Thursday, August 25, 2011

Vegetarian Vampires (again)

OK, so I'm working on this chapter.  And doing so is making me have to watch Twilight, which makes me want to put my head in the oven.

But seriously.  Here's the first bit.  There's much more, but if I put it all up, you'd probably not read it.  You may not read it anyway.  Which is fine.

Vegan Vampires: The Politics of Drinking Humans and Animals in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight, and True Blood

I used to fancy that life was a positive and perpetual entity, and that by consuming a multitude of living things . . . one might indefinitely prolong life.  – Renfield, Dracula

It is, of course, impossible to discuss representations of vampires in Western culture without discussing Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula.  In fact, it is largely – if not wholly – because of Stoker’s novel that “vampires belong to a modern popular folklore that few will admit to believing but that has become part of a way of thinking about and ordering our vision of the world around us” (Hallab 9).  The veritable cottage industry that is the production of literary criticism about Dracula[i] has provided a vast array of theoretical readings of Stoker’s vampire’s symbolic significance within the context of Victorian era England.  As Mary Y. Hallab notes, Dracula has been read as “the tyranny of patriarchy, the power of the corrupt aristocracy or the nouveau bourgeois capitalists; he represents decadent foreigners, Slavs or Jews; he is a homosexual, a social outcast, even a mother, and he is dangerously erotic” (2).  Critics have read Dracula through every theoretical lens imaginable, from psychoanalytic, to Marxist, to feminist, to queer, to postcolonial, and the continued persistence of scholarship about the novel points to its literary, cultural, and psychological significance. 
In this multiplicity of perspectives, there is but one work that examines the novel’s politics of consumption via a vegetarian critical lens. “Love at First Beet: Vegetarian Critical Theory Meats Dracula,” a 1996 piece by J. E. D. Stavick, explores the novel in terms of the ways that it disrupts the food hierarchy present in Western culture, one that “privileges bloody meat, especially beef, over all other food” (24).  Slavick’s essay draws on the vegetarian critical theories of such authors as Julia Twigg and Carol J. Adams in order to trace a Victorian politics of meat – of which Jonathan Harker is very much a part, as he chronicles from the very beginning of the novel the kinds of meat he eats as he travels towards and inhabits Dracula’s castle.[ii]  Through an analysis of the ways that Dracula consumes those who consume meat, Stavick posits a vegetarian theoretical argument influenced by both Marxist and postcolonial theories:
The threat to English consumption is the threat of reverse colonization, which in this text is manifested in the vampire invasion of England by the powerful consumer “Other,” Count Dracula, who threatens England with his violation of the meat hierarchy. (26)
Taking Stoker’s Dracula – and Slavick’s vegetarian critical theorizing of it – as my starting point, I want to examine the vegetarian and vegan politics that are both implicitly and explicitly present in three contemporary popular cultural representations of vampires, Joss Whedon’s 1997-2003 television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Stephanie Myer’s Twilight saga (2005-2008), and Alan Ball’s HBO series True Blood (based on The Southern Vampire Mysteries novels by Charlene Harris), which first aired in 2008. 
While Stoker’s vampire kills and feeds without remorse on human beings, his late twentieth and twenty-first century counterparts – Angel, Edward Cullen, and Bill Compton – refuse this seemingly essential component of vampiric existence.  Furthermore, while diets devoid of animal products were gaining prominence in Stoker’s nineteenth-century England “under the leadership of such enthusiasts as Sylvester Graham . . . and Ellen G. White” (Stavick 24), vegetarianism and veganism have flourished since that time, and have, as I have indicated earlier in this study, entered the mainstream popular cultural discourse in profound and often contradictory ways that disrupt hegemonic assimilation.  If the figure of the vampire changes over time to accommodate whatever “our society shuns, but secretly demands” (Thorne 4), then vampires that eschew both murder and the consumption of human blood – and in the case of True Blood’s Bill Compton, animal blood as well – point, perhaps, to “our age’s fantasies of non-exploitative tolerance” (Tyree 32).  A chronological examination of these three texts demonstrates how the vegan/vegetarian vampire trope shifts over time as well as how the terms “vegan” and “vegetarian” initially signify weakness, asexuality, or asceticism. But even as they become further and further removed from their original meanings, by the time we get to True Blood, vegan vampirism constitutes a fraught and powerful political stance, one that challenges and disrupts the hegemonic matrix of carnivorous, homophobic sexism prevalent in both True Blood’s fictional Bon Temps – where human beings reverse the discourse and consume vampires – and the very real United States. 

[i] An MLA search for Dracula on June 8, 2011 pulls 677 articles.

[ii] Stavick notes Harker’s notations about what he eats.  For example, on the first page of the novel, Harker comments that he eats “a chicken done up some way with red pepper, which was very good” (11), and later he consumes “egg-plant stuffed with forcemeat, a very excellent dish” (12).


  1. This is interesting. And it reminds me of a week or so ago when I saw paper plates themed for a birthday party that had the Twilight guy and his smoldering look. Had I been able to buy one plate for you, I would have so you could put it on your office door (tee hee). But eight plates was a bit much. Now that I think about it, though, you could have a pretty smoldering mobile to hang somewhere... be on the lookout. You may be surprised one day.

    What's the chapter for?

  2. James Stanescu over at has done work on the very same topic with similar sources. If you are interested, I think a conversation with him might be helpful for the project.

  3. Huitzilin: it's for the book!:

    Prodigiesandmonsters: thanks for the info!