Robert Milling & Sam Pearson
Robert Milling is a third year medical student and Sam Pearson works in communications and also blogs at greeneggs. Both are vegans. Here, they talk meat, masculinity and the intersection of queerness and veganism.
masc: How did you both meet?
Robert: Through friends. Sam was travelling and ended up staying in our friend’s house for a month or so. We became friends through that and ended up together.
masc: Can you corroborate that story?
Sam: [Laughs]. I was travelling around South East Asia. I came home, had nowhere to live and no job so I was kind of taken in by their house. Me and Rob were on a night out together, did a kiss and the rest is history.
masc: Was veganism a gradual thing or a conscious choice?
Rob: For me, it was a long journey. I joined an animal welfare group when I was thirteen on Bebo but never even made the jump to vegetarianism. I spent my J1 in San Francisco and stayed in a vegan, nudist co-op. By the end, I had no interest in meat. I did that for like two years and always had veganism in the back of my mind. It made sense, logically. Then we met someone who was studying here and she was vegan and had no trouble. I think you need to know someone who can do it and they open the door.
masc: How was the co-op?
Robert: Oh, God. A shock, yeah. There were four of us Irish people; terrified of naked people, like what is this, what are we doing. But it ended up being magical. Everyone was really lovely, funny. They were all queer, very open. A super progressive environment that let us all grow.
masc: And you, Sam?
Sam: Mine has been a very on-again off-again approach. The usual teenager, ‘I’m not going to eat any meat ever’ to my parents, who were not really impressed but went along with it. I was vegetarian for about a year, then went back eating meat again. When I got to college, I was cooking my own food and didn't really have an excuse. I went back to eating meat while I was travelling – out of necessity. When I got back, it was time to go vegan.
masc: What does veganism mean to you?
Robert: It’s a holistic approach to being conscious across the board about the environment, about animal welfare, health and eating well. Being mindful of all that stuff.
Sam: You have to make a conscious decision in everything you eat and in a lot of what you do, it’s being a bit more self-aware. When you grow up and eat meat, it’s very easy to think that that’s all you can do. It’s not about being ‘super vegan’, it’s the little bits that you can do.
Robert: Recognising that small choices can actually have quite a large environmental impact.
masc: Is it queer by default?
Robert: Wow. That’s a good way of putting it. I never would have linked the two in terms of queerness. Veganism is a queering of the norm. Especially in Ireland where it’s meat-and-two-veg. People are still quite shocked. Shocked might be a strong word. Taken aback and confused when you say it. It can be quite difficult to explain to them, they can feel like you're attacking them which being queer can feel like to a majority of straight people as well.
Sam: Anything outside the status quo can be quite jarring for people. So, when you come out to someone as queer and vegan, they’re like, ‘oh, is everything okay?…’ [Laughs].
Sam: I think when the two come together, it makes for a really nice community.
masc: Culturally, is eating meat a gendered act? In a ‘man-eats-red-meat-served-blue’ kind of way?
Robert: That is totally a thing. If you take a cursory look around a shop, ‘bacon is the best thing ever’, ‘put bacon on everything’. It’s advertised in a masculine way and pushed towards male gendered people.
Sam: I think it’s cis, straight men that it’s most jarring to. Like, trying to find commonality there sometimes… Their personality is that they love bacon. My personality is that I… don’t love bacon. [Laughs]. For people who aren’t cis, straight men, there’s often some common ground there. There’s often more understanding, more, ‘oh, I’d love to if I could’. Whereas, a lot of times, when you’re having conversation with men, it’s like, ‘oh, Jesus, no. I just like steak’.
masc: Like it’s a threat to masculinity. I think of that episode of The Simpsons where Homer has that steak eating competition with a trucker who dies of a heart attack.
Sam: What an incredibly masculine way to die.
masc: That’s probably an over-reading of an episode of The Simpsons.
Robert: Whole papers have been written on it. [Laughs]. But, if you took cross-section of society, I think there would be more women who are vegetarian or vegan than men. I don't have numbers for that but anecdotally, I think so.
Sam: Anecdotally, definitely.
masc: Everything is a class issue. But how much of a class issue is veganism? Like, in terms of exclusivity.
Robert: I do think there can be a class issue. If you bought the exclusive, up-market vegan products – and that’s what people see. That is a barrier and that does present an issue. But you can be vegan and not be wealthy.
Sam: There’s a lot of snobbery in the vegan community. If you are vegan, you have to accept other people’s point of view. We’re never going to be able to think the same and we’re never going to be able to act the same. It’s not realistic for some families and some vegans don’t accept that. But it has to be accepted because it is always going to be more time consuming and more expensive. We have to suck it up and accept that rather than be like, ‘why is everyone not vegan at this exact moment?’.
Robert: The vegan community can be quite extreme, very all-or-nothing, which is unrealistic for people who can’t afford it, who have a whole family to support on a vegan diet and on one income or whatever – it is unreasonable.
masc: Your favourite vegan spot in Dublin?
Sam: I’m trying to think. There are so many. Takara is a favourite. They have one vegan option on the menu at lunch and one vegan option on the menu and I’ve regularly been in for both. [Laughs].
Robert: Your cooking. Emm. Sova Vegan Butcher is probably the best. It’s very tasty. It’s imitation meat-y type dishes.
Sam: Sova is great to bring people who are like, ‘oh, I might be vegan’ because it shows the creativity that you can have.
masc: Is veganism radical?
Robert: I think it’s becoming less so.
Sam: It is still very much something that the majority don’t want to do. But the longer I’m vegan, the more people express an interest in it rather than a distaste for it. I think there’s been a bit of a shift in that people are like, ‘yeah, that is the right thing to do but I can’t do it yet’ rather than, ‘why on earth are you doing that’.