The Sexual Politics of Vegan Food

Cover for "Crazy Sexy Diet"

Carol Adams has written extensively on the sexual politics of meat, arguing that women and other animals are both sexualized and commodified to facilitate their consumption (both figuratively and literally) by those in power. One result has been the feminization of veganism and vegetarianism.  This has the effect of delegitimizing, devaluing, and defanging veganism as a social movement.

But I argue that this process works within the vegan movement as well, with an open embracing of veganism as inherently feminized and sexualized.  This works to undermine a movement (that is comprised mostly of women) and repackage it for a patriarchal society.  Instead of strong, political collective of women, we have yet another demographic of sexually available individual women who exist for male consumption.

Take a browse through vegan cookbooks on Amazon, and the theme of “sexy veganism” that emerges is unmistakable.

Cover for "Ms. Cupcake:  The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes in Town!" Pictures a piece of cake with a tiny woman in a bikini sitting on top

Ms. Cupcake: The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes in Town!

Cover for "Skinny Bitch: Ultimate Everyday Cookbook" Shows author posing with food dishes

Cover for "Skinny Bitch in Love:  A Novel"

Oftentimes, veganism is presented as a means of achieving idealized body types.  These books are mostly geared to a female audience, as society values women primarily as sexual resources for men and women have internalized these gender norms.  Many of these books bank on the power of thin privilege, sizism, and stereotypes about female competition for male attention to shame women into purchasing.

Cover for "Become a Sexy Vegan Beast:  The Guide to Vegan Bodybuilding, Vegan Nutrition, and Body Fat Loss" Shows woman in a sports bra and shorts with hands on her hips looking behind her

Cover for "Skinny Bitch Fitness:  Boot Camp"

Cover for "Eat Yourselve Sexy", Shows a topless woman with her arms up and behind her head, looking seductively at the camera

Eat Yourself Sexy

Cover for "Appetite for Reduction" A vegan weight loss book. Shows an illustrated woman in vintage style

To reach a male audience, authors have to draw on a notion of “authentic masculinity” to make a highly feminized concept palatable to a patriarchal society where all that is feminine is scorned.  Some have referred to this trend as “heganism.”  The idea is to protect male superiority by unnecessarily gendering veganism into veganism for girls and veganism for boys.  For the boys, we have to appeal to “real” manhood.

Thankfully Meat Is For Pussies (A How-to Guide for Dudes Who Want to Get Fit, Kick Ass and Take Names) appears to be out of print.

Cover for "Skinny Bastard:  A Kick-in-the-Ass for Real Men Who Want to Stop Being Fat and Start Getting Buff"

Skinny Bastard: A Kick-in-the-Ass for Real Men Who Want to Stop Being Fat and Start Getting Buff

Cover for "Eating Veggies Like a Man"

Cover for "Real Men Eat Tofu"

Then there is the popular tactic of turning women into consumable objects in the exact same way that meat industries do.  Animal rights groups recruit “lettuce ladies” or “cabbage chicks” dressed as vegetables to interact with the public.  PETA routinely has nude women pose in and among vegetables to convey the idea that women are sexy food.  Vegan pinup sites and strip joints also feed into this notion.  Essentially, it is the co-optation and erosion of a women’s movement.  Instead of empowering women on behalf of animals, these approaches disempower women on behalf of men.

Image shows two white, tan women back to back wearing lettuce bikinis and opening their mouths wide to insert veggie dogs. Woman facing camera is wearing a Playboy necklace.

Alyssa Milano dressed in vegetables. Reads: "Let Vegetarianism Grow on You."

This entry was posted in Body Image & Thin Privilege, Sexualization and tagged , , , , , by Corey Wrenn. Bookmark the permalink.

About Corey Wrenn

Ms. Wrenn is an instructor of Sociology with Colorado State University, where she is also an A.B.D. Ph.D. She is also an adjunct professor of Sociology with Dabney S. Lancaster Community College and an adjunct professor of Social Psychology with the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design. She received her M.S. in Sociology in 2008 and her B.A. in Political Science in 2005, both from Virginia Tech. She is a council member of the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section and contributes to the Human-Animal Studies Images and Cinema blogs for the Animals and Society Institute. She has contributed to One Green Planet, VegFund, Examiner, Feminspire, Jezebel, The Feminist Wire, Sociological Images, Skepchick, and Everyday Sociology. She has been published in several peer-reviewed academic journals including the Journal of Gender Studies, the Journal of Agriculture & Environmental Ethics, Food, Culture & Society, and Society & Animals. In July 2013, she founded the Vegan Feminist Network. You can follow her on Twitter (CoreyLeeWrenn) and on her blog, The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. She lives with two rescued companion animals in rural Virginia and has been vegan since 2001.