Late last year, a video emerged online of a woman who called herself the The Vegan Swearing Grandma. Resplendent half-moon spectacles and fetching silver perm, the pension-aged host claimed to make her own seitan because she had "no time for weak-ass bullshit." She called meat-eaters "simple douchebags" and referred to her marinade as "the tits."
Of course, the video wasn't actually uploaded by a foul-mouthed grandmother, but part of an ongoing Christmas campaign from PETA. The organisation urged viewers to share its message with friends and "let them know that there's nothing festive about eating fucking corpses."
Nevertheless, Vegan Swearing Grandma went viral in certain vegan circles—evidence of a rhetoric that has recently infiltrated the movement: the frat bro.
While the term "bro" historically referred to African American men, it now mostly relates to a specific type of white guy. One likely to wear cargo shorts, bring red cups to a party, and say "man cave" un-ironically. NPR helpfully mapped the four basic tenets of bro-ishness (dudely, jock-ish, stoner-ish, and preppy) and frat bro rhetoric mostly reflects this in its somewhat aggressive character, with undertones of sexism and homophobia. It's "pussy" as insult and "sick" as endorsement. It's white guys calling each other "homie." Writer Daniel Maurer's magnum bropus, Brocabulary: A New Manifesto Of Dude Talk, breaks this lexicon down further.
And it seems that even veganism—once the realm of Pentangle and people who smoke apple bongs—isn't safe from the bros. There's the Meat Is For Pussies recipe book, the subtext of which being that femaleness is inherently shameful and weak. All-male vegan barbecues are now very much a thing in Brooklyn, rebranding veganism as a male bonding experience. Then there's the uncomfortable minstrelsy of the Thug Kitchen, a vegan food blog written by white people that appropriates an African American vernacular to "verbally abuse you into a healthier diet."
I asked Carol J. Adams, feminist author of The Sexual Politics of Meat about the phenomenon. She argues the culture of meat-eating is intrinsic to hegemonic masculinity. What does Adams make of the vegan bros' hyper-masculine register?
"Take salads: women eat salads but when men eat salads, it's either somehow wrong, or it's a really good salad," she says.
Instead of making veganism more palatable to a typically male sensibility, Adams believes we should be liberating the idea of masculinity. But as the furore over ASOS selling velvet chokers for men recently illustrated, masculinity is a fragile thing. When MUNCHIES investigated men's anxieties about going vegan late last year, we found that only 3.2 percent of American vegans are male. The assumption that veganism is feminised prevails.
"Take salads: women eat salads but when men eat salads, it's either somehow wrong, or it's a really good salad."
"To assert that you care about animals is to display vulnerability and the male binary is predicated on aggression," adds Adams.
I also spoke to John Joseph, author of Meat Is For Pussies. He has been vegan since the 80s and as the singer of popular hardcore band Cro-Mags and regular Ironman competitor, uses his platform to promote plant-based eating.
"We've been hoodwinked by so much crap: meat is manly and all that bullshit," Joseph says. "What's manly about getting man-boobs, needing pills to get a hard-on, becoming so obese you can't see your junk? Well, that's what's waiting for you if you don't change."
While Joseph is conscious of targeting men with Meat Is For Pussies, he doesn't see it as indicative of frat bro culture, though does admit to having some feminist kickback from the book.
"Ah, them broads also popped shit on Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin who wrote Skinny Bitch because they used the words 'Skinny' and 'Bitch.' I don't give a fuck about those people. They ain't changing nothing," he says. "Whatever helps dudes—who over the years have been the hardest nuts to crack—is a good thing. But the whole 'bro-ification' thing has negative connotation to it, like some knuckleheads or something. There is no bro-ish bullshit."
Self-identifying vegan bro Simon Timony has been living a plant-based lifestyle for three years. I find him on Twitter and email to ask how he feels he is perceived as a male vegan. Echoing Adams claims that veganism is seen as inherently feminised, Timony believes he is viewed as anomalous for being a male vegan.
"Most people think of vegans being women because it's a kinder way of being. If you're a male vegan you're assumed to be iron-deficient and effeminate," he writes. "Not surprisingly, women are more receptive to it, while men usually ask, 'Where do you get your protein?' And then I show them my biceps."
There seems to be an emphasis on strength within the vegan bro movement, evidenced by the growing number of "plant strong" and "power vegan" blogs. As Adams asserts, it becomes a self-fulfilling problem—legitimising a dominant culture that facilitates the harming of animals seems a disingenuous manner of dismantling it.
I wonder whether the emergence of this rhetoric is way to reject the rarefied, middle class veneer of veganism found in the increasingly less palatable "clean" eating movement. Adams sees it more as a media invisibilising of women and people of colour within veganism, and the privileging of white male voices as authoritative.
"The mainstream media silences the multiplicity of veganism in favour of white men," she says. "But there is a counter-narrative."
Frat bro culture feels quite specific to the US, with the UK equivalent perhaps being lad culture. But apart from a growing interest in Americanised vegan "junk food," the lads don't seem to be jumping on veganism with the same enthusiasm as their bro cousins.
Gareth David, singer and lyricist of Los Campesinos!, and one-time nominee of PETA's sexiest vegan of the year, is not seeing a bro-ification of veganism in the UK, though recognises it as indicative of wider problems within veganism.
"Debates involving the most staunch of vegan thinkers often descend into needless and insensitive comparisons between animal and human slavery as well as comparisons with race and gender inequality," he tells me. "Heganism is set to be another example of that. But thankfully I don't think heganism has reached the UK in this form to anywhere near this degree."
For David, the rise of the vegan bro perpetuates the notion that nothing can be taken seriously until it's palatable to straight and alpha white guys.
"Unfortunately," he concludes. "That's probably what it will take for mainstream acceptance of veganism." While vegan women massively outnumber vegan men, it can feel like we are thrown under the bus in favour of the movement, whether via the co-opting of veganism to make us feel further shame about our bodies and appetites, or exploited and objectified to draw attention to the cause.
"The heart of the issue," Adams concludes. "Is that killing animals is part of patriarchy. We need to liberate ourselves from that."