Meat-eating is strongly associated with cultural perceptions of masculinity and power. The idea that meat-eating and killing are “manly” is constantly reinforced through advertising and other forms of cultural narrative that tell us who we are. This macho mythologizing of meat helps explain why women are more than twice as likely as men to be vegetarian. Of course, in reality, there are few things more cowardly than killing (or paying others to kill) defenseless animals for flesh and secretions we have no need to consume. Far more courageous is the rejection of harmful cultural brainwashing, and the decision to take a stand against needless violence and exploitation.
I’m always grateful to come across stories of men whose own struggles with received ideas about masculinity and violence have led them to confront, and openly challenge, meat’s grip on the male psyche. How does a self-described extreme meat-eater and former hunter, for example, a professional killer with the words “SEEK AND DESTROY” tattooed huge across his chest, become inspired to stop eating animals and devote his life full-time to animal rights and wildlife conservation?
Damien Mander was a special operations sniper and clearance diver for the Royal Australian Navy. In Iraq, he managed the Iraq Special Police Training Academy, overseeing military training of up to 700 cadets at one time. In 2008, following three years on the front line of the Iraq war, a trip to Africa brought him face-to-face with the horrors of wildlife poaching, and changed the course of his life forever. The story of that transformation, told here in 12 minutes, is riveting and hope-inspiring. But perhaps most important of all is Damien’s question at the end, a question for men—and women—everywhere. What will your answer be?