook.

I too have regarded women as prizes, so I know exactly where Hugo stands. I too have moved away from my country trying to escape my past, I too have taken a few months to reflect but those were band-aids on a hemorrhage. Overcoming a vicious behaviour takes time and commitment. It also includes giving time and space to the victims.

I have described my upbringing in detail to inspire others who have gone through childhood trauma to seek help. Consciously or unconsciously I have let my past dictate my present but we must use traumatic experiences to push us forward, to help us and others grow. I sincerely hope Hugo can.

We have seen the dangers of hero worship, so please, let’s destroy pedestals and let’s embrace one another on the same level.

 

Raffaella

Co-founder of Collectively Free, Raffaella Ciavatta is vegan animal liberation activist, art director, poet, photographer wanna-be, DJ in some past live and most importantly… a big dreamer who makes things happen.

Of Breeders, MOOs and Overpopulation: Eugenics in the Animal Rights Movement

Trigger Warning: Post contains potentially upsetting discussion of eugenics, forced sterilization and racially insensitive commentary from the white-centric Nonhuman Animal rights community. Also references sexist, classist, and ableist positions that are responsible for considerable structural harm to vulnerable demographics.
Large crowd of people

By: Dr. C. Michele Martindill

Stories about overpopulation appear so often in the news and op-ed essays they are barely gets a second glance. Overpopulation is blamed for all the ills of the social world, everything from obvious social problems such as poverty and hunger to less known concerns such as climate change and deforestation of the planet. Rarely is the concept of overpopulation questioned or defined beyond citing the overall population of planet earth or particular nation states. It is easy enough to find the figures—earth now has an estimated population of 7,318,275,998 as of this writing (Current World Population, 2015) and the United States has an estimated population of 324,907,247. Whenever news stories question how to dispose of the vast amounts of garbage generated by such numbers or to address an environmental hazard such as carbon emissions the first thought is to reduce the population that is destroying the planet. Sociologist David L. Altheide, author of Creating Fear: News and the Construction of Crisis (2002), argues that such stories are morality plays that unfold in “news reports, reality TV shows,…and documentaries,…it is the world of predators and prey, criminals and citizens,…Stories tend to be told from the perspective (voice) of the victim or criminal justice agents; seldom do we see or hear the accused outside of a prescribed role, for example, in handcuffs (193).” In many respects overpopulation is a morality play, pitting the dominant elite white culture against Persons of Color, women and anyone living in poverty, those who are handcuffed.

Vegans are divided in their response to overpopulation stories, but they seem to agree something must be done to save the planet and the lives of animals. Some vegans are vocal in their belief that if the human population was reduced or even eliminated then animals would no longer be slaughtered for consumer products, and the environment would heal. In an effort to counter overpopulation scare tactics, there are other vegans who quickly assert how livestock production contributes to water pollution, desertification of the land, displacement of Native populations and carbon emissions, but they become mired in point-counterpoint debates over environmental science, giving scant attention to the human groups most affected by the overpopulation morality play. They suggest the solution is more education and accessible birth control so that women can make better choices and stop having such large families. The problem in each instance is the absence of critical thought regarding the use of the term overpopulation. Specifically, as long as the vegan animal rights movement frames the discussion about human procreation as a choice argument grounded in pseudo-concern for the fate of the planet and economics, the movement ignores a far more serious threat and deep contradiction to veganism: the advancement of eugenics, the belief that the human gene pool can and should be improved through selective procreation and forced sterilization.

Any overpopulation claim that fails to address eugenics and simply demands that humans have to stop procreating because the planet and its resources are threatened is nothing more than a pseudo concern for the planet, a concern meant to disguise racism, classism and sexism. Overpopulation is a socially constructed concept with a long history of being promoted by the white man cis gendered elite scientists and corporations of the world. Stripped of polysyllabic terminology and statistical arguments about environmental damage, overpopulation is nothing more than a nameless, faceless scare tactic. Its aim is to objectify the so-called unruly masses, to deny them their rights, and to glorify the wealthy elite by encouraging them to procreate and populate the world with their precious gene pool. Those who assert that no one should procreate regardless of social status still fail to acknowledge the sexism and racism of such a demand.

