“I can’t believe they’re vegan” is part of a three-part series covering my master’s thesis research on the intersection of meatless diets and masculinity in Berlin. A vegan recipe accompanies each post. Read on if the connection between gender and diet sounds interesting to you, otherwise skip ahead to a vegan Bolognese recipe that looks just like a meat sauce but is much quicker to make.
I Can’t Believe They’re Vegan
Meatless Diets and Masculinity, Part II
While researching the history of vegetarianism and veganism among men in Germany, I came across a term that I had never heard before to describe some of these men, “Nipsters.” Nipster is a portmanteau of neo-Nazi and hipster.
First, a little context on Berlin, the home of some Nipsters, and the city where my research took place. Berlin is unique for its politics and political activism; it is far more left-leaning than other states and municipalities in Germany. Berliners affectionately refer to the city as a “progressive bubble.” Indeed, a so-called red-red-green coalition runs Berlin, a three-way political party alliance between the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Left, and the Greens. Berlin is also known as a worldwide leader in climate politics. The Greens, associated with environmental and climate change issues, are the most popular party in the city-state. To date, the September 20, 2019 climate strike and protest, organized by the youth movement Fridays For Future and other groups, was the most extensive worldwide climate mobilization in history. More protesters took to the streets across Germany than in any other country, with the highest participation in Berlin.
We may be living in the era with the highest levels of mass protests in history, but these social movements for equality and justice are coupled with a far-right authoritarian backlash. In Germany, the Alternative for Germany party (AfD), whose participation in state parliaments is growing, is symbolic of this backlash. Founded in 2013 primarily as an anti-immigration party, AfD members support anti-feminist policies that oppose gender equality, same-sex marriage, and gender studies. This group also uses historically nationalistic and racist justifications for environmental protection. AfD supporters are predominantly male and concentrated in Eastern Germany, making the imagery invoked by calling Berlin a “progressive bubble” particularly apt.
The great majority of people following meatless diets in Western societies are politically left-leaning and concerned with equality and social justice. However, some groups who align themselves with vegetarianism and animal rights often also support hierarchical ideologies of racism, classism, and sexism. Abstaining from animal flesh is seen as a way to gain moral purity and supremacy through self-sacrifice. Adolf Hitler is rumored to have been a vegetarian for these reasons. Though animals are not harmed in this dietary practice, violence towards “other” humans is justified under this twisted ideology.
In recent bids to appeal to younger audiences, some German far-right groups have appropriated contemporary styles and practices, such as veganism, winning them the moniker Nipsters. “If the young people don’t find skinhead types attractive, then they [the neo-Nazis] will simply die out, so they have to find something new,” says Daniel Koehler, an expert on right-wing radicalization. Through digital platforms, which effectively lack editorial controls, these groups can instantly broadcast their hate speech globally.
One example of Nipster content is the YouTube channel Balaclava Küche, an amateur vegan cooking show hosted by German neo-Nazis who laugh and joke about racist, sexist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic beliefs while cooking vegan dishes. These young White men, whose target audience is other young White men, instrumentalize meatless diets to re-assert masculinity, racialized discourse, and nationalism to retrieve a perceived lost sense of power and status.
Another notorious Nipster is the Berlin-based vegan chef Attila Hildmann. Once famous for writing vegan cookbooks and appearing on TV, Hildmann has become increasingly radicalized and is now known for spreading right-wing propaganda and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Today he is nicknamed “Avocadolf.” In what now looks like a foreshadowing of the U.S. capitol insurrection, violent riots took place in opposition to the German Parliament’s coronavirus pandemic hygiene measures on August 29, 2020. The protestors, mainly from outside of Berlin’s “progressive bubble,” attempted to storm the German parliament building, resulting in the arrest of hundreds, including Hildmann. Many in Germany and worldwide are worried about the increasing levels of radicalization and violence at far-right protests.
We are living in the age of social and environmental justice movements, but the far-right backlash to these movements is strong and winning popularity in lock-step with their appropriation and manipulation of diet practices. We take our diets and eating practices for granted, but these social practices are extremely influential in shaping and maintaining social power relations. In yet another bizarre twist, the very same oppressive ideologies of White supremacy, nationalism, and patriarchy used by far-right groups to advocate for meatless diets are also used by these groups to advocate for meat-only diets. Parts I and II of this series demonstrated how some groups use meatless diets to uphold the legitimacy of patriarchy. Still, my research aimed to ultimately discover if meatless diets could also serve to dismantle this oppressive ideology.
After reading about Nipsters, I began to worry about my safety as an interviewer. I chose a methodology whereby I would interview men in their homes while they cooked meatless meals. Would I interview a Nipster? How would he react if I pointed out contradictions and asked for further clarity about his daily practices and beliefs? I will reveal if I interviewed any Nipsters and share my findings with you in my next post.
The following Bolognese recipe is not meant to taste like meat. It tastes like mushrooms. I’ve tried vegan Bolognese recipes using lentils, but they end up tasting and looking like lentil stew. I’ve also tried making vegan Bolognese with fake meat crumbles, but the taste was always slightly off. Traditional Bolognese is made by slowly simmering ground beef in a little tomato sauce for hours, leaving behind a deeply flavorful, unctuous sauce. I don’t think it’s possible to recreate that flavor without meat, but I also don’t think it’s necessary. Using mushrooms for vegan Bolognese creates a richly flavorful sauce that tastes great on its own account and is much easier to make.
- 1 lb. (450 gr) cremini mushrooms, cleaned
- 1 carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1 onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 14-ounce (400 gr) can whole or chopped tomatoes
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- ½ cup red wine
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- ¼ cup vegetable broth
- ½ lb. (500 gr.) pasta of choice
- Using a food processor, pulse the mushrooms into small granules. Empty into a bowl and set aside. Then process the carrots, onions, and garlic until minced. Empty into the bowl with the chopped mushrooms. Now pour in the canned tomato and process until smooth.
- Heat a large saucepan, pour in plenty of olive oil, and then the mushroom/vegetable mix. Sprinkle in salt and pepper and sautee for about 10 minutes until the whole mixture has reduced and is starting to dry out.
- Stir in the tomato paste and then the wine and cook for about 5 minutes, until the wine has nearly evaporated.
- Stir in the tomatoes, vegetable broth, and soy sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Cook the pasta in plenty of salted water. Mix the cooked pasta into the Bolognese sauce with some of the pasta cooking water. Heat and mix to combine before serving.
- A food processor really helps to speed up the prep time in this recipe. All of the ingredients need to be minced, and I don’t have the patience to do that by hand!