Men Gnawing on Steaks

Man in a suit sits in front of a plate with a raw steak, knife and fork poised in his fists on the table

Following my essay on Women Laughing Alone with Salads, a colleague became curious and googled what we might consider to be the reverse: men eating steaks. What he found, and what I was able to verify in my own Google image search, was the repeated theme of men gnashing their teeth at a big slab of flesh, often with a fork and knife firmly planted on either side of its plate.

Rather primordial, these images seem to read, “I AM MAN; MAN NEED MEAT.” The firm, just-slammed look of his fists and the strong grip they have on the utensils are rather common gender codes that present men as in control and in command over their surroundings.

Man gnawing on raw steak

Interestingly, the steaks are almost always shown uncooked. The intention is likely to portray men’s flesh-consumption (a very unnatural behavior) as natural. This is underscored by the frequency of stock photographs that show men consuming the steak directly without the help of utensils, gnawing on the flesh as though they were a carnivorous nonhuman species.

Interestingly, when I searched for images of women eating steaks, time and time again, they are grappling with raw flesh positioned above the head as though overwhelmed (people don’t eat upside down). It also seems to suggest subservience, a subservience that is frequently sexualized through pose and nudity. When she is using utensils, she is more likely to be handling them weakly or in an unsure manner.

Woman Eating Steak

Overall, images of women eating steaks are few, as the notion is contrary to gender norms. When pictured at all, it is clear that the gender hierarchy must be preserved by demonstrating that flesh consumption (an act of domination and power) is less natural and more awkward for women.

Women Cutting Steak

Meat acts as a symbol of masculinity. Therefore, men interact with meat to demonstrate their prowess, while women interact with meat to demonstrate their subservience.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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Women Laughing Alone With Salad

Woman eating outdoors

You’ve seen them a hundred times before. You know, the bright eyed salad crunching woman. Head thrown back with hysterical jubilee, she is overtaken by the gloriousness of the vegetable medley gracing her lunch bowl. The promotional flyer for your local natural foods co-op features them. The websites for major grocery chains use them. Educational pamphlets in your doctor’s office use them. Tons of vegan organizations use them. Heck, I bet if I checked into it, I probably used one to illustrate a blog post at least once.

Stock photographs of women… sitting alone… with a salad that is so damn hilarious, they can’t help but explode with laughter and delight.

Recently, the absurdity of these images has caught the attention of the internet, resulting in a number of memes, a tumblr page, and even a play.

Salad isn’t really funny. Rarely is it ecstasy-inducing. Usually it’s just a messy experience of trying to shove awkward lettuce leaves into your mouth. Often you’re dissatisfied and annoyed that you used too much dressing, or not enough. In reality, you’re checking your teeth for stuck pieces of lettuce instead of smiling from ear to ear between bites. Eating salad is, in general, a mundane affair.

Collection of stock photos showing women laughing while they eat a salad

But eating salad is lady’s work, and, as such, it must be performed accordingly to tell a particular narrative when being observed and documented.

Vegan feminist theory tells us that food–what we eat and how we eat it–is firmly rooted in gender norms. The consumption of vegetables (with salad being the ubiquitous cliché) is a highly feminized behavior. Gender codes also manifest in the regular hyper-emotionality of women in advertising. That is, women are often portrayed as having inappropriately extreme emotional responses. Representation of this kind adds to the cultural understanding of womanhood as infantile, irrational, and immature. In this case, even a little bit insane. These images reinforce women’s subordinate status. Pairing hyper-emotive women with hyper-feminized food items makes for a perfect storm in sexist imagery.

Man about to eat a forkfull of salad, smiles softly to camera

I have, of course, been presented with the inevitable, “Men, too!” argument. True, men are often shown to be just a little too excited about their salads. But let’s be honest: they are much less frequently depicted laughing, with their head thrown back, in their underwear, or pregnant. The gendered frivolity of salad consumption is very much so a feminine affair.

Woman laying on bed in white underwear eating a salad

When men are pictured in the improbable scenario of eating a salad prostrate on a bed in a white thong, then, okay, let’s talk.

 


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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Dear New Vegan

TRIGGER WARNING: Discusses sexism and sexual violence.