Cartoon with oil well exploding with people, reads, "The well is dry, but we've got a gusher of new customers"

Certainly there is an element of truth to the overpopulationist propaganda, e.g. climate change is real, but it has little to do with the number of humans on the planet and everything to do with the overpopulation of cattle (McKnight, 2014). Oil spills, deforestation and global poverty are not the result of overpopulation; rather, they can be directly linked to corporate greed, capitalism that regards the earth as nothing more than an endless supply of materials for consumer goods and the military-industrial complex that values war over investing in real peace keeping efforts such as feeding the hungry. Arguments against these and other overpopulationist claims can be refuted statistic by statistic, but such debate will do nothing to reframe the issues in a way that accentuates the hidden agenda of overpopulationists—their racism, sexism, ableism and classism. Any future dialogues need to focus on individualism, social darwinism and eugenics, the ideologies that underpin the entire overpopulation perspective.

The rift between overpopulationists and social justice advocates both within and outside of the vegan movement is growing, thanks in large part to the hatred of humans so frequently espoused by animal rights leaders such as Gary Yourofsky and his loyal followers. Off-hand comments about humans not deserving to live because they are responsible for all of the suffering brought on other animals are expressions of the overpopulationist dogma and based in individualism. In order to understand how social darwinism and eugenics work it is necessary to first look at the concept of individualism (see Note 1).

Individualism is the belief that each person is only responsible for their own self and will receive rewards—wealth, salaries, social position, education, access to medical care—based on individual merit. This belief system is used to support capitalism and to keep the working class motivated while performing mundane tasks in dead end jobs. As long as workers believe if they work hard enough they can rise in social class and accumulate wealth, they will continue to show up for work, not complain about working conditions and tell anyone who will listen that the company owners are heroes. Those who do not succeed are easily dismissed as individuals who did not work hard enough or long enough; it is their own fault for being failures. After all, the evolution of society can be summed up as survival of the fittest, just like in nature, right? Well, no.

Ever since the work on evolutionary theory by Charles Darwin became known there have been attempts to identify patterns of evolution in society similar to those found in plants and other animals. Policy makers have long thought it obvious that those living in poverty or with mental health problems were not as evolved as the wealthy elite class. Such a belief depends on a misinterpretation of Darwin’s theory of evolution. While Darwin was interested in how plants, for instance, adapted to a changing environment and described the process as natural selection (not to be confused with artificial selective breeding), he also observed how such processes occurred slowly and could not be seen in any one generation. He did not initially see the processes as some sort competition in which only the fittest survived or were rewarded in some way by nature. Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) is credited with coining the term survival of the fittest in relation to society, and then Darwin later used the term to refer to local, immediate adaptations to a given environment. As time passed, Darwin’s theory became equated solely with survival of the fittest rather than natural selection, and sociologists tagged the phrase survival of the fittest as social darwinism, usually used as a pejorative term. Sociologists were pitted against politically conservative policy makers who were trying to justify discriminatory legislation by claiming only the fittest humans should survive. Social darwinism—a pseudo-scientific claim—thus became the rationalization for individualism and the social policies that were based on individualism.

Darwin

Individualism also decries charity as unnecessary for the lower classes since they are responsible for the consequences of their own laziness, for financial troubles and for having big families or too many children. While capitalism depends on having a ready supply of workers willing to accept low pay and to sing the praises of the economic system that entraps them, capitalism bears no responsibility for the hardships related to poverty. What a perfect economic system!! The wealthy elite exploit the workers, cast aside the humans deemed unfit and manage to get the exploited masses to defend the entire system by keeping the hope alive that anyone can achieve THE AMERICAN DREAM!!

This whole notion of individualism or the American Dream, which is now a global belief system, can be seen throughout the industrialization and modernization of the States. Eugenics, the belief and related practices that any animal population, including the human population, can be genetically improved through controlled reproduction, dates back centuries, but became closely linked to individualism in the 19th century. Scientists who promoted eugenics or the eugenics movement of the 20th century were at first interested in controlled reproduction as a way to eliminate mental illness and other hereditary diseases. After all, if scientist Gregor Mendel could trace patterns of inheritance in pea plants in 1865, later scientists reasoned similar patterns might be traced in humans. Eugenics was the cornerstone of the Immigration Restriction League which was founded in 1894 to prevent those of certain races who might contaminate the superior American gene pool from entering the country. Literacy tests were proposed as early as 1897 to help identify inferior immigrants. In 1910 Charles Davenport founded the Eugenics Record Office and within the next twenty years the goal of the organization became preventing unfit humans from having any children.

