It’s Raining Vegan Men, Hallelujah
Are Baby Boomer men the fastest growing new group of vegans today?
Americans love clever catch phrases and the vegan community is not immune to the latest, courtesy of The Boston Globe: hegan, a male vegan. While the term hasn’t quite caught on (thank goodness) the sentiment—that more males are going vegan now than ever before—has certainly been an interesting development, especially considering that the focus has been on men of the Baby Boomer generation.
Farm Sanctuary president and co-founder Gene Baur says that he has noticed that more people are becoming vegan overall, if not usually or exclusively Boomer males. “I was just in New York City at an activist meeting, and there were a couple of men who had just become vegan, perhaps in their thirties or maybe forties,” Baur says. “I think that more people are becoming vegan across the board, and that includes men.”
The appearance of more men at activist meetings is notable, he adds. “Traditionally animal issues and vegan living has been more supported by women,” Baur notes. “Men could be a growing vegan demographic; Boomer women have been involved for a while.”
Allan E. Kornberg, MD, executive director of Farm Sanctuary, says that the news that more men are going vegan is “good to hear.”
“I have noticed a little change, but I have not seen formal data,” Kornberg says. “There are still more younger people going vegan, who are college-age or in their twenties, and more women than men that become vegan.”
Because the group of vegan men tends to be smaller, when more men go vegan, he explains, the number increases rapidly.
While younger people tend to become vegan because of concern for animal welfare, older newly vegan people cite different reasons. “With Baby Boomers, what I have seen is personal health as the biggest motivation, some concern for the environment, and animal welfare as well,” Kornberg says.
Vegan and vegetarian diets are becoming more recognized for their health benefits than they have in the past, he adds. “It is interesting that a generation ago people thought vegetarianism was not good for you, but nowadays most everybody recognizes that veganism and vegetarianism are good for us,” he notes.
Two books highlighting the health benefits of a whole foods-based, vegan diet have been key in changing negative perception of veganism, Baur and Kornberg agree. The China Study and The Engine 2 Diet have encouraged those who held onto outdated notions of health to explore a vegan diet.
“The books have been significant,” Baur says. “The China Study is loaded with empirical evidence that shows that eating plants is healthier than eating animals.”
Author of The China Study, T. Colin Campbell, PhD, is a unique spokesperson for vegan living, he adds. “He grew up on a farm, and initially went to school to find out how to farm animals more efficiently, and then he saw the human health consequences,” Baur explains.
For Boomer men, Baur says, health consciousness is a significant factor, especially with models like Engine 2 author/athlete Rip Esselstyn and other athletes having gone vegan, or at least vegetarian, and reaping the rewards. “You can be vegan and still very athletic,” he maintains. “Meat is not necessary to obtain the strength and endurance that men aspire to.”
One point of controversy that men who consider a vegan diet often face is the role of soy. Following a report that claimed that soy causes a hormonal imbalances in men, many say that they are soy shy.
Kornberg says there is no reason for concern.“Soy is a good source of protein and it is healthy,” he explains. “There has been some conjecture, but it is not scientific; there no evidence for the feminizing effect, no credible evidence at all. That is a misnomer.”
The reason for the misnomer lies in a misinterpretation of the chemical compounds in soy-based foods, Kornberg says, “but there is zero credible evidence” that men should avoid soy.
In fact, the doctor says his own health improved after giving up meat, and even more so after going vegan. Citing heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer as leading causes of death and loss of quality of life, he adds that eating a vegan diet offers protection against these common Western ailments.
“When I went vegetarian twenty years ago, my cholesterol dropped by 30 points to 170,” Kornberg states. “While people say 200 is average, it is not so great.”
Concern for the treatment of farm animals prompted Kornberg to go completely vegan, which further dropped his cholesterol down from 170 to 140.
“You can be a healthier man by being vegan, you can also have a manly physique,” Kornberg contends. “The 20-ounce steak is not why someone is muscular; the average omnivorous diet has five to ten times as much protein than you need.”
In fact, the nutrients in a healthy vegan diet put athletes in a better place in terms of heart conditioning and endurance, he notes.
What about the argument that we ate meat as cavemen, so we must eat meat today? “Cavemen died in their twenties and thirties, they lived a tough life,” he explains. “It has nothing to do with civilized life today.”
Because cavemen died so much younger than we do today, then they simply did not live long enough to develop the chronic ailments like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes that animal products contribute to.
So what is the diet that is meant for us? “I think that humans evolved to be omnivorous and be resourceful,” Kornberg says. “If you look at anatomy and physiology, humans have been successful and we have been resourceful eaters. If you look at how people eat in different climate environments--the Arctic is an exception--we evolved to the point that we can do well on a plant-based diet. We evolved to eat what is best for us that is available, and there is more than enough plant-based food for us.”
For people to point to cave dwellers and say that is why they should eat a cheeseburger makes little sense, the doctor adds. “The average American diet is nothing like what the caveman ate—we did not evolve to eat processed foods, and people eat that too, including foods with high fructose corn syrup,” Kornberg explains. “Most Americans eat way more meat and highly processed food, refined sugars, refined corn based oils, salts, and processed foods—no way did we evolve to drink beers and eat nachos.”
“As humans we make our choices, but it is disingenuous to say we have evolved to eat meat, because we have evolved to eat a plant-based diet and thrive,” he maintains.
Physical health is not the only reason some Boomers have gone vegan, Baur adds. With information about animal cruelty becoming more available, many people have decided to adopt a cruelty-free diet.
“There’s been a convergence of concern over animal cruelty, environmental consequences and heart disease and cancer, the risk of both of which can be lessened by eating plants instead of animals,” Baur maintains. “We have experts and giants, credible voices who are speaking out against abuse. People have a feeling that the animals are mistreated, and they are not feeling healthy, but they don’t feel they can change.”
Going vegan is a step towards living a healthier and more compassionate life, he adds.
“When you are making choices that are humane and consistent with your humane values, it feels right,” Baur explains. “When we are living in a way that is humane, it speaks to our better angels, and if you are eating well and feeling well, your brain works better, and you are not living in denial. People want to make choices that are consistent with their values. They would rather not eat in a way that makes them feel bad about abusing animals.”
Baur cites increasing awareness of the cruelty of factory farming, and ballot initiatives fighting for improvements in animal welfare. “The most recent was in 2008 in California, outlawing gestational and veal crates,” he notes.
Today it is easier than ever to go vegan, because the more people who do it, the more informational resources there are and the more availability of products and services. “There are more and more vegans around and people can talk to someone,” he says. “Veganism just gets easier and easier. Soymilk is everywhere.”
And while Boomer men may not be going vegan in huge numbers, there has been enough of a change that Baur sees a societal shift. Their Boomer partners, even their children, may be influencing them to adopt a more plant-based diet for the animals, the earth, and their health.
“Change happens over time, and there is information out there and seeds are being planted,” Baur maintains. “What we are talking about makes so much sense; it feels right, to eat in a way that is not causing other animals to suffer, that is healthy doesn’t make you sick, and is not hurting the planet.”
Editor's note: Farm Sanctuary works to end cruelty to farm animals and promotes compassionate living through rescue, education, and advocacy. To help support this valuable, worthwhile cause, please visit Farm Sanctuary.org to help. A compassionate world begins with you.
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