Two young thin white PETA volunteers pose naked on a street corner with their bodies marked like meat cuts holding a PETA sign that asks viewers to go vegan

Dear New Vegan,

Brace yourself, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Becoming vegan is, at first, a very frustrating and traumatizing experience. You will have to learn what to eat, what to buy, how to deal with friends and family, and how to manage the intense feelings of anger and sadness that come with opening your mind and heart to the suffering of others. None of this is going to be easy, but, please don’t give up, because it will definitely get easier the longer you stick with it. It will become normal and habitual before you know it, I promise.

You will probably reach out to the vegan community to help you through this transition. You will make lots of great friends and learn a lot from others. You will find great peace in knowing you are not alone and that other folks are out there who are just as passionate as you are about changing the world.

Eventually, however, you may start to realize that being vegan is one thing, but being vegan and female-identified1 is another one altogether. If you are in a relationship, you may find your partner is hostile to your choice. Especially if your partner is male-identified, your vegan presence may present a challenge to his masculine authority. He may insist that you can never change him (even if you never mentioned any intention of doing so!). He may insist that you cook non-vegan meals, or join him in non-vegan restaurants. As a self-identified woman, you may feel considerable pressure to concede. Women are groomed from early on to put the interests of men first. It stinks, but that’s how it is. Don’t feel bad if you do.

Woman looking outraged as her male partner scoffs down a burger

If you are a self-identified woman, you may find that male-identified friends are turned off to your veganism as well. For example, a well-meant Facebook post that reminds your readers that Nonhuman Animals matter, too, may aggravate men who are quick to respond with comments about how you’re a) too sentimental; b) loudmouthed; or c) “crazy.” Emotionality, outspokenness, and mental illness are all highly gendered characteristics. Women are easily dismissed for being either too feminine, or not feminine enough. For centuries, we women have been stereotyped as “hysterical” and subsequently institutionalized to control us and shut us up. You’ll often find yourself between a rock and a hard place: don’t be too sappy, but at the same time, watch your tone and don’t be too aggressive. You’ll find they’re pretty much impossible to please, and I suggest you just keep doing what you do.

Male-identified vegan leader gives talk with microphoneBut your struggles as a vegan woman might not end there. If you decide that simply being vegan isn’t enough and that you want to get involved with activism, you are going to come up against more male violence. Vegan activism is dominated by women as far as the numbers go, so you may think it’s a safe space for you. In many ways, it is. You will find female solidarity. On the other hand, the vegan movement is very much controlled by men. Men lead vegan activism—they create the theory and they define what tactics are acceptable. They take up the most space and their voices are loudest.

What this means is that you are going to feel a lot of pressure to help other animals by taking a quiet role behind the scenes in support of these men. You may also be encouraged to take your clothes off for some campaigns. It may not be men directly telling you to get naked (women are in on it, too), but the patriarchal norms of the movement have created an environment where women are simply expected to become sex objects “for the animals.” You might start to think that getting naked for the cause is “liberating.” If you start thinking that, woah, stop. Think again. Consider also that only thin, white, cis women are allowed to “empower” themselves for other animals, and that turning men on sexually is not the same as turning men on to veganism. Empirical research shows that facilitating the oppression of women does not challenge the oppression of other animals.

You will also find a lot of sexual harassment and violence against women in the vegan movement. I don’t mean to scare you off, but it’s true, and you should be warned. It’s something that isn’t talked about a lot, but it’s actually quite common. If you are a woman, don’t let this deter you; just remember that commitment to social justice for Nonhuman Animals does not necessarily translate to a commitment to social justice for all. Really, those men who insist they care about the rights and wellbeing of women, people of color, and other disadvantaged human groups tend to be just as dangerous as those who don’t purport to care at all. If you identify as a man, I implore you to step up and work to make advocacy spaces safer.

Sadly, the work of changing the world is men’s work. If you are female-identified, you are likely to meet resistance if you want to participate in vegan outreach in ways more meaningful than making the coffee or stripping. It doesn’t have to be that way. Try not to lose yourself. Stay strong, demand voice, and demand that you be respected. Insist that veganism be a positive and affirming experience. Do not let the oppressive mentalities of some prevent you from doing the important work you’ve set out to do. And men, please stand with women in solidarity. We could use your help.