By the late 1920s forced sterilization of those deemed unfit was widely accepted and laws based on a 1914 model statute were passed:

Advocacy in favor of sterilization was one of Harry Laughlin’s first major projects at the Eugenics Record Office. In 1914, he published a Model Eugenical Sterilization Law that proposed to authorize sterilization of the “socially inadequate” – people supported in institutions or “maintained wholly or in part by public expense. The law encompassed the “feebleminded, insane, criminalistic, epileptic, inebriate, diseased, blind, deaf; deformed; and dependent” – including “orphans, ne’er-do-wells, tramps, the homeless and paupers.” By the time the Model Law was published in 1914, twelve states had enacted sterilization laws (Lombardo, n.d.).

It is estimated that between the early 1900s and the mid-1970s over 60,000 people were involuntarily sterilized. Women were the main victims of forced sterilization, and at first many who were sterilized were already committed to mental institutions and labelled imbeciles. As sterilization became the norm, some victims were taken from their homes and reasons for sterilization included pregnancy while unmarried, general promiscuity, having a sexually transmitted disease or being a pauper. The reasoning by the thirty-three states with forced sterilization laws was that it was a way to prevent people from becoming a burden on society, especially if they had to be housed in a state run mental institution, receive some kind of public aid or be held in prisons. Also, at this time in history more and more immigrants were arriving in U.S. cities and they were being blamed for the rise in crime and poverty. Eugenics was heralded as a solution by medical professionals and city officials alike (Norrgard, 2008).

The majority of the country is shaded to indicate presence of laws

It is an understatement to say racism and eugenics are historically and inextricably linked. Throughout the eugenics movement Black women were regarded as responsible for passing traits to their daughters that would lead to a future of doom, lives of “poverty, delinquency, and despair (Sebring, 2007).”

During the 1950s in the US South white women faced economic, legal, and medical obstacles to their access to reproductive services such as contraceptives and sterilization procedures. During this same time family planning initiatives targeted women of color (particularly black women) encouraging the use of contraceptives and sterilizations in the interest of reducing the growth of the black population. Family planning initiatives were politically espoused by conservatives such as Strom Thurmond, as a racialized form population control in the interest of limiting black voter strength in the US South. State funding for family planning clinics frequently received popular support when associated with women of color, though the same was not true when associated with white women. Or, in the words of Louisiana judge Leander Perez, “The best way to hate a nigger is to hate him before he is born.” (Sebring, 2007)

Who were the women who were involuntarily sterilized? The overpopulationists have managed to objectify them as populations, robbing them of their names, faces and voices in the process. Efforts to compensate victims were and continue to be met with disdain as well as arguments that the state funds are better spent elsewhere. Such was the case in North Carolina until 2013 when the victims were awarded $10 million dollars after a prolonged battle with legislators. Elaine Riddick is one of the victims.

Elaine Riddick and Son

Riddick and Son

Elaine Riddick was raped and impregnated at 13 years old and, after giving birth to her baby boy Tony, she was sterilized against her will. Afterward, she lived for years in shame, but had something to prove.

“People need to know that injustice was done towards them and they need to be compensated for that,” said Riddick,…

Riddick has been a formidable advocate for her fellow victims, pressing North Carolina to make amends. But multiple attempts at compensation have not come to fruition.

On Thursday Riddick said she was amazed to learn of North Carolina’s plans to compensate victims.

“I tip my hat to North Carolina, finally they came to their senses and decided to do what’s right,” she said.

Still, Riddick added, the money isn’t enough.

“You can’t put a price on someone taking your womb or castrating you, it’s humiliating,” Riddick said (Naggiar, 2013).

It was not until after WWII that forced sterilization began to fall out of favor with proponents in the United States. People learned that Laughlin’s Model Sterilization Law was the inspiration for the law adopted by Nazi Germany in 1933, a law that legally sanctioned the sterilization of over 350,000 people. Laughlin was even awarded an honorary degree from the University of Heidelberg in 1936 for his work in “the science of racial cleansing” (Lombardo P. A., 2008). So, it was not the racism of sterilizing Black women that launched the move to halt the sterilizations, nor was it forced sterilizations of girls as young as ten. Furthermore, the laws were not changed based on the lack of informed consent. No. The laws were not challenged until it became embarrassing to be associated with the genocide carried out by the Nazis, a genocide that ran concurrently with a genocide of POC in the states.

Eugenics and forced sterilization remain in the news today. In 2013 it was revealed that 148 women prisoners in California were denied their right to informed consent and sterilized between 2006 and 2010. On September 25, 2014 California passed Senate Bill 1135 to “prohibit sterilization for the purpose of birth control of an individual under the control of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation or a county correctional facility… (Senate Bill No. 1135, 2014).”

