Can a vegetarian be tough? Strong? How about kick-ass?
It’s been a few years since I ate meat. I’m often in the minority, so it doesn’t really surprise me when characters in crime fiction load their plates with chicken, steak, and burgers. Besides, “real men” eat meat, right? And crime fiction heroes are often “real men.” Three of the last four books I’ve read seem to share the sentiment, using vegetarianism as a shorthand for soft or idealistic, possibly hypocritical. Certainly not tough.
Which is not to say I want to be tough. But it did strike me as a rather narrow view. People are complex. Characters should be, too.
In Bitterroot (James Lee Burke), potential love interest Cleo Lonnigan tells Billy Bob Holland, “pacifists in Montana get about the same respect as vegetarians and gay rights activists.” Hers is an insular community that isn’t too keen on outside influence, even meat-scarfing Billy Bob, who on the surface should fit right in.
Samantha Kincaid, in Alafair Burke’s novel Judgment Calls, displays more idealistic tendencies. Her personality is a study in contradictions, though. She goes on about vegetarianism being hypocritical unless it’s part of “a one-hundred-percent animal-friendly lifestyle,” yet applies the rule of something is better than nothing to her cases. She also chooses to view other inconsistencies in her personality as something other than hypocrisy and ignores non-animal reasons for going veg.
Part of Kincaid’s beef (okay, bad pun) is her youthful inability to draw the line between being and converting, going even so far as to force a macramé purse on her leather-handbag-toting mother. Then again, Kincaid may just be making excuses for her preferences, since she equates eating vegetables with delivering bad news in the previous chapter. (If I were reading too deeply, I might also guess this was another dig at Burke’s unwashed classmates at “hippie school” Reed College.)
The most obvious corollary to this depiction showed up in Lee Child’s Echo Burning, where legal mission lawyer Alice Aaron, of the Harvard background and the “five-year bargain with [her] conscience,” is also “a gay Jewish vegetarian woman from New York” who drives a yellow VW with a “bud vase on the dash.” (She’s also a self-proclaimed “democrat, big D and little d” in case you were thinking she wasn’t quite liberal and idealistic enough.) She’s the near-opposite of Kincaid in that she has almost no contradictions of any sort. (At least she doesn’t break into “Kumbayah” after the shoot-out.)
Jack Reacher, on the other hand, eats whatever comes his way, whether it’s pork and beans served by ranch staff, a pizza with anchovies, or Alice’s “homemade dark chewy confection made out of crushed nuts bound together with cheese and onions.” He’s not picky and he’s obviously the tough guy. And while he might be bent on justice, he’s not likely to be lumped in with any namby-pamby idealistic pacifists.
Then, there’s Joe Pike, undisputed bad-ass. He’s the “ex-cop, ex-Marine, ex-mercenary” who consistently played Elvis Cole’s deus ex machina until Robert Crais started giving him some limelight of his own. He’s the guy who gets shot and runs away to Mexico instead of a hospital. He hides in the shadows and runs in the dark. He has his own moral code, which doesn’t seem to have anything to do with bright-eyed idealism.
So, what does Pike eat? In The Watchman, Pike’s friend and business partner comes right out and tells the vegetarian rich girl they’re protecting that he didn’t make lunch with her in mind. He made it for Joe. “He’s a vegetarian, too.” Hey, there’s one thing I have in common with Joe Pike.
Of course, not all vegetarians are alike. Some of the kick-ass ones in real life do yoga (like Cole and Pike). Some do mixed-martial arts. Some are professional skateboarders. (One might even play kick-ass Fiona Glenanne of Burn Notice.) Some sit on their butts reading books. Some quit meat for environmental reasons. Some for the animals. Some have religious reasons. Others for their health or weight loss. Some got freaked out reading The Jungle and never went back. (For the record, I’ve never felt better, so “Thanks, Upton.”)
So, has this recent proliferation of vegans and vegetarians in real life led to more crime-fighting tofu eaters? Who am I missing? Tell me about your favorite kick-ass vegetarians!
Image (with recipes!) via BBC
Neliza Drew is a tofu-eating teacher and erratic reader with a soft spot for crime fiction. She lives in the heat and humidity of southern Florida with three cats and her adorable Hubby. She listens to way too much music, writes often, and spends too much time on Twitter (@nelizadrew).