Guest Blogger: Curt Sobolewski
If I were to describe myself in three words I would say “vegan, yoga, and cats.” In our society, none of these three would be seen as masculine or strong but if you live your life locked in the box of society’s perceptions of gender, then you are limiting your life possibilities and there is nothing strong about that choice.
In the winter of 2007 I woke up one night with a unique sickness. It was one that would continue for months and when Western medicine couldn’t determine its origin, I went to an acupuncturist who told me I was “damp”. She was the first person to understand what was going on with my health and shortly after a number of treatments I started to feel better. A couple months later and continued treatments, I decided to investigate how what I could be eating could improve my health. The books I turned to were Paul Pitchford’s Healing with Whole Foods and Amadea Morningstar’s The Ayurvedic Cookbook.
Three years before the illness I gave up eating red meat (because of the occurrence of heart disease and cancer on both of the sides of my family) and I saw the new change in my diet as just another step to improve my health. After a little time, I realized that the best diet for my health was a vegan diet. So, without hesitation, I cut out all animal products from my diet and then a number of months later I cut out all animal products from my life. Anything that I owned that had wool, leather, or other animal products in it I donated and I refrained from buying anything that was from a company that tested on animals. I also became an extreme label reader and with the help from my smart phone realized how many foods had animal products hidden in them as well as how many preservatives also doubled as possible cancer causing agents. That was the easy part of becoming vegan.
Was it all that easy? Of course it wasn’t. I have a PhD in sociology and I was fully aware of how our society has assigned gender to food (as well as other items whose gender has been socially constructed) and knew that being a vegan male meant that I would never eat a Hungry-Man Dinner again (and miss out on 120% of my daily sodium intake with one serving). I was also aware of some of the backlash that was to come as I came out as a vegan. Comments such as “What are we going to eat for the Holidays?” and “Don’t you miss eating meat?” and “I could be vegan but I like cheese and ice cream too much” and my favorite, “Aren’t plants living things?” were common responses to my vegan declaration.
But the big question is always, “Why did you decide to become vegan?” My answer is simple: I became vegan first because of health and second because I truly believe that we all should have an ethical and moral responsibility to respect the lives of all creatures in this world. I don’t see the difference between one of my six rescued companion animals (four cats and two dogs) and a cow or a chicken or a fish or a spider. They all have the right to live their lives to the fullest.
Whenever the masculine side of my food choices is challenged I realize that a lot of what we eat is because of routine and ritual. It is hard to change something you have always done and it is hard to believe that what you have always thought may not be true. When I’m confronted with the “How do you get protein?” or “How do you get your calcium if you don’t consume dairy?” before I answer I think of a Mark Twain quote that says: “It is easier to fool people than to convince people that they have been fooled.” You can talk about how much protein there is in beans or asparagus or not realize that it is odd that we are the only adult mammals that consume another mammals’ milk after birth but as for me, I’m happy moving beyond my willful ignorance and realizing that I have never been happier or healthier in my life.
So, to the people who may challenge my lifestyle choices with arguments rooted in gender stereotypes, we need to remember that Miller Lite convinced men that it was manly to drink a low calorie beer, so haw hard will it be to convince men that it is manly not to eat animal products, do yoga, and love cats?