In September of 2014 the vice chairperson of the Arizona Republican Party and former state senator resigned his position after making comments about the sterilization of Medicaid recipients:

“You put me in charge of Medicaid, the first thing I’d do is get Norplant, birth-control implants, or tubal ligations,” Russell Pearce said on his radio show, according to a transcript from the Arizona Republic. “Then we’ll test recipients for drugs and alcohol, and if you want to [reproduce] or use drugs or alcohol, then get a job (McDonough, 2014).”

Similar stories continue to be reported from around the world, including comments by self-described vegans. A recent Facebook discussion among vegans on the topic of over-population shows how someone in a position of privilege can become defensive at the mere suggestion of racism in the language they use to discuss procreation:

Commenter #1: I am always skeptical around blanket statements about procreation. For too long it’s been a form of racism to talk about POC women as “breeders” or “welfare queens.” Demands to end procreation also come from a classist perspective in that rural white women and POC women have been targets, including decades of pressure to be sterilized or in some cases being sterilized without consent. Which leads to the observation that arguments against procreation contribute to sexism when they silence the voices of women. Yes, women should have access to information about birth control and adoption, but not at the expense of a patriarchal society doing so simply to perpetuate patriarchal values. What we’re really talking about here is the need to realize how corporatism and capitalism combine to create all of these products that are destroying the environment and marketing them to the point people think they can’t live without them. It’s not procreation that is the issue, but rather how consumption is promoted as a way of life

Commenter #2: Everyone should stop breeding imo. Every color, rich or poor. Birth control should be free & always available worldwide imo.

Commenter #1: …did I really just read these words? ” Everyone should stop breeding imo. Every color, rich or poor. Birth control should be free & always available worldwide imo.” I’ll play nice and ask: Why in your opinion should everyone stop “breeding”? Also, the word “breeding/ers” is problematic in terms of socially reproducing racism.

Commenter #2: The world is severely overpopulated period. We need to give it a rest. Too many ppl too many unnecessary selfish problems. Breed means procreate nothing racist. [emphasis added]

It is common to find the words breeders and moos used among certain vegan overpopulationist factions in reference to women who give birth to children, and there can be little doubt those terms are both racially charged and sexist.

Banana Girl Freelee, a self-described vegan, uses similar racist, sexist and classist language in a recent YouTube video:

We need drastic action or else we’re goin’ down the shitter and we’re takin’ the rest of the species with us. We’re destroying all the other species, including ourselves. So obviously the load needs to be lightened on Mother Nature. We need to stop draining the f*cking resources until they’re all gone and so here’s what I propose: is that people have a test. They need a license, a permit before they procreate, before they have children. They need to pass a test…So, what does that test consist of?…They definitely need to have a stable income so they can actually look after children…have money in the bank that’s for sure (vegan, 2015).

Freelee Banana GirlAt a time when voting rights for Persons of Color are being challenged with voter identification laws and literacy tests, it is not surprising to find the script for the overpopulation morality play includes a test for the right to procreate.

Ironically, members of the upper class are encouraged to have as many children as they want, as shown in a recent story about how large families are now “the ultimate status symbol” among wealthy women from New York City’s Upper East Side. Wendy Martin, Ph.D., author of Primates of Park Avenue, is quoted as saying:

When you think about it, it’s logical that a big family equals a big status symbol: It’s expensive to raise kids anywhere, and especially in New York City, where full-time nannies, private school, and summer camp are standard expenses. In the US, the average cost of raising a child is $245,340, according to a recent government report. But that figure more than doubles — to $540,514 — when that child is being raised in Manhattan (Zeveloff, 2015).

Thin white women in a park tending to childrenClearly, as long as the interests of the upper class are at stake, they must be defended and presented in a way consistent with individualism, with the notion that they earned the right to have as many children as they want and can afford. There are no suggestions that the wealthy need more education about birth control, nor is there any implication that they somehow are not smart enough to understand how large family size must surely lead to poverty. And what about all of those scarce resources that these children will consume over the course of their lifetimes? All is well as long as they can afford the steaks, fur coats, servants and fancy cars that burn an exorbitant amount of fossil fuel? Population expert Fred Pearce argues that rising consumption is the real problem, not overpopulation:

“Rising consumption today far outstrips the rising head count as a threat to the planet,” Mr. Pearce wrote in Prospect, a British magazine, in 2010. “And most of the extra consumption has been in rich countries that have long since given up adding substantial numbers to their population, while most of the remaining population growth is in countries with a very small impact on the planet.”

