My friend recently told me that he’s ditching meat. Due to my line of work, people tell me such things. Yes, once you own a plant-based business, if the content of your friends’ fridge is at least 80% not meat, you will find out about it. Generally, I am aware of most vegan dishes prepared in my vicinity. Since I’ve become a plant priest, folks confess their non-carnal sins to me on a regular basis.
Anyway, what struck me as interesting was not that he is ditching meat but the way he said it. It went something like this:
“Hey ... so … um... I’m vegetarian now. At least I’ll try. We’ll see. For the animals … um. I just love animals … I guess … and shit. I don’t fucking know. I guess I love ‘em. We’ll see. Maybe in a few weeks, I might crave meat again. But I don’t know, animals and shit. It’s weird, I guess. I don't know.”
Animals and shit.
He talked differently than usual. His demeanor had a certain elusive rhythm to it, as his words gallivanted around the true meaning behind the decision. There were unnecessary, “bro-esque” mannerisms stumbling into sentences, clearly there to diffuse the tension of truth, not to be spoken. The whole “show” reminded me of the way men hug.
Idk if you noticed this, but when girls hug, they fucking hug. It’s a warm, fuzzy embrace full of presence and love. When guys hug, we tap each other’s backs. That enables us to fragment the hug, or a prolonged touch as one might call it, so as to not suddenly become gay. That can happen allegedly, and I believe it is men's greatest fear. By tapping backs we divide the “forbidden touch” into many smaller, acceptably long touches. Tapping also keeps us busy during the hug. The idea is simply “not to feel”. Yes, feeling is not cool and leads to spontaneous gayness.
Why am I mentioning this? Well, I felt these “male hug” vibes in my friend’s reasoning of going meat-free. He used many redundant words, gasps, and phrases in combination with spasming body language to describe a seemingly banal decision. There he was, a grown-ass man, suddenly flexing the grammar of a teenager. He described feeling love for animals as weird. “And shit.” Why is it hard to just say “I love animals”? I don’t actually know, best I can offer is a messy thesis.
The great divide
Like most men, I have been raised not to cry, because boys don’t cry (and shit). Rather, we suppress. We squish emotions deep into a void within our soul. Therein lies a biological reactor, where our suppressed emotions mix with our need for validation and love, resulting in a chemical reaction that produces our endless ambition, hunger for power and wealth, fast cars, as well as our bitcoin obsession. They don’t teach you this in biology class, but this is exactly how it works.
Being raised to be “a man” has created a divide within my personality. I have been detached from my natural wholeness, wherein the masculine and feminine are balanced. I’ve spent too much time and energy in pursuit of trying to be half of a person. I believe we call this phenomenon “toxic masculinity”.
As a result, when ditching animal-based foods, I’ve felt trouble fusing my “masculine identity” with lifestyle changes based on “care” and “empathy”.
Thanks to this culturally occurring process, my rationalizations of going plant-based have at first also been laced with rejections of care. Consequently, I started explaining going veg by telling people that “I do it for selfish reasons, health and such”, despite in reality being deeply concerned about animals, and the obvious environmental and humanitarian issues caused by animal agriculture.
Care was not on the menu. That’s because when I listed animal welfare as a reason for my “veganizing”, I had shitty interactions with people. People would begin to feel uncomfortable, start fidgeting and would often start talking manically in attempts to rationalize their own meat-eating. Sometimes even arguments arose. Sadly, saying “I do it for selfish reasons” was a more acceptable reason to ditch meat than “empathy”.
I’m not just talking about boys, though. Women too. Toxic masculinity is in no way limited to men. It oozes through the pores of society and we are all drenched in its bitter-sweet syrup. It manifests itself in many forms, often hidden right before our eyes.
No matter how we look at it or what we call it, most of us were raised to be either A or B. And so we grow up incomplete and behave ever so strangely. Strange people in a strange world. It’s no wonder many go on to become bitter and cynical.
The first-class cynical ticket
One way of dealing with the strangeness of being alive today is becoming utterly cynical. It’s the easy way out. Add nihilism to the mix and you have a golden duo. The fucking Batman & Robin of bad juju. Rather than care and do something about it, you can just criticize everything and do nothing. Oui oui! It’s all rigged anyway, people are evil and dumb, and demise is imminent.
I found it strange how cynically people around me reacted whenever I expressed any form of care - be it animals, environment, or people. What a fucking idiot I am for questioning the morality of killing a sentient, loving creature. Feeling like a bozo for loving animals spurred my personal growth, because I still wanted to seem cool, despite “caring and shit”. Of course I wanted to. I too need to fit in, find a mate, procreate and make new, marginally better versions of myself. I too need security offered by a strong social standing. Seeing how “caring” actually jeopardized “all that” really surprised me.
So I suppressed and suppressed. As we all do. But I’ve yet to meet a person who reasonably doesn’t agree with the immorality of animal agriculture, be it carnivore or herbivore. But we use reasoning as we please. In this case, despite having a sufficient amount of reasons to stop killing 80 million animals per hour, we rather use reason to block our own emotions. Reason is the mad king in a world of emotional creatures, and so our tragicomedy never ends.
We’ve cultivated a culture where “empathy” is equated with “weakness”. Cynicism is the ultimate escape. It grants us the permission to indulge in the flawed world as is while criticizing all who wish to change it for the better. There is a comfort to cynicism. It creates a feeling like there is much less to lose. Unfortunately, it leaves one with not much to gain as well.
They’re not taking what little pleasure we have left
In the last 100 years, as we learned more about nutrition science and how food affects our body, nutritionists and doctors started canceling certain foods. And of course, nobody ever canceled steamed peas. They came for the good stuff. They took our sugars, our fats, our bellowed gluten... and eventually, they came for our meat. Nothing matters, except this. This is where we drew the line and said: “Stop right there! Darn it, you’re not taking what little pleasure I have left in life!” Indeed, without eating meat, our lives are devoid of any joy. All that’s left is “the grind”. Might as well ditch coffee and start going to bed at 9 PM, like a fucking idiot. What’s next? Hugging my male friends without tapping backs? Shut the fuck up.
Good luck, us
Seeing my friend grapple with tectonic movements within his identity reminded me of my “plantening”. I went through all the stages of denial and today I stand by my feelings of “care” and “empathy”. I’m gay now, there is no other way of putting it.
I also used to look at cynicism with pity, but now I have fostered an empathy towards people who suffer from it. Including myself. I realized it’s a mere symptom of a super strange society we’ve built. To remain sane among people is truly an art form. I believe everybody is giving it their best in these sub-optimal circumstances. Wow, that sounded super un-cool.
Of course, not as un-cool as loving animals. Like ok, you can love dogs and cats. Also birds. As long as they are forbidden to fly. Cows however, no no no. They sit like idiots, have four stomachs, and burp greenhouse gases.
I really wish it wasn’t so. I wish we’d rethink our relationship with all living creatures. But hey, is it just me, or do I sense a positive change arising in our society? I feel like we reached peak “cynical nihilism” and “toxic masculinity”, so now it’s becoming increasingly cooler to be caring, nice, and positive. Not like kumbaya positive, but you know, cool positive.
I believe it’s called being “positive and shit.”
PS: Today, I hug my male friends without tapping their backs. A nice little squeeze to fully feel my bros always takes the grey out of a day.