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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Vegan and Vegetarian Vampires

My sis Leeann came over for dinner last night (tacos with seitan chorizo, black beans, avocado, and Dayia…yummish) and she, Jason, and I ended up flipping through channels whilst noshing on the comestibles. We landed, for reasons I may never know, on Twilight, and then Leeann and I essentially made fun of Robert Pattinson’s forced smolder (I can just imagine the director, off camera, constantly saying, “smolder more, eh, Rob?”) and Kristen Stewart’s atrociously bad sense of gloomy ennui. Jason, however, actually likes the Twilight movies, and I find this quality, in a straight, 39-year-old man, both perplexing and somewhat adorable. So he watched while we snarked.

This is Edward in a typical pose.

Watching and snarking at Twilight made me aware, yet again, of the current discourse that exists with regard to vampires and vegetarianism/veganism. Edward and his ilk consider themselves vegetarians. He states, in a moment that has received much attention in the veg press and blogosphere, that “We call ourselves vegetarians because we don’t drink human blood. But it’s kind of like a person surviving only on tofu: you’re never really satisfied.” The good and sparkly, out during the day, graduating from high school over and over again vampires of Forks drink only animal blood; they refrain from their baser desires to feed on human flesh. And because they drink animal blood – which, like tofu, never truly satisfies – they consider themselves vegetarians. Aside from this total diss of tofu, which, as the author of Dawnofanewera maintains in her criticism of Edward’s logic, “is the liquid metal of all foods – it can shape shift into just about any meal, as soy can take on many forms, tastes, and textures,” equating eating animals with vegetarianism is just plain wrong.

I must digress for a moment to say that I tried to read Stephanie Meyer’s books; I made it through the first two. And then I couldn’t take it anymore. The things that upset me the most about this series are, I think, the things that upset most women who believe that their existence constitutes more than window dressing. I tend to concur with various critics who claim that the series promotes a not so implicit valorization of abuse (he leaves, he comes back, he lies, he causes her much emotional and physical pain), that it works to undermine female agency and independence (Bella is always rescued by Edward, Bella is always put in harm’s way by him as well, and she continually enables this scenario to remain manifest), and that it reinforces dangerous and, I’d like to believe outdated, Victorian era notions of male and female sexuality: he’s a beast who must learn to control his baser lusts, and she, simply by virtue of the fact that she’s female, is responsible for inciting those lusts. And despite the fact that Bella wants sex, he just can’t defile her (t’would be so wrong), unless they get married.

Twilight makes me miss Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer all the more.  Buffy is a badass, ass-kicking vampire slayer who fucked her way through a slew of guys, living and undead alike.  And while Whedon’s Angel might remind me a bit of Edward (or perhaps I should say that Meyer has created in Edward a wussier version of Angel – after Angel and Buffy have sex, Angel goes all kinds of psycho), Buffy and Angel finally call it quits, realizing that not being able to copulate is simply not any fun.  Better she should hook up with Spike, which is, incidentally, what I would have done as soon as he entered the picture. Angel who?

Brown chicken, brown cow, brown chicken, brown cow



To Edward’s question of Bella at the end of Twilight, “Is it not enough, just to have a long and happy life with me?” rather than get “turned” (either into a vampire or, er, “on”), Buffy would say a definitive no.  And I love that about her.  But back to the vegetarian issues that the film raises – and that are raised in our current vampire lore, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Twilight franchise, and Alan Ball’s HBO series True Blood

Like Twilight, True Blood also plays with the vegetarian vampire theme, but it does so without ever explicitly stating that theme.  Bill Compton, another of the many non-human eating vamps that lately populate the fictional landscape, is the only real vegan vampire of the Edward, Angel, and Bill troika; he drinks synthetic “True Blood,” a beverage that consists of neither human nor animal blood.  There’s a slew of media out there about the vegan and vegetarian implications of the show, so I won’t bother to post all of that discussion here.

I will, however, post this awesome cartoon of Bill Compton.
 
In terms of this aforementioned troika, all the vampires in question are male, and their decision not to consume human blood is directly linked to their virility, their (in)ability to engage in sexual relationships with women – who very clearly function as consumable objects.  As one of Bella’s friends tells her soon after she starts dating Edward, “he looks at you like you’re something to eat.”  Edward, who doesn’t drink human blood, can’t lose control sexually with Bella.  And he says so every chance he gets.  Eating animals = not having sex, both here and in Buffy and Angel.  When the “vegetarian” Angel has sex with anyone, bad things happen.   

Seriously.

Even Bill, the most sexually functional of the three (he and Sookie boff regularly and often on the show), nearly kills Sookie after losing too much blood.  She gives him her blood, and it’s overwhelming; he can’t stop himself and drinks too much.   