“Let’s look at carbon dioxide emissions, the biggest current concern because of climate change,” he continued. “The world’s richest half billion people — that’s about 7 percent of the global population — are responsible for half of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Meanwhile, the poorest 50 percent of the population are responsible for just 7 percent of emissions (Haberman, 2015).

Maybe the time has come for vegans who double as overpopulationists to think critically about whether they want to continue supporting a racist, sexist and classist ideology or consider how consumerism and consumption impact planetary resources.

Even if all the eugenics laws in the world are struck from the books, the ideology of individualism and the American Dream will continue to drive our social world and a large segment of the vegan movement. It is far easier to hate all humans for what they are doing to other animals than it is to examine how we all participate in systems of oppression. Go ahead and blame oppressed and exploited humans for speciesism, for rampant consumerism and for being selfish. Individualism tells us we have no responsibility for other humans, so why not hate them and objectify them? Know this one thing and know it well: We all serve the interests of the white man dominated elite class as long as we do not take the responsibility to challenge the racism, sexism and classism of the overpopulation myth. As long as we are preoccupied with directing hate toward other humans, we will not be demanding accountability from the capitalist leaders and major corporations that are responsible for environmental degradation, the murder and torture of animals for profit, the formation of the school to prison pipeline and the growth of the military-industrial complex.

Being against eugenics is NOT taking anything away from working for the animals or ending the oppression of other animals. BUT ending speciesism will not end the hatred of humans for other humans, the bigotry directed toward Persons of Color or the ideology of individualism that tells everyone to turn their backs on those deemed unworthy. The ultimate manifestation of speciesism occurs whenever humans objectify and dehumanize other humans by denying them their rights while at the same time claiming they are anti-speciesist because they think the rights of all animals must be respected. What a contradiction in terms!! Humans will work to universally grant rights to other animals and simultaneously direct hatred and blame toward other humans, toward breeders and MOOs, unless every effort is made to expose the overpopulation morality play for what it is: unadulterated bigotry.

The words of writer and animal rights activist Christopher Sebastian (personal communication, 2015) offer an eloquent summary of how individualism works and how deeply racism strikes in the animal rights movement:

Animal Rights Friends:

How come when I am talking about human privilege, most of my vegan friends understand I’m talking about living in a society structured to advantage humans…where humans are granted greater levels of access based on arbitrary biological distinctions outside of their control? Indeed, they’re even quick to abdicate such privilege and discuss ways in which we need to alter our society for greater levels of inclusion and sensitivity to our nonhuman animal brothers and sisters.

But when I start talking about how white privilege disenfranchises people of color in the same way, it’s a goddamn showcase showdown. Suddenly, my white vegan friends are quick to point out how they worked hard and sometimes they experienced adversity. None of this matters!!! You still hold power in a structure dominated by and cultivated to center whiteness. Some days, I’m just so damn tired of having to talk about this. But seriously, can we not make a space to understand how life operates differently for POC animal rights activists and allies? Damn.

 

Note 1: Individualism is not to be confused with individuality. The former is an ideology that supports capitalism; the latter refers to someone’s personal preferences and tastes.

References

Altheide, D. L. (2002). Creating Fear: News and the Construction of Crisis. New York: Aldine De Gruyter.

Current World Population. (2015, May 31). Retrieved from Worldmeters: http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/

Haberman, C. (2015, May 31). The Unrealized Horrors of Population Explosion. Retrieved from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/01/us/the-unrealized-horrors-of-population-explosion.html?_r=0

Lombardo, P. A. (2008). Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court and Buck v Bell. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Lombardo, P. (n.d.). Eugenic Sterilization Laws. Retrieved from Image Archive on the American Eugenics Movement: http://www.eugenicsarchive.org/html/eugenics/essay8text.html

McDonough, K. (2014, September 15). Arizona GOPer quits after disgusting comment — but there’s a catch . Retrieved from SALON: http://www.salon.com/2014/09/15/arizona_goper_quits_after_disgusting_comment_but_theres_a_catch/

McDonough, K. (2014, September 15). Arizona GOPer quits after disgusting comment–but there’s a catch. Retrieved from SALON: http://www.salon.com/2014/09/15/arizona_goper_quits_after_disgusting_comment_but_theres_a_catch/

