The Tie BetweenQueerness & Veganism: Fact orFiction?
By Petra Shotwell (she/they)
Illustration by Yi Jong
I’ll admit it – I love tofu; hummus and crackers are one of my favourite afternoon snacks, and sometimes I even dabble in a bit of fake ‘chicken’ when I feel like getting really serious. But are my meatless cravings really a result of my queerness? Is veganism truly a component of the gay agenda? Which absolute peanut decided that queer = vegan? I’m merely a vegetarian, so already I’m seeing flaws in the system. Then again, technically I’m bisexual, so perhaps being part-gay just makes you part-vegan. Is it just the gold star gays who are gold star vegans?
Until recently, I never thought much of this stereotype. Maybe because I knew there couldn’t possibly be truth to it. Of course not all queer people are vegan – can you imagine? Every single well-dressed, power-walking homosexual on the street, eating nothing but vege. Presuming it’s just another empty stereotype, I’ve proceeded to ignore it as long as I’ve known it. Then it reached breaking point: my partner told me that the incredible tofu I cook is the ‘gayest thing’ about me. This is when I knew the joke had gone too far.
I can guarantee you, my tofu is not the gayest thing about me.
A quick search online reassures me that I’m not wrong in thinking this stereotype exists. People are strangely and obsessively interested in the connection between queerness and veganism (alas, I have joined them).
However, most of what I found was focused on unpacking the relationships between the two. What interests me today is unpacking why such a stereotype exists, whether it has any factual basis, and at its roots, is it just another example of white people determining a new social norm and deciding it’ll make sense for everyone? One thing’s for sure: the discourse supports the stereotype.
In Stats NZ’s most recent ‘Household Economic’ survey, they identified 1 in 20, or 4.2%, of adults in Aotearoa identified as LGBTTQIA+. This seems painfully low. The survey consisted of 31,000 respondents, which, while being a vast number, still doesn’t necessarily accurately represent the entire country. But that’s the latest data, so I guess we’ll go with it. A separate poll suggested that approximately 6% of New Zealanders were vegetarian or vegan. While I’ve openly admitted to not fully trusting the first set of statistics, based on what they tell us, there are more vegans than there are queers. This tells us that not all vegans are queer, but still, all queers could be vegan.
The most bizarre, recurring idea in this topic was the thought that ‘coming out’ as vegan is just as hard, if not worse, than coming out as queer. Firstly, I don’t even think I feel comfortable using the term ‘coming out’ to describe announcing your veganism. I could write a whole thesis on the meaning of ‘coming out’, and I promise I wouldn’t discuss veganism even once.
Secondly, and maybe I’m missing something here, but this seems like a dramatic over-exaggeration. Last time I checked, veganism doesn’t put you in a position to be abused, criminalised, or killed (correct me if I’m wrong). In one article, the writer discusses how coming out as gay to her family was no big deal, but ‘coming out’ as vegan was met with an hour of being screamed at. In that particular case, I suppose it makes sense: if she had an easy time coming out as queer, of course ‘coming out’ as vegan was more difficult for her. But doesn’t it show a whole lot of privilege to be able to say that? Of course, the comparison is subjective, depending entirely on each individual’s family dynamic and values. But, it seems a little far-fetched to say that veganism as actually on par with being queer.
Another piece I read swears that the overlap is real based on the display of pride flags in vegan cafés, and the fact that most of the writer's past girlfriends have been vegan. Don’t get me wrong, these things do suggest a connection here could be real. But more importantly, they suggest that super vocal queers who happen to be vegan are probably more likely to be super vocal about both. Perhaps that’s what we are looking at here: queers aren’t necessarily all vegan, but when we see both ‘fringe’ identities in one place, it’s memorable.
After navigating a handful of offensive opinion pieces, it was time to do some investigating of my own. Because I am technically Gen Z, I turned to Instagram. The majority of my followers are queer, and I’m (happily) not even close to insta-famous.
I did, however, hear from over 350 people across diverse sexualities and dietary choices, with a whole lot of valuable insight to share. Of the 291 self-identified queer people who responded, 33.6% were vegan or vegetarian, compared to the 26.9% of the 89 straight respondents. I’m no expert, but this difference isn’t exactly significant. Much more important than these numbers, however, are the opinions regarding why the stereotype exists in the first place.
