Charlie Puth, Hungry Jack’s, and Mary Wollstonecraft: The Social Challenges of Veganism
(Content warning: Blood and sex. [No, not at once. Jeezy Creezy.])
(Photo sourced from here.)
I was driving to a date in the sort of frenzy that made a James Bond film look like a watercolour tutorial. My ear was throbbing after an earring-related incident that left my bathroom basin looking like a collaboration between Ted Bundy and Jackson Pollock. Meanwhile, my phone spasmed on the passenger seat. I glanced at it as I pulled up to a red light.
‘I’m here,’ read a text, timestamped 8:00pm.
I arrived at 9:00pm, after a trip that involved more guesswork than my HSC exams, a navigation app that refused to load, and a totally legal U-turn at a cross intersection.
‘What happened?’ asked my date, who had a pleasing resemblance to Charlie Puth. ‘I was watching you drive on the Snapchat map. You were all over the place. I was like, “What’s she doing?”’
Bloody Snapchat map, I thought. My ineptitude used to be a secret.
I scrunched up my face. ‘Sorry,’ I said, searching for an excuse. I settled for honesty: ‘I’m hopeless.’
We took a seat in the restaurant, a burger place I’d suggested on account of its vegan options. (Thankfully, it was a pretty popular place, so I was able to recommend it without outing myself as a deranged plant eater.)
He sat opposite me and pulled out his phone. ‘It’s past nine. The movie starts in ten. Do you want to eat or head over now?’
My already unnatural this-is-a-date-please-like-me smile became even tighter. For me, one of the greatest social challenges of being vegan is having to strategise any outing around its proximity to vegan food options. An omnivore would simply have watched the movie and found some food afterward. As a vegan, however, I knew it was an either-or situation. If I didn’t eat then, the restaurant I’d chosen would’ve closed by the time the movie was finished, and I’d have been left to navigate the waste land of options waiting for me at the guy’s house or any of the late-night fast-food outlets. I imagined myself climbing into bed with my date, blood sugar lower than my standards, and flailing beneath him with all the enthusiasm of a crash test dummy. I gazed longingly at the menu with its promise of a pea and hemp pattie, vegan cheese, and avocado. My thoughts shifted toward Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively in a film about mysterious disappearances, unlikely friendships, and the slipperiness of identity. I was swayed. Something about Anna just gets me, man.
We headed out of the restaurant. As we crossed the road, I remembered all the ads I’d seen about Hungry Jack’s selling a vegan burger. ‘We can probably just go to Hungry Jack’s or something afterwards,’ I said, specifically adding ‘or something’ in a calculated attempt to seem flexible and accommodating. I tilted my head a little for extra casual swagger and regretted it immediately.
‘The Hungry Jack’s near here isn’t a 24-hour one,’ he informed me. ‘We could go to Maccas though.’
I suppose I could eat some apple slices, I thought. My stomach rolled over after a day without any lunch — and now, possibly dinner. My near-fatal blood loss from my earrings probably wasn’t helping my energy levels either. I decided not to relent.
‘Is there a 24-hour Hungry Jack’s elsewhere?’ I asked, struggling to stifle a shrill desperation in my tone. ‘I can drive,’ I added, quickly, remembering I was not an annoying vegan. I was a chill girl who preferred a plant-based diet.
He looked a bit amused. ‘Yeah, I mean if you really want Hungry Jack's, that should be fine.’
‘Well, the burgers are better,’ I said to no laughter.
‘I think it’s probably best if I drive though.’
I had no defence.
‘Is it even open?’ he asked, as we pulled up to a Hungry Jack’s in a suburb that looked like where the dead go to die.
‘I think it’s just drive-through at this time,’ I said — not because I knew this to be true but because the alternative would’ve been mortifying after how long it took to get there.
He turned a corner to the entrance to the drive-through. ‘Yeah, I think you’re right.’
To my relief, we weren’t the only car there.
‘What do you want?’
I glanced at the menu just outside of his window. I hoped to myself the vegan burger was called something inconspicuous like the ‘Veggie Whopper’ or the ‘Garden Deluxe’, but the sign that greeted me didn’t hear my prayers. Parents have probably plead guilty to infanticide faster than I managed to choke out my order. ‘The, uh… v-vegan burger.’
He relayed my order, and for a moment, I thought I’d escaped interrogation. As we waited for the queue to clear, however, he turned to me. ‘So you’re vegan?’
This is another social challenge: No one wants to befriend — let alone date — a vegan. The fact I used to have a dick is a pretty big hurdle for some guys, but my perverted attraction to soy and green smoothies is, I suspect, the real deal breaker*. I wasn’t ready to ruin any potential with him by, heaven forbid, being myself. There are times I’ve told people I was vegan, and from their outraged reactions, you’d think I’d said I like snuff films or country music.