McKnight, T. (2014, August 4). Want to have a real impact on climate change? Then become a vegetarian. Retrieved from The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/04/climate-change-impact-vegetarian

Naggiar, S. (2013, July 29). Victims of forced sterilization to receive $10 million from North Carolina. Retrieved from the Grio: http://thegrio.com/2013/07/29/victims-of-forced-sterilization-to-receive-10-million-from-north-carolina/

Norrgard, K. P. (2008). Human Testing, the Eugneics Movement, and IRBs. Retrieved from

Scitable A Collaborative Learning Space for Science: http://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/Human-Testing-the-Eugenics-Movement-and-IRBs-724

Sebring, S. (2007, November 19). sterilization — black women. Retrieved from mississippi appendectomy, a developing online archive of information about women of color and coercive sterilization: https://mississippiappendectomy.wordpress.com/2007/11/19/black-women-in-the-1960s-and-1970s/

Senate Bill No. 1135. (2014, September 14). Retrieved from California Legislative Information: http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201320140SB1135

vegan, p. a. (2015, May 14). Why “overpopulation” isn’t the real problem (Freelee response). Retrieved from YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nulTqmHH7eg&feature=youtu.be

Zeveloff, J. (2015, May 25). The ultimate status symbol for millionaire moms on New York’s Upper East Side is not what you’d expect. Retrieved from Yahoo! Finance: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/ultimate-status-symbol-among-millionaire-164732256.html

 

Michele Spino MartindillDr. Martindill earned her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Missouri and taught there in the Sociology Department, the Peace Studies Program and the Women’s and Gender Studies Department. Her areas of emphasis include political sociology, organizations and work, and social inequalities. Dr. Martindill’s dissertation focuses on the no-kill shelter social movement and is based on ethnographic research conducted during several years of working in an animal shelter. She is vegan, a feminist and is currently interested in the stories women tell through their needlework, including crochet, counted cross stitch and quilting. It is important to note that Dr. Martindill consistently uses her academic title in order to inspire women and members of other marginalized groups to pursue their dreams no matter what challenges those dreams may entail, and certainly one of her goals is to see more women in academia.

Vegan Moon – Food, Control and Masculinity

By Stevie LynneBook cover: White heterosexual in the nude embracing.

I read Vegan Moon so you don’t have to.

Trigger Warning: Abuse, racism, and sexual assault.Not Safe for Work: Contains graphic descriptions of non-consensual sexual encounters.

Note: If you’ve come to this post expecting romance fiction bashing, you’ve come to the wrong place. Romance fiction is important. Yup, that’s right: romance fiction is important. In arts and academic circles it’s a struggle to get this popular genre to be seen as anything other than some kind of fleeting triviality. Probably because it’s a genre dominated by women and prioritises women’s pleasure (both physical and emotional) and as we know, those things are “trivial”. This is not a space to dismiss the romance genre.

I was curious to pick up the novella Vegan Moon as it has a vegan werewolf as the hero. But it didn’t take me long to realise that this wasn’t the fun, sizzling, romantic romp I’d been promised…

Vegan Moon is a cis-het paranormal romance novella by American author Kerri Nelson. The central themes are masculinity, flesh-consumption, control and animality. The story follows the perspectives of Santiago Salazar, a Venezuelan dog trainer and werewolf, and professional chef Gabrielle (Gabbi) Connor as they experience instant steamy attraction to one another. Santiago’s plant based diet (there is no mention of veganism as an ethical system) is a source of conflict for the characters, along with the fact that Santiago is a werewolf.

The Hero and Heroine

Santiago is a werewolf who is struggling to control his urges for killing humans and part of his mechanism for control is his vegetarianism/veganism. Other examples of this trope are Munroe from Grimm as well as plenty of vegetarian vampires.

Santiago is described as a “a tall, dark mystery man… with pure lust in his eyes,” and as “[t]he tall, dark creature”.

The heroine of the story is Gabbi. She is described as “petite” and “blonde”, and although it is unsaid, she is probably white. She has a successful career as a celebrity chef, but finds her personal life a little lacking.

I won’t pretend to be an expert in race, but I think it is worth pointing out that constructing Santiago as “dark” and Venezuelan and as part animal in addition to making Gabbi as a pretty, petite, white woman, who spends a good chunk of the narrative afraid of Santiago, is problematic.