P.S. If you are a woman of color, that’s a whole extra set of challenges. As a white woman myself, I can’t speak to the depth of these challenges, but I can tell you that the vegan movement can be a really nasty “color blind” place at times. Definitely check out the Sistah Vegan Project!

Notes:

1. This piece speaks to the female experience, which may include that of trans women, intersex women, and gender-queer women. It should be acknowledged that trans, intersex, and gender-queer vegans have a number of additional challenges faced by the movement.

This piece was originally submitted to an advocacy anthology designed to introduce new vegans to the movement, but did not make the final cut. I suspect that the piece was accepted but later rejected due to its political undertones. It is reproduced here because I feel strongly about bringing honesty and accountability to our movement as a matter of justice for marginalized women. For more information on sexism in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement, please see my book, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave Macmillan 2016). Please also see my publication with the Journal of Gender Studies, “The Role of Professionalization Regarding Female Exploitation in the Nonhuman Animal Rights Movement and my essay for The Feminist Wire, “Gender Policing the Vegan Woman.”


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is Lecturer of Sociology. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology with Colorado State University in 2016. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar, 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She served as council member with the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section (2013-2016) and was elected Chair in 2018. She serves as Book Review Editor to Society & Animals and has contributed to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, Feminist Media Studies, Disability & Society, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network, an academic-activist project engaging intersectional social justice praxis. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (Palgrave MacMillan 2016).

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The $29.00 Vegan Poverty Challenge: Classism, Patriarchy and Animal Rights

By Dr. C. Michele Martindill

Let’s play the Gwyneth Paltrow Game, the ultimate food challenge! In this game each one of us has exactly $29.00 to spend on our food for one week and by playing the game we should all learn what it means to live in poverty—at least that’s what we’re supposed to learn according to the #FoodBankNYCChallenge. This $29.00 a week food challenge involves celebrities tagging each other in a game to try and subsist on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) weekly food budget of those living in poverty in the United States. Chef Mario Batali challenged Hollywood personality Gwyneth Paltrow and in turn, sparked a global…well, national…discussion about many things, but not poverty. As observed in numerous online Facebook chats, not even vegan feminist abolitionists could resist this game. How does it work, you ask? In accepting the challenge, Paltrow agreed for one week to eat only what she could purchase with $29.00 and made her purchases public news–one dozen eggs, lettuce, dried black beans, frozen peas, an onion, parsley, a sweet potato, green onions, brown rice, some garlic, a single tomato, one ear of corn, soft tortillas, one chili pepper and seven limes. NOTE: Paltrow confessed she only lasted four days before feasting on “…chicken and fresh vegetables (and in full transparency, half a bag of black licorice)” (Johnson, 2015). That’s the definition of privilege—knowing all along she didn’t really have to stick with the budget.

Family playing board game

Family playing board game and learning lessons of life.

So, how much have people who followed this story and discussed Paltrow’s shopping trip haul learned about poverty? What are members of the vegan feminist abolitionist movement taking away from the latest Paltrow media frenzy? Here is an opportunity to think reflexively about the white, classist and masculinized privilege that permeates the vegan abolitionist movement, to decenter the vegan perspective and achieve some kind of empathic understanding for those most affected by poverty—women and children.

Before looking at the vegan response to the Paltrow food budget, it is necessary to provide some context for the story. At least twice in the last week vegan abolitionist organizations made disparaging remarks about people looking for jobs in their organizations, and they were ostensibly referring to poor people or the working poor—the very people who don’t see a $29.00 food budget as a game. One author elaborated on why no one should donate to groups requesting help with vegan education and no one should expect to find work in the vegan abolitionist community:

So many ‘advocates’ are attempting to solicit donations to help with vegan education. If you have any spare cash you wish to donate to a worthy cause, please send it to where it will be used to directly help the underprivileged rather than to fund the business or living expenses of organisations or individuals involved in such activities. A conflict of interests–between wanting to end animal use and profiting from attempting to persuade others to end their participation in animal use–is inevitable when donations are needed to indirectly support work of this nature and there is something rather distasteful about those arrogant enough to hold the opinion that their ‘work’ is so valuable that others should provide the means to undertake it. (Grumpy Old Vegans, 2015)

