Man eating a salad, potentially a hegan.A “hegan” in his natural habitat?Photo: ekornblutEvery year or so, a media outlet has the shocking realization that — ready? — not all men eat meat. Gasp! First, there was the New York Times piece about vegan firefighters, which boils down to “Wait, how can burly dudes who put out fires eat anything other than steak?! Cray-cray!” Actual numbskull quote from a former firefighter, on his brawny brethren: “They’re dinosaurs, they’re big meat eaters.” (Why would we have dinosaurs extinguish fires? Their arms are so short! But I digress …)

Then a year ago, The Boston Globe attempted to coin the term “hegan.”  The reporter describes the unbelievable!! conversion of a guy who liked fried stuff but then talked to a vegan friend and decided to totally change his lifestyle. What follows is dramatic narration more fitting for Morgan Freeman than the Globe: “They are hegans. They are healthy. And they are here to stay. While no one was looking, guys were stepping up to the wheatgrass bar.”

The Globe admits, “There are no hard numbers on how many hegans exists.” As Salon snarked, “This is unfortunate, because when promoting arbitrary trends, it’s often useful to have hard figures.” (Number of “Manly Vegan” Tumblrs: 1.) Still, that doesn’t stop the reporter from generalizing about the group she can’t quantify: “Like most hegans, Atkinson, a single father, taught himself to cook.”

Which brings us to this week, when the Charleston, S.C., Post and Courier resurfaced “hegan,” even attempting to coin the term “power vegan”: “Many ordinary, carnivorous guys becoming ‘power vegans’ to eat healthier,” proclaims the subtitle. The reporter claims that factory farming and obesity “may start breaking up the marriage between ‘the guy’ and his monster burger.”

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The subtext of all three stories is essentially, “See, veganism isn’t gay!” The Post and Courier piece is most explicit on this point, spotlighting “high-profile alpha males” who’ve given up most animal products, including Bill Clinton, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, and a handful of professional sports stars. None of the articles mention the Long Island man who was “mercilessly mocked, labeled ‘a homo’ and canned for not eating meat.” God forbid the pieces actually examine the complex issue of masculinity in our culture.

How about instead of “hegan” trend pieces, media outlets publish stories that don’t confine men to rigid, outdated gender stereotypes?

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