Veganism and Self Control

The novella’s thesis is outlined in chapter one. The hero, Santiago, as a werewolf has killed and eaten humans in the past. However, ten years ago, Santiago killed a drug dealer whom he says “deserved” it. But Santiago had a bad experience:

[ . . . ] the man’s blood was so full of chemicals that it had made Santiago sick for days. After that, he’d decided to turn over a new leaf…He’d become a practicing vegan with a new lease on life… Of course, since wolves were carnivores by nature, Santiago still had cravings that required serious impulse control management.

We learn a number of things about the premise:

  1. Santiago’s choice to go vegan has nothing to do with non human animals or systemic injustice
  2. Santiago’s choice is based on personal cleanliness
  3. It is against Santiago’s nature to not eat meat, therefore abstaining from it is a difficult exercise, showing him to be a strong-willed character.

The author has a foreword in which she explains her own desire and failure to go vegetarian (in the text, she uses vegetarian and vegan interchangeably):

I’ve always believed that I could be a vegetarian as I’m addicted to the crisp, delicious selection of produce that calls to me at the grocery story [sic]. However, there’s apart [sic] of me that still craves the juicy taste of a well-prepared hamburger… I’ll never truly be a vegetarian despite my best efforts.

Nelson then goes onto say that she wrote this novella while she was pregnant and explains how much food cravings, especially for the flesh of non human animals, took away her control when it came to food choices. (Now, I don’t know what the food availability options are where Nelson lives, I can only go from what she says in the foreword. It may be the case that she lives in an area where a wide variety of plant based foods are not available all the time.)

Nelson has provided us with a tool to help readers construct one possible reading of her novella: Santiago can be read, in part, as an exploration of Nelson’s own desires and struggles to go vegetarian. What both author and character have in common is that non human animals are missing from their reasons. Nelson in her foreword constructs vegetarianism as an addiction to produce and the ability to conquer cravings. For her character Santiago, it’s all about overcoming and controlling his craving for human flesh.

It’s worth noting that the hero’s perspective in cis-het romance novels is never just a masculine perspective. There is a complicated interplay between author, cis-het hero, and reader. Not to mention how socially indoctrinated ideas about masculinity, identity and action inform the construction of the hero in cis-het romances.

Food and Arousal

After the our two main characters hit it off on a coffee date, Gabbi offers to cook Santiago dinner to show off her super fancy professional chef skills. She decides to make… pasta primavera (Note to any pro chefs looking to impress a vegan: that better be one heck of a pasta primavera).

Gabbi’s cooking puts Santiago close to losing control of his “animal libido” and the sensations he feels remind him of “hunting” and “feasting on meat”:

… all the scents of herbs and spices wafting around them, he could barely keep his animal libido in check.

He’d never known cooking and eating a meal could be this sexually stimulating. Well, he’d felt similar surges when hunting his prey and feasting on meat back in the day.

Food, killing and sexual arousal are all melded into one here, already we can predict the not-so-nice pathway that we’re headed down.

Werewolf and woman

Consent, and Manipulation

Before we talk about the “sex” scene, there’s a bit of information revealed later in the story that is, I think, required to frame the “sex” scene. Santiago says:

Now that we’ve mated, you’ll continue to be drawn to me. You’ll slowly start to lose your mind if you don’t give in to the call. I’m sorry that this happened this way, but I’d like to help you. If you’ll let me.

In theory, Santiago knows prior to “mating” (here meaning a sexual act – presumably penis in vagina because of the way our culture prioritises this type of sex act as being “legitimate”) with Gabbi, that it will cause her harm: she will “lose her mind” if she doesn’t stay with him. In addition, if Gabbi were to find out that Santiago was a werewolf:

Their species code required that they either kill or mate [stay with for life] with any human who discovered their existence.

Essentially after “mating” Gabbi’s only option would be to stay with Santiago. If she finds out he’s a werewolf, her only options are to stay with him for life (made contextually obvious later), or the werewolves will kill her. This prior knowledge of Santiago’s makes all his actions suspicious. If he knows pursuing a romantic relationship with her might lead to “mating”, which will then forcibly make her stay with him (which he doesn’t tell her up front), that’s downright manipulative. Communicating any possible bad outcomes for your potential sex partner to them is something that you should do, full stop.

On one level Santiago’s inability to resist Gabbi, even knowing the harm it will cause her, both actual and potential, is also tied to the theme that animal flesh is irresistible (as seen in the foreword by the author). Neither Nelson nor Santiago seem aware/care about the harm their choices create and frame those choices in terms that remove their agency such as “addiction” and “craving”.