Buffy never actively played with the linkages between non-human blood drinkers and vegetarians.  I always wanted the show to do more with that, but except for a couple of nods in that direction, specifically one episode in which humans are factory farmed and another in which Buffy works at a burger joint (the Doublemeat Palace) and speculates that the “secret ingredient” may be human meat only to discover that it’s cellulous, the show just didn’t go there.  But that’s certainly preferable, I think, to Twilight’s aligning of vegetarianism with the very antithesis of vegetarianism – eating animals.  Despite the fact that PETA2 gave the movie a Libby award for being the most animal friendly film of 2008 (largely because, despite the fact that Stephanie Meyer’s Bella isn’t vegetarian, Kristen Stewart, who is a real life vegetarian, plays Bella as veg in the film), the movie still places the killing and consumption of animals at the fore of its narrative.  And all of these recent reinventions of vampire lore still maintain the same sexual politics of blood that underscore older versions of the story, only now those politics include a tacit discourse of non-human blood as well.

As my sister astutely noted, as we snarked at Edward, “just because you’re not a cannibal doesn’t mean that you’re a vegetarian.” I’m so making a tee shirt that features Edward Cullen’s face and that statement.  Wait for it.

5 comments:

  1. Most vegetarians and vegans I know and have read about were drawn in that direction because of animals. But if I'm reading this right, and I confess- happily- to knowing jack shit about Twilight, the vampire vegetarians consider themselves vegetarians because they don't drink human blood but drink animal blood instead. That makes absolutely no sense. Where is the logic in that kind of warped reasoning? Me thinks your sister is seeing this more clearly than the Twilight folks when she brings in the cannibal angle. They aren't vegetarian vampires, they're recovering cannibals.

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  2. As weird as associating animal-eating with vegetarianism is on the face of it, the underlying premise--that they're vegetarians because they're not eating what they really want--is considerably weirder. It really reflects the popular conviction that everyone wants to eat meat, likes meat, and has to make a conscious, ethical, noble sacrifice in giving up meat, by which the sacrificer is always tempted. That's the "logic", if you can call it that. And that conviction, I've been thinking lately, comes from what you might call Jason's side of the store--from cuisine, specifically from Occidental cooking. Example: the cafeteria up at school prides itself on having veg options (though the vegan options are much scantier), but many of them are just pathetic--the stir-fry bar will give you some tofu if you beg, but it's about four cubes (no sense that a vegetarian might need protein too) cooked for about three minutes. The grilled vegetable sandwich seems to puzzle even the grill-chef guy, as he opens a virgin carton of specially mixed vegetables, and it takes fifteen minutes to prepare. The veggie burgers are pure microwave plastic (dudes, fry them in a little oil already!) There's cheese pizza (no good for vegans), cold hummus (better than nothing), and a salad bar, so a vegetarian can eat lunch there, but there isn't any creativity to the veg options: no seitan marsala, no tempeh reuben, no tofu that's anything but raw and wet, no daiya, no nutritional yeast, no umeboshi plums or avocado spring rolls or black bean tacos or Korean stir-fries or any of the things that make vegetarian eating genuinely fun and interesting. In that cafeteria, and in American non-veg cuisine generally, all the thought and attention (such as it is) goes into the animal products. It's the equivalent of Edward wanting to eat people because they're sexy; in the U.S. and probably most of Europe as well, the meat is what's billed, and cooked, in sexy ways. And you can't convince people otherwise unless, or until, they do the equivalent of eating at the Laughing Seed (and, ideally, learn to cook.) Mainstream cooking is a culinary wasteland, as you'll know better than I do. Maybe the only way to America's conscience is through its stomach.

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  3. I would propose that it is about the "other" in general, since implicit in these depictions is the belief that the desire to eat meat, or at least the biological imperative to eat meat, is intrinsic to humanity, so much so that when the "other" is defined by its desire for something else - blood - those characters wishing to be perceived as "human" (i.e. the "good guys") must reject the ideological norm of that other-ness. American culture in particular certainly reifies those identity politics in areas like sexuality, language, body image (weight, height, etc.) - it is not particularly surprising to see it with diet as well. While I totally buy the gendered implications of the shows blood fallacy (trademark ;-), I don't know if I would privilege that debate over, say, a more encompassing critique of the show as complicit a long tradition of chauvinistic rhetoric – something to do with an anxiety over self.

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  4. Question: are all these vampires androgynous males? I regret to admit that the whole genre is virtually unfamiliar to me, but I seem to recall from way back (okay, "way back" here is the 90s and Interview With a Vampire) that the male vampires all seemed to be "pretty boys." Sexual politics of consumption aside, are there male vampires that are "manly men," not the neatly dressed, clean-shaven metrosexual?

    Next question: why are our female students so taken with the Twilight series? When did the teenage dream become "not being ravished by a 'smoldering', androgynous vampire?"

    And P.S.: I think "smolder" is not used nearly enough in my everyday conversations. I'm going to actively seek new metaphors with "smolder." I like it.

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