The author is correct in recommending potential donors take care in knowing how their contributions will be used. It is also entirely possible that the author is warning people that vegan organizations should resist the pull of becoming large capitalist corporations with high salaried staff and executives who do little to stop animal exploitation, but do provide padded salaries to executives (Ritzer, 1975). One message is clear: there is no way to both end animal use and profit from the donations of supporters. As Corey Wrenn pointed out in an essay (Wrenn, 2015), there is no way to end animal oppression through capitalism when it is capitalism that is responsible for the oppression in the first place. Still, the language of the above rejoinder was not specifically anti-capitalist and sends a different message to those who might be looking for work just to survive, to be able to feed their families on something more than $29.00 per person per week. Someone could easily understand the author to mean that it is “distasteful” and “arrogant” for anyone—even someone living in poverty—to think their work is valuable enough to deserve a living wage. It was the first, but not last, vegan missive this week to demonstrate how much the vegan abolitionist movement needs to learn about living in poverty.

Women looking for job at job fair

Another statement made by a different vegan abolitionist organization correctly establishes how the animal rights movement loses momentum when organizations try to stand out from the crowd and make names for themselves by embracing single issue campaigns or doing other things just to garner donations. This group takes a stumble, though, when it presents the following:

Unfortunately, the problem can extend beyond the organizational level. It can threaten our movement even at the grass roots. Individual would-be advocates sometimes become more focused on carving out an activist identity and brand for themselves than on sincerely contributing to a movement focused on nonviolent abolitionist vegan education. Their motivating question switches from “How can I use my skills and opportunities to bring about a world where humans treat animals and each other with respect?” to “How can I differentiate myself from my fellow advocates?” Often due to a simple need for attention and acknowledgment (and, troublingly, sometimes due to the hope of a job, money, or future speaking opportunities) many thoughtful advocates have been driven toward brand-building and self-promotion. [Emphasis added] (International Vegan Association, 2015)

The author stresses that would-be vegan educators too often just want “attention” and maybe hope for a job or some other form of remuneration. That assumption is understandable from the perspective of the dominant white upper middle-class ideology of the animal rights movement, but when seen through the eyes of people living in poverty the statement is problematic. Not everyone can afford the time, financial resources or the energy to be a vegan educator unless they are compensated for the effort—certainly not the working poor who often depend on multiple jobs just to survive. It can feel disheartening to want to help and yet know the organization is only interested in those who have time, money and energy to provide on a volunteer basis—and worse, to read that the poor actually “threaten our movement.” Telling a person that the only thing that matters is for them to “go vegan” won’t help them get over feelings of being on the outside of the movement and different from those who are able to be fully invested activists.

No, not every vegan abolitionist or animal rights organization collects donations, applies for and receives grant money or has resources available to hire paid staff members. The point being made here is that movement members have much to learn about living in poverty, and they need to refrain from calling those who seek jobs “disgraceful,” “arrogant,” “attention” seekers, or “threatening” to the movement. There is also no suggestion that vegans should get busy and cough up charitable donations for the poor. It is instead a call for solidarity. Charity moves from the top down. Solidarity, on the other hand, is horizontal with everyone standing side by side in mutual respect and possessing a willingness to learn. One example that stands out is a recent effort by the Vegan Intersecionality Project (V.I.P.) in Ireland that saw the organization stand in solidarity with squatters at the Grangegorman site, hearing their stories about police harassment and living in poverty (Vegan Information Project – VIP, 2015). The question remains, did vegan abolitionists miss the opportunity to stand in solidarity with people living in poverty in their analysis of the $29.00 per week per person food budget story? Unfortunately, their discussions did not hinge on poverty and would leave an outsider wondering about vegan priorities.

