Lettuce Ladies? Lost cause.
Blog posts: 4
Have you met the Lettuce Ladies? They’re sexy, they’re veggie, they wear lettuce... Yes. Only lettuce. Last week, I had the displeasure of an introduction and I have since entered a serious rabbit hole. This adventure started with a simple and innocent question: why would anyone use porn to sell vegetarianism? but I realised there were more serious questions to ask, when I found this.
The BWVAKTBOOM, or ‘Boyfriend Went Vegan And Knocked The Bottom Out Of Me’ is another PeTA ad campaign, this time featuring a woman wearing a neckbrace and panties, suffering from the outrageous sexual antics of her vegan-turned boyfriend. Great. Half-naked and physically abused, all in the name of veganism. How on earth did we get here? Clearly, this is a question that has been pondered before (see here, and here). It’s more complex than ‘sex sells’, because it’s wrapped up with our eating habits and identities. Here are two of the main ideas that come out of the research on this subject. (If they sound obvious, we should probably ask why.)
- ‘Real Men Eat Meat’
We’ve got a long-standing association between red meat and masculinity. It’s not just meat, though, is it? ‘Real men’ eat meat, and they also like a good pair of breasts on a [young, usually white] female. There are plenty more stereotypes, we know the drill. But as organisations like PeTA really trade off this meat’n’tits idea of masculinity, it’s worth a closer look into the psychology.
Do men really think that a meat diet is a core part of their identity? Some recent research seems to think so. In a paper with the title 'Real Men Don't Eat (Vegetable) Quiche', psychologists looked at the different strategies that men and women use to defend eating meat, when faced with the arguments for becoming vegetarian.
Some interesting gender differences came through - men tended to defend their diet on the grounds that it was human fate to eat meat, animals were lower than humans in hierarchy, and animals didn’t suffer much anyway. Women would use more indirect strategies, like dissociating the animal from the food, and ignoring the animal suffering involved. In the second part of the study, they found that the use of male meat-eating strategies were linked to masculinity, which led them to conclude that “to simply make an informational appeal about the benefits of a vegetarian diet may ignore a primary reason why men eat meat: It makes them feel like real men.”
- ‘Veggies have to compensate’
In another creatively-titled study - ‘Beasts, Burgers and Hummers’ - the researcher suggests that the environmental and animal rights movements (and therefore, vegetarianism) are seen as posing a threat to masculinity. As a result, we have this crisis of masculinity shown through advertising, where products are sold on a desperation to somehow compensate. That’s an idea that’s totally summed up in this advert which shows a man getting tofu at the supermarket checkout and then buying a Hummer to ‘restore the balance’. Or this advert for Del Taco, where a man orders a large helping of meat (in front of a young, attractive woman) in order to ‘feed the beast’.
This kind of advertising assumes that meat is one of the important ways to prove real manliness. And it’s interesting how the climate movement is implicated in this, because many such ads have an explicit anti-environmental and anti-animal rights message, as well condoning the ‘macho meat-man’. What does that say to vegetarian men? “If you’re going to forgo your manliness with an ethical diet then, for Pete’s sake, go out and buy a big car! Or, at the very least, get yourself a decent girlfriend... Because you are still a healthy heterosexual, right?!”
And we’re back to meat’n’tits again. Sigh.
Well, I think we’ve got a bit closer to answering our question ‘why would anyone use porn to sell vegetarianism?’, but it’s not a particularly happy answer. Organisations like PeTA are trading on the very same desperation that fuels the Hummer ad. Premise 1: people believe that real men eat meat. Premise 2: people believe veggies have to compensate. Conclusion: let’s compensate with half-naked ladies! What a sell-out.
Where do we go from here? You’d think that environmental and animal-rights organisations would be the first to challenge this view of masculinity. Red meat is not necessary for men to feel happy and secure in their maleness, and vegetarians don’t need to ‘compensate’ for anything at all. That much is obvious. Perhaps the growing strength of the climate movement will help cement this shift in the male identity. Or, perhaps the impetus needs to come from us, in the vegetarian and vegan community, to continue to assert an empowered and confident meat-free identity that doesn’t call for fast cars and naked women. Either way, I very much hope we can move on from the Lettuce Ladies.
Title photo by David Snyder and courtesy of PETA