08/07/2012 12:53 pm ET Updated Oct 07, 2012

The Elusive Vegan Man

When I first went vegan, I simultaneously decided that I was probably never going to find a partner who shared my beliefs. For a 20-something who had already spent more than a few years living, working and going to school in New York City, this was a narrow-minded and ignorant assessment, but I didn't know better at the time. I assumed that it would be difficult to find many men driven by something that was very important to me: compassion toward animals.

Luckily, I was wrong. After becoming part of the vegan community, I met my now-husband: someone who not only shared my beliefs but also felt as strongly about them as I did. Around that same time, however, a close friend of mine began dating someone who was the polar opposite: a hunter, avid fisherman, and proud proclaimer that "real men eat meat."

The differences in the men struck me: Was it just their natural personalities that were at odds, or was it something more? It's no secret the American Dietetic Association has recognized vegan and vegetarian diets can provide health benefits for every stage of life. So, despite this, why are some men continuing to cling to their beloved steak and potatoes diet, even if it, literally, could someday kill them?

Unfortunately, in many cultures and especially our American one, we're taught that men are supposed to be big and strong and, most importantly, carnivores. We're told that meat equals protein and protein makes a man "ripped." We're taught that a man who eat plants must be weak, sickly and skinny.

The truth is protein doesn't come exclusively from meat and, conversely, meat may actually be making us sick. There have been countless examples of vegan athletes who have not only built up their bodies (literally, like body builder Bill Pearl) but dominated in their sport: Vegan arm wrestler Rob Bigwood is one of the best and track star Carl Lewis says he ran the greatest meet of his life while on a vegan diet.

So, what gives? Turns out, men may just be concerned with how they are perceived. As recently as last year, the U.K.'s Daily Mail did an article about women snubbing vegetarian men. The article quotes Researcher Dr. Steven Heine: "It seems that the vegetarian man is perceived as more principled, but less manly, than his omnivorous counterpart." Is this really how we women think? If a man can't be principled AND masculine, what hope is there? Clearly, it's not just men who are putting the pressure on themselves to eat meat: It's women as well.

Although there has been tremendous growth in the realm of vegan men in the past few years, it's up to us to continue to challenge the perception that a man who refuses to eat animals isn't "manly" enough. With the authorship of books and websites like Meat Is for Pussies and Real Men Eat Plants, the idea that men can be men without eating meat is gaining momentum, and it's important to keep that momentum going. If we're forcing the idea that men must eat meat, we're doing a great disservice not only to our health, but also to the animals.

For me, the characteristics of morally principled and decidedly masculine go hand in hand. Extreme cruelty to animals is a deeply ingrained and systemic problem in today's world, and there's nothing sexier than a man who chooses to live a compassionate life. Caring about something greater than yourself, standing up for your beliefs and not being afraid of how you are perceived make a man truly attractive -- not, as some believe, a plate filled with meat. So listen up men: Going vegan is truly one of the sexiest things you can do.

For more by Anjali Sareen, click here.

For more on veganism, click here.