Poster stating charity is vertical and solidarity is horizontal

Among the first to respond to the circulation of the Gwyneth Paltrow story on Facebook were those who tried to explain what they would buy with only $29.00 to spend for groceries. One couple stated they already lived on approximately $100.00 a month or $25.00 per week. Others were quick to stress the value of bulk purchases of dried beans and frozen fruit. Oatmeal was a popular choice due in part to its low cost per meal. There was some debate over whether the rules of the challenge allowed for use of staples already on hand, e.g. spices and flour. It was established that they do not. Someone mentioned they would make use of the local food pantry, and the advice was offered that local farmers markets will count each dollar of food stamps as two dollars, up to a maximum of fifteen dollars—yet another helpful suggestion.

Questions were raised in other discussions about Gwyneth Paltrow’s food choices, thanks in large part to a Mother Jones (Oh, 2015) article that suggested the selected foods would only be good for a de-tox diet. At that point things deteriorated into a Gwyneth lovers vs. Gwyneth haters debate. Moving on to the next conversation there was finally someone—one woman–who voiced several key concerns, including: 1) society does not need a wealthy celebrity to explain how SNAP works, how SNAP doesn’t provide enough money for an adequate diet or to pretend to live on a SNAP food budget; 2) society will unfortunately not believe anything unless a celebrity says it; and 3) why doesn’t anybody ask SNAP recipients about their experiences? Why is it that only the voices of privilege are sought after and heard?

Poster for Equal Pay Day, April 14, 2015

Ironically, the Paltrow budget game coincided with #EQUALPAYDAY on April 14, 2015, a day meant to bring to everyone’s attention to the fact that women only make 78 cents to every dollar made by men, a pay gap that has held steady for approximately ten years (The Editorial Board, 2015). Women without any advanced degrees make only 74 percent of what men make. Other facts about poverty were mentioned in the equal pay stories. According to 2013 census figures, there are 46.5 million people in the United States living in poverty. Single-mother families living in poverty number 4.1 million, and the child poverty rate remained steady at 21.8 percent. How many of these people—very real people, not just statistics—are on food stamps? 15.8 million! That translates to 13.6 percent of all U.S. households—the highest level ever. Just over half of these households live below the poverty line and just over 40 percent have at least one person in the household who has a disability. Women comprise almost two-thirds of minimum wage earners, and mothers are the primary or sole earners in about forty percent of all households with children under the age of 18 (Shriver, 2014). Think again about why the world turned to Gwyneth Paltrow to educate everyone about poverty and food stamps. Aren’t there enough people, especially women, living in poverty who could teach us much more? These numbers barely begin to convey the realities of life for those living in poverty, but we continue to make the faces of these women invisible and their voices remain unheard.

Here’s one last observation about the vegans who played the Paltrow game and those who described people looking for work with utter contempt—at a time when the vegan abolitionist movement is trying to demonstrate its intersectionality through practice and to show that veganism is not just a diet, it is interesting that they managed to ignore their own privilege and its consequences. Women living in poverty are not statistical objects who just need to go vegan and poverty is not a game.

 

References

Grumpy Old Vegans. (2015, April 5). Grumpy Old Vegans. Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GrumpyOldVegan?fref=ts

International Vegan Association. (2015, April 8). International Vegan Association. Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/internationalvegan?fref=ts

Johnson, Z. (2015, April 16). eonline. Retrieved from E!: http://www.eonline.com/news/647045/gwyneth-paltrow-admits-she-cheated-on-her-29-food-bank-challenge-after-four-days-i-would-give-myself-a-c

Oh, I. (2015, April 12). Gwyneth Paltrow Confuses Her Latest Master Cleanse with Attempt to Relate to the Poor. Retrieved from http://www.motherjones.com/mixed-media/2015/04/gwyneth-paltrows-latest-master-cleanse-people-food-stamps

Ritzer, G. (1975). Professionalization, Bureaucratization and Rationalization: The Views of Max Weber. Social Forces, 627-634.

Shriver, M. (2014, January 8). The Female Face of Poverty. Retrieved from The Atlantic : http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/01/the-female-face-of-poverty/282892/

The Editorial Board. (2015, April 14). Women Still Earn a Lot Less Than Men. Retrieved from The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/14/opinion/women-still-earn-a-lot-less-than-men.html

Vegan Information Project – VIP. (2015, March 24). Vegan Information Project – VIP. Retrieved from Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/theveganinformationproject?fref=ts

Wrenn, C. (2015, January 9). On the Problems with Open Rescues: A Response to the DXE Position. Retrieved from The Academic Abolitionist Vegan: http://academicabolitionistvegan.blogspot.com/2015/01/on-problems-with-open-rescues-response.html

 

 

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.

