The rise of the ‘He-gan’ – how more men than ever are choosing a plant-powered diet
Veganism is a concept that many men have struggled with over the years.
The non-consumption of animal-based products flies in the face of traditional masculine values which seem to demand that a male consumes as much meat protein as possible, namely to boost testosterone levels.
But not only is this attitude becoming less prevalent, it’s also been scientifically proven to be inaccurate. A vegan plan can, in fact, provide more than enough testosterone, as well as protein and all the other nutrients necessary for a well-balanced diet.
The worldwide growth in veganism, as found by a Vegan Society study, contains a substantial number of men who are attracted by a plant-based way of living.
This article explores some of the reasons behind this trend.
Breaking gender norms
Although not as profound as in previous years, differences between the sexes still exist across all areas of society. The gender pay gap, for example, is still apparent in most countries.
Certain personality traits are also attributed to gender. Males, according to research, are more likely to take risks. The risk-taking venture of gambling, for example, whether that be betting on live sports or staking money in an online casino game, is still a male-dominated domain.
Gender stereotypes also exist for food consumption. We tend to think of the typical meat-eater as male, while vegetarians and vegans are more likely to be female.
Yet, a key reason for the rise in male vegans is that gender roles are less powerful in the 21st century. The rise of ‘stay-at-home’ dads is a key example: with many modern women choosing to pursue their careers after having a child, 1 in 6 ‘stay-at-home parents’ are now male, compared to 1 in 10 in 1989.
Often referred to as ‘new age men’, the modern man isn’t as bound to old customs of manhood as his ancestors were. Men today are more able to do activities that were traditionally regarded as feminine or ‘unmanly’, because there is less stigma attached to them in a more accepting society.
Following a vegan diet, then, is just part of this trend as men shake off the meat shackles and embrace a healthier way of living.
The mainstream has normalised veganism
Not so long ago, veganism was a niche idea. Now, it seems that everyone’s jumping on board the green bandwagon.
Vegan recipes are popping up in the most unlikely of places. McDonalds, that great bastion of meat consumption, has a McPlant burger now, while many alpha-male footballers, boxers, and strongmen swear by a plant-based diet as they seek to maximise strength and endurance.
The 2018 Netflix documentary The Game Changers follows UFC fighter James Wilks as he investigates the impact of meat-and dairy-free diets among athletes. The show claims that sportspeople can get all the nutrients they need from such diets, and that consuming animal-based products negatively affects performance.
Lewis Hamilton is another prominent advocate of veganism. One of the most successful F1 drivers of all time swears by his plant-based routine that he adopted in 2018.
Big brands and sports stars have helped to blow away the machismo surrounding non-meat consumption, which has had a big impact on the attitudes of young males when it comes to what they eat.
It could be a matter of life or death
Putting aside the higher risk of health problems associated with meat-rich diets, many young men are choosing veganism for another existential reason — the survival of the planet.
Perhaps the most famous example of a climate warning was delivered by Sir David Attenborough in 2020. In his A Life on Our Planet documentary, he urged us to change our diet, saying that the planet ‘can’t support billions of meat-eaters’.
He was referring to the studies that found that meat and dairy production is the cause of the 83% of cultivated farmland that is taken away from nature. A UN report found that the livestock industry contributed to almost 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
If we continue as we are, Attenborough was saying, then we may not have an Earth left to live on within many people’s lifetimes.
Such dramatic warnings have influenced men eager to do something about the climate crisis, to the point that they’re willing to give up meat and dairy. In short, increased environmental awareness is driving veganism.
Still a long way to go for vegans…
Despite the significant advances made in vegan consumption, many ‘He-gans’ will point out that there’s still a long way to go before most people give up meat and dairy products.
Successful ad campaigns have made meat ‘cool’ again, particularly via the trendy street food trucks that you see at public events.
Popular culture, too, still links masculinity to meat, with an infamous example being ‘Steak and blowjob day’, a supposedly male equivalent to Valentine’s Day where the recipient gets meat and oral sex instead of cards and roses.
He-gans, though, remain unswayed by the new wave of meat consumption. As the number of male vegans continues to rise, the momentum shows no signs of slowing down. Rather than be tempted back to omnivore life, it seems they’ll just keep pushing for a non-meat society, one plant-based meal at a time.