I’m obviously being hyperbolic (what's new?), but it’s hardly controversial to suggest there is a stigma attached to veganism. A 2011 content analysis of UK newspapers noted a phenomenon of ‘vegaphobia’ (Cole & Morgan, p. 150). In the study, 397 articles on the topics of vegans or veganism were divided into three categories — positive, negative, or neutral — depending on the objective or evaluative slant apparent in the language used (Cole & Morgan 2011, p. 137). Of the 397 articles, 74.3% were disparaging enough to be classified as negative (Cole & Morgan 2011, p. 138), demonstrating a tendency to characterise vegans as ‘hostile’ and ‘oversensitive’ and veganism as ‘ascetic’ and ‘a fad’ (Cole & Morgan 2011, p. 139).
I don’t know why such contempt is reserved for vegans. All many of us are trying to do is limit unnecessary suffering. I’ve never once heard someone say, ‘Oh, she volunteers for the Make-a-Wish Foundation? Fuck that bitch!’ Yes, vegans have a reputation for being a little preachy, and there are certainly many bad examples of activism that could be proffered to corroborate such a view. In many cases, however, I feel this is an exaggerated image people prop up so they don’t have to confront the legitimate ethical reasons for rethinking their choices as consumers. The authors of the aforementioned content analysis concur, insisting that ‘derogatory discourses of veganism’ exist merely as an attempt to dissociate ‘veganism […] from its connection with debates concerning nonhuman animals’ rights or liberation’ (Cole & Morgan 2011, p. 134). Moreover, no one ever talks about militant omnivores. I can think of many occasions I’ve politely declined some ice cream or cheese dip, only to be dragged into a debate on ethics with people who probably think Tullock’s spike is something you’d find on Pornhub**.
The social challenges of veganism are one of the primary reasons vegans abandon their lifestyles. A US study conducted by the Humane Research Council (HRC) of 11,000 people aged 17 and over found vegan recidivism rates to be as high as 70% (2014, p. 4). Of these recidivists, 63% reported they didn’t like how their diet made them ‘stick out from the crowd’ (HRC 2014, p. 7).
Obviously, in a society where veganism is the dominant discourse, such social challenges would cease to exist. Vegan foods would be readily available and veganism would be so common it would rarely even register as something to be debated or undermined in social interactions. In the interim (assuming such a society is ever realised***), experience has allowed me to devise strategies to cope with the problems outlined in this post.
If you’re concerned about strategising your outings around the availability of vegan food, the greatest recommendation I can make is Jimmy Joy’s Plenny Shake****. Whilst finding vegan-friendly restaurants is ideal, the Plenny Shake, for me, has quickly become my go-to plan B when I’m going to be in an unfamiliar area, when I don’t have time to research nearby restaurants, or when I’m in an area with a dearth of options. It’s nutritionally complete, containing all your micros and macros, and currently comes in six different flavours (chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, banana, mango, and neutral), so if you’re going to be drinking it often, you can still have at least a little variety. One pouch gives you more calories and nutrients than you need for one day and costs around $9.50 (AUD), but the more you order, the cheaper it becomes. I’m probably not the best judge of flavour (I’ve been known to eat unseasoned tofu straight from the container), but I find the Plenny Shake to be quite enjoyable. It’s mild, creamy, and at the very least, I honestly can’t imagine anyone finding it offensive.
As for the social stigma concomitant to veganism, I take comfort in knowing the people who judge me are simply on the wrong side of history. Significant revolutionary movements have historically been met with scorn and ridicule. In 1792, when Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, philosopher Thomas Taylor anonymously published A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes, a parody of Wollstonecraft’s work, which attempted to suggest any argument for women’s rights was as absurd as any argument for the rights of animals (Singer 1989 , p. 149). (Something tells me Taylor wouldn’t have been a fan of intersectional veganism or Carol J Adams’ The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory.) When close-minded people are confronted with radical ideas, it’s their instinct to ridicule them. After all, it’s so much easier to mock something than engage with it on any meaningful critical level. Besides, people worth your time won’t care — vegan or not.
After I admitted to being vegan, all my date did was smile and say, ‘That’s totally fine.’ He then giggled. ‘I was wondering why it was Hungry Jack’s or nothing.’
Was it love?
No. As I later discovered, the whole date was a mere ruse to sleep with me and never contact me again, but hey, at least my burger was good.
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* Or maybe the two compound upon each other. Transgender vegan does make me sound like some sort of extrême-gauche anarchist.
** Come to think of it, it possibly is. I’m too scared to check.
*** I think lab-grown meat is our best bet for this happening.
**** This post isn’t sponsored. I have two subscribers. Jimmy Joy may be based in Amsterdam, but their marketing team evidently isn’t blazed enough to see my audience as lucrative.
References: Adams, CJ 2015 , The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, Bloomsbury Publishing Inc., London
Cole, M & Morgan, K 2011, ‘Vegaphobia: Derogatory Discourses of Veganism and the Reproduction of Speciesism in UK National Newspapers’, The British Journal of Sociology, vol. 62, no. 1, pp. 134 - 153
Humane Research Council 2014, Study of Current and Former Vegetarians and Vegans, Humane Research Council, viewed 5 November 2018, <https://faunalytics.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Faunalytics_Current-Former-Vegetarians_Full-Report.pdf>
Singer, P 1989 , ‘All Animals Are Equal’ in T Regan & P Singer (eds.), Animal Rights and Human Obligations, Prentice Hall, New Jersey, pp. 148 - 162