This knowledge, that we only learn after the “sex” scene, makes the violence and abuse in the “sex” scene even more shocking. At one point, Santiago shoves Gabbi. Gabbi protests to being shoved, but  he ignores her protests and continues without her consent: “his hand continued to stroke up the inside of her thigh…”

After he makes her orgasm through manual stimulation, he also does not seek any kind of consent before penetrating her, let alone put a condom on:

She felt dazed and confused in the aftermath of her passionate storm. She felt the cool night air on her ass as her panties were thrust downward, and then she gasped at the feel of his hard cock shoving into her from behind… He was almost too rough in his possession of her tender, swollen pussy, but she was so lost in the moment that she just submitted to the frenzy. As he drove inside her, she heard the wet sound of their carnal connection… She closed her eyes and tried to imagine what they must look like as they mated like animals.

A comparison of who is doing what in this scene shows that Santiago is described with physical actions: he removes her underwear, he penetrates her, he “possesses” her pussy, and he drives inside her. Gabbi is described in a primarily passive ways: she is dazed, confused, feels, gasps, submits, hears and closes her eyes.

Note: I know this is not really sex, it’s assault. Also I know condoms and other safe practices aren’t “trendy” in romance novels, but it still pisses me off when I see it, because c’mon writers, you’re a creative bunch; make safe sex sexy.

Craving and Abuse

As if to emphasise the twin themes of craving and abuse, afterwards Gabbi observes Santiago’s personality change:

She shivered at the now delicate touch. It was in such complete contrast to the rough way that they’d just had sex. This man was an absolute mystery.

The “craving” for flesh has been satisfied. As it often is with domestic abuse: “The abuser’s ‘good side’ can give victims reason to think their partner is capable of being nurturing, kind, and nonviolent.”

After what the author calls “sex”, what can go wrong, does go wrong: Gabbi sees Santiago transform into a wolf. It of course totally freaks her out. As we already know, this means one of two things for Gabbi; either become his mate – i.e. stay with him for life – or the werewolves will kill her. She, however, doesn’t know these are her only options denies his phone calls and refuses to see him, even briefly thinking that he may have drugged her. She holes herself up away from him and spends time in hiding.

The werewolf council (there’s always a bloody council!) find out that Gabbi has seen Santiago transform into a werewolf, therefore steps must be taken to either make her be Santiago’s mate for life or kill her. Santiago seems remorseful about this fact:

He ached for the pain that he’d caused Gabbi, and he didn’t know how he’d go on living day to day as if he’d never met her… never touched her… never possessed her body and made her his own.

But Santiago’s remorse has virtually nothing to do with Gabbi, but himself. This is especially true of the phrase “possessed her body and made her his own”. This verbally echoes Gabbi’s observation that he “possessed” her pussy. She is not an agent, she is a thing to be possessed.

The werewolf council send Santiago’s friend, Tenny, to assess Gabbi’s suitability as a “mate” for Santiago. During this time, Tenny manages to convince Gabbi that she should stop being scared of Santiago and become his mate. We never see how or why she changes her mind. This is highly suspicious and once again shows that Gabbi’s agency is not important.

At the end of the novella Gabbi’s only reservation about everything that has happened is: 

We’ve got to talk about this vegetarian thing.

Nelson’s construction of Santiago as a foil for her own relationship with animal flesh foods manifests as an abusive man who disregards Gabbi as an agent in her own right. Even Nelson’s construction of Gabbi is mostly passive to Santiago’s physical onslaught. The world building choices that Nelson has created makes Santiago into an abusive figure – he knows prior to any kind of sexual activity that Gabbi has to stay with him or else she will “go mad”. It’s difficult to excuse his behaviour in light of this. Thinly, the author suggests that Gabbi is probably his “soul mate”, but this is grossly inadequate.

There are a few things I think are worth highlighting in light of this novella: firstly, that even men who identify as “vegan” can be abusers; secondly, that the author constructs a world and characters where manipulation and abuse are considered okay in the pursuit of desire; and finally that the author believes abstaining from animal products is an act of immense control tying into how the abuse in the novel is symptomatic of the author’s view that cravings for animals’ flesh can’t be helped.

It was disappointing to see abuse and assault in this novella presented as sexy and desirable. It was also disappointing to see veganism misconstrued. It would have been nice for this to be a fun, romantic romp with a non abusive vegan hero, but alas, Vegan Moon did not deliver on that front.