Gone Vegan

Lindsay Hutton discovers the politics and pragmatics behind a meat and dairy-free diet.

A wise person once said that you knew you hit the mainstream as soon as nearly naked women are utilized to sell you, your product or your ethos. Congratulations, fellow vegans - consider yourself "there"!

I was having a long overdue chinwag with a fellow vegan galpal out west. She was a roommate of mine when I lived in Vancouver during my fire-breathing anarchist days. A gloriously lovely woman blessed with a bangin’ Amazon bod, she would make even the most dewy-eyed, feminist-positive, swear-on-a-stack-of-Ms.-magazines man’s eyes pop out of his head. This woman even caused a car accident once while watering our garden in a pair of cutoffs and a bikini top. She has dabbled, unapologetically, in sex work to pay the bills. She usually worked in high-end porn and dancing and quickly accumulated loads of cash, enough to buy a house and sock enough away to attend naturopathy college. Word.

She and I were reminiscing about a wild weekend road trip we took to Portland to see a band nearly ten years ago, as she was visiting some family there a few weeks back. I mentioned my blog, and she mentioned that Portland housed a vegan strip club.

I thought she was having a laugh with me. Apparently not. Readers, let me introduce you to the Casa Diablo Gentlemen’s Club, North American’s first vegan strip joint. The owner, taking note of the numerous vegans, vegetarians and alternative-living hipsters in Portland, decided to change the format of his rather tawdry peeler bar and zip it up with a vegan menu. Just when you thought it couldn’t get more charming, the majority of the strippers are proudly vegan (though carnivorous dancers are just as welcome). 

Talk about a target market. I mean, it stands to reason that vegan men may enjoy a lap dance now and then, and why shouldn’t they top off their evening with a vegan burrito rather than a pound of chicken wings? 

What’s a proudly sex-positive, vegan feminist like me to think? Though I stand firmly behind the rights of sex workers to use their bodies, um, professionally, I am wont to take issue with the joint’s gimmick. A key premise in veganism is the perspective it lends toward the exploitation of animals for human consumption and profit, a perspective I share and promote. As a feminist, I stand in staunch opposition to the exploitation of women’s bodies for the same reasons. (Check out an interesting NY Times piece on this very phenomena here).

Like many people, I find strip bars unappealing and rather depressing, including those that feature male dancers. The owners tend to be a rather shifty lot, the music’s terrible, human trafficking and hard drug use is often the name of the game, the booze is overpriced and the working conditions are often ghastly for the workers. However, this isn’t the case for all strip clubs. Many of the dancers I have met are smart, independent women who make a killing every night. Many are mothers, wives and students and have made the choice to strip for a few hours every week instead of schlepping it for 40-plus hours a week like us plebes. To these ladies, I raise my soymilk to you in a wholehearted salute and, in the words of Missy Elliott, urge you to shake it like it ain’t no thang; just make sure you’re ahead of the game. 

Part of me wants to pass off Casa Diablo as inevitable.  Another part of me wants to empty my bank account, jump on the first flight to Portland and give the owner the tongue-lashing of his life and shove a rolled-up bell hooks essay… somewhere. A small part of me finds the dark humour in its existence. I mean, imagine some dude decked out with a ponytail, Earth First! tattoo, Morrissey t-shirt and hemp sneakers sliding a fin in a stripper’s g-string, then returning guiltily home and repenting to his common-law partner: “But Pookie, I swear, it was the only place that served vegan food in the whole neighbourhood! Unlock the door!”

At the end of the day, such questions are debated hotly amongst feminists and vegans alike. Every kink has its naysayers and flag wavers. The where, why and how some of us get our shot of erotic impetus isn’t anyone’s business unless it’s harming and exploiting others. We know that a large portion of the sex industry can’t and won’t adhere to this assurance. It remains (despite positive efforts otherwise) the sketchy, underhanded dogleg of show business, and venturing into its parameters should require we pack our brains, politics and scruples alongside our crotches and heaving hormones. Whether the place has a killer hummous and pita platter is rather beside the point.

For myself, do I herald the Casa Diablo as a victory in vegan politics? Not really. I don't unfurl my feminist victory banner when I see characters like Ann Coulter or the ladies auxiliary of the NRA on television, either. If queried, would I be okay with a man I was dating patronizing a vegan strip club? Not on your life. 

What do you think, folks? Leave me a comment below.