Nazi Cake: As Long as It’s Vegan

Trigger Warning:  Dismissal of racism that may be painful for some readers.

Owner of "Cakes 'n' Treats Vegan Coffeeshop" poses in front of her store

There is an unfortunate tendency in the Nonhuman Animal rights movement to disregard human suffering as long as it is supposedly in the service of veganism.  This approach is extremely illogical for a movement that seeks to end oppression. For one, hoping to end nonhuman oppression by aggravating human oppression is simply hypocritical. We cannot work for peace by engaging violence.  Secondly, as evidenced in the research of Dr. Breeze Harper and Dr. David Nibert, human oppression and nonhuman oppression are heavily entangled. That is, you cannot separate the two and work against one and not the other. It doesn’t work because human and nonhuman oppression support and influence each other. Sadly, I have seen oppressive logic (“Nonhumans first” or “as long as it’s vegan”) engaged by a variety of grassroots groups and non-profits, abolitionist and welfarist alike.

There is a vegan cupcake shop in London that is well known to have ties to neo-Nazism and is under active boycott.  This has been covered by several media sources, including Vice, Libcom.org, and London Antifacists. The store is located in an area that is known to host white-power subcultures. From what I can gather, the woman running the store may not herself be a neo-Nazi, but she has many Facebook friends who are, and she is (or was) dating a man who does socialize with Italian facist gangs.  The woman herself denies the allegations of her affiliations and claims that she is being targeted by a jilted ex or someone with a personal vedetta.  Given the reality of patriarchy and violence against women, I am inclined to believe her. She has been receiving threats and hate mail since the allegations surfaced, and feminists are all too aware that men (and many women) will jump at the chance to demonize, harass, and attack women.  However, the purpose of this essay is not to determine guilt, but rather to highlight some problematic responses from vegans who promote the store, while simultaneously denouncing any critical discussion of the store’s alleged Nazi ties. As long as it’s vegan.

Facebook page, What FAT Vegans Eat, promoted the cake shop, making at least one reader uncomfortable. Shona passed on a screencap of the dialogue before it was deleted by the page:

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Cakes ‘n’ Treats Vegan Coffeeshop is known to have neo-Nazi ties, is under active boycott, and What Fat Vegans Eat moderators respond to criticisms with appeals to depoliticized veganism. In so many words, Nazi cake is okay as long as it’s vegan.  Judith Barnes responds:

Your comments about the company are the same as someone’s comments about food that comes from any other company who’s practices you don’t agree with.  The rule is if it’s vegan it’s okay. The cake is vegan. That’s all we care about.

Nicki Teager writes:

This page isn’t for ethics, debate or anything else, whether it is merely informing or not. If it’s vegan it’s fine to post here.

Catherine McLaughlin Burt:

Using the group to promote a boycott is hijacking the purpose of the group. And saying that we support nazism if we don’t go along with what is being said is nothing more than bullying.

It is difficult for me to understand how, one, neo-Nazi baking can ever be considered vegan, and, two, why a vegan group would want to divorce itself from ethics.  Veganism is a matter of ethics. Discussing racism (or any other form of human oppression) is not “hijacking.”  When anti-oppression activists speak up against violence, they are often silenced with claims that this is neither the time nor the place.  I have seen similar silencing tactics used on women who have experienced sexism in the movement. Rather than engaging the criticism, the women were simply accused of “trolling” and using the page as a “soapbox.”

These uncritical and passively violent stances reflect the white-normativity of the Nonhuman Animal rights movement. I can’t imagine that these criticisms would be characterized as derailments if the movement was led by persons of color, for instance. The damage that neo-Nazi alliances would cause to vulnerable communities would be self-evident.  White privilege distances white-identified activists from the lived reality of racism, ethnocentrism, and white power facism that really hurts real people.  Many activists are puzzled as to why so few people of color are interested in participating in the movement, but the answer lies in active dismissal of racial oppression that veganism abets.