What I thought would be a funny exploration of why lesbians like hummus and bliss balls turned into an intense breakdown of masculinities, misogyny, and both racial and economic privilege. Aside from one person’s idea that the stereotype came from Newtown, the most common thoughts were as follows:
Firstly, being vegan and being queer are both identities which society has deemed ‘alternative’, ‘liberal’, ‘woke’, and even ‘radical’. Historically, society tends to lump alternative groups into a single box: the ‘Other’. If you fit into one minority group, it’s easier for society to pin another one onto you. Perhaps our Western society created this stereotype almost out of habit and familiarity, because “western society loves stereotypes.”
Secondly, that queer people are likely to have higher levels of compassion, empathy, and environmental consciousness. More than 25 people shared this thought, and one anonymous respondent stated that “suppressed people care about suppression”, which leans into the idea that queer people and vegans are alternative groups. Another stated that “because of the harm we have faced in the queer community, we have a greater understanding of the pain we see in animals.” It’s no secret that queer people have been oppressed for, you know, all of time. Is it a stretch to suggest that those who have been harmed are more likely to empathise with others who have also been harmed? I think not.
Thirdly, that the stereotype is inherently misogynistic, and that historically, ‘real men’ eat meat and are straight. One respondent put it simply, saying “masculinity is fragile” - a perspective I am much familiar with. ‘Toxic masculinity’ was a trending term throughout the responses. ‘Strength’ is a dominant trait of hegemonic masculinity, therefore, caring about oneself or the environment makes you ‘soft’, and is “viewed as an admission of weakness”, as one respondent suggested. This suggests that being vegan means that you are somehow less strong, less dominant, less aggressive, and therefore less of a man. This perspective is, need I say, problematic at best. I won't get started on what it truly takes to ‘be a man’, but I will say, being vegan won’t ruin your chances.
Another important area of my research focused on how perspectives varied across cultures. My own opinion going into this was that the stereotype had to be an idea which originated in Western society; the west has a vast history of viewing minorities as ‘other’, and making assumptions about people they know nothing about. Based on my own knowledge, food is an incredibly important part of many cultures and some would say foods carry their own identities. I would assume that it is a white, Western perspective that would think it necessary to add new meaning to food trends, such as the idea that veganism is inherently queer.
With that, I wanted to know how veganism and vegetarianism are perceived in Indigenous cultures. The majority of respondents to this question answered from a Māori or Samoan perspective, all of whom suggested that this stereotype isn’t a part of their cultures as far as they know.
One respondent stated that while she is a vegetarian “for our gorgeous Papatūānuku”, in her experience, while not many people are vegetarian, there is “never judgement about being vegetarian at tangi or other gatherings.” Another explained that in her opinion, veganism/vegetarianism is “frowned upon in Indigenous culture” and that it’s her belief that this stems from the fact that “meat is a fundamental part of traditional meals.” She also offered her thoughts on relevance of queerness in this discussion, stating that a person who identifies as LGBTTQIA+ is already seen as different in Samoan culture, so in correlation, their veganism/vegetarianism is therefore “expected or loosely accepted” – if their identity is already seen as different, it’s easier to accept different dietary preference as well.
While the answers throughout the survey varied, all shared a common thought: privilege. Only privileged people can afford to be vegetarian or vegan. Many respondents stated that they only eat meat when it’s home kill, which not only seems like a smart and progressive way to eat meat if you’re going to do it, but also dramatically increases affordability. Vegetarian alternative protein options are also incredibly expensive, even more so than meat. One respondent indigenous to Canada stated that commercial hunting and poaching have a “very negative effect" on those communities “who rely on hunting and governance over land.” Another respondent surmised that “we live off the land, but never take more than you need” – another responsible way to eat meat, if you choose to. Reducing individual meat consumption may be better for our environment, for Papatūānuku, but that doesn’t change the reality that having the option to do so is a privilege.
I, a mere bisexual with the privilege to choose to be a vegetarian, have absolutely no authority to determine what approach to meat you ought to take; whether veganism is definitively politically correct; or whether eating meat actually, factually, has anything to do with queerness. I can, however, conclude that veganism and queerness are each perfectly capable of existing independently, but are also pretty sweet when they’re paired up side-by-side roasting cauliflower and toasting chickpeas.
It’s clear that there are abundant connections between queer and vegan identities, however, I think it’s safe to say that this fictitious stereotype is likely to be the figment of a Western, fish-holding, steakand3vege, hegemonic man’s imagination. But, I think I’ll allow hummus to carry on as lesbians' favourite snack.