It may seem counter-intuitive, but a vegetarian or even vegan diet is in no way incompatible with radical-right thinking.
In her recent post for the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right, Cynthia Miller Idriss rightly emphasizes the significance of physical bodies for the radical right, in past and present. While her stress is on bodies as sites for regulation and discipline, for displaying rebellion and resistance, and for reproducing us-versus-them thinking, there is a particular practice related to the body: food consumption. More specifically — and maybe counter-intuitively — it is worth pointing out that a vegetarian or even vegan diet is in no way incompatible with radical-right thinking. Indeed, although these diets are usually associated with liberal/left-wing lifestyles today, there are “good” ideological reasons why members of the radical right turn meet-free — reasons to do with bodies and ideas.
Popular imagination assumes that meat and blood, having a masculine connotation, constitute the “natural” diet of the radical right. And indeed, the former chairman of the British National Party, Nick Griffin, used YouTube to teach his audience how to prepare a stew. In societies such as ours, which are fueled by cheap meat from animal-processing factories, such a preference is in fact not limited to the far right. Yet when it comes to far-right preferences for a meat-free diet, there is more to consider than one might intuitively assume.
In Germany, for example, the völkisch movement that emerged in the 19th century acted not only as a forerunner for Nazism, but also, at least in parts, emphasized the benefits of a meat-free diet. For one of the leading members of this movement, Paul Arthur Förster, a meat-free diet was key to attain “bodily” and “moral wellbeing.” So too argued his brother Bernhard Förster, for whom a vegetarian lifestyle would free up the strengths of the German Volk. Against this background, it is maybe less surprising that even the well-known Vegetarische Obstbaukolonie Eden, founded in 1893, was characterized by a history of völkisch thought, long before Hitler’s seizure of power. There is thus, early on, an idea of purity of body and mind connected to this diet — one which has not changed.
As such, amongst leading Nazis, a few key representatives such as Adolf Hitler and Rudolf Hess famously followed a vegetarian diet. According to Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-1944, Hitler himself spoke of the allegedly vegetarian diet of Caesar’s soldiers and noted that Japanese wrestlers (and “the Turkish porter”) too fed exclusively on vegetables, which supposedly explained their status as being among the strongest men in the world.
Today, some neo-Nazis have connected again to this tradition. Although apparently no longer active, a group calling itself Balaclava Küche (Balaclava Kitchen) created an (inter)national stir between 2014 and 2015 — see, for example, an article in Rolling Stone and their presence in the popular 2015 German movie Er ist wieder da(Look Who’s Back) — while hosting a cooking show on their YouTube channel with tens of thousands of views. Belonging to the most “innovative” wing of contemporary German neo-Nazism, the so-called Autonomous Nationalists, this self-styled “national-socialist vegan cooking crew” does not simply follow a vegan diet because “Hitler was a vegetarian too.” Rather, the members view their food consumption as enabling a healthy body, as a moral choice (opposing the objectification of animals that acts as a symbol for a materialist and capitalist culture), as being environmentally friendly because, for example, it reduces the use of water in agriculture, and as staying true to the National Socialist ideology.
What do they cook: potatoes, sauerkraut and parsnips? In fact, the cuisine the group proposed contains aubergines, posh balsamic cream and even couscous. It ranges from pasta bake and spreads to vegan cake and salad. The group furthermore suggested to grow one’s own food, to buy locally and to dumpster dive. They informed viewers about multinational companies and advised which ones do not rely on animal testing. Unsurprisingly, there are numerous (affirmative) references to National Socialism and the ideology of the contemporary radical right, but there is also ridiculing of the not-radical-enough identitarians (and one of their figureheads, Martin Sellner, in particular) and criticism of fellow nationalists for not being interested enough in the vegan cause or in the fight for animal rights.
Does this somehow imply that a meet-free diet is, ultimately, radical-right at its core? Of course not. Following a vegetarian or vegan diet for moral, environmental or health reasons is in no way necessarily aligning individuals or ideas to the radical right. However, what vegetarian members of the völkisch movement, Nazis and vegan neo-Nazis illustrate is that any social practice, including what is maybe the most social of all — food consumption — can be political in many ways.
As such, the radical-right body is a body to be optimized. After all, this body is the body of a soldier, a body which has to be pure and self-disciplined (thus the recurrent overlaps between the contemporary radical right and a straight edge lifestyle) as it is also the physical home of the Volksgemeinschaft.
Dr. Bernhard Forchtner is a Senior Fellow at CARR, and a specialist on (environmental) communication by the radical right in Europe with a particular focus on German speaking radical right actors. He has written widely on these subjects.
© Dr Bernhard Forchtner. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors’ and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).
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