If you were a fan of Seinfeld, you’ll know that even as recently the 90s, not eating meat was considered effeminate. There’s an entire episode centered around Jerry dating a woman with “man hands” who makes fun of him for ordering “just a salad” on their first date.
She ends it for good when she realizes he hid the mutton she cooked in her napkins.
Society reflects the truth in the humor – a 2010 study found that women eat less on dates in order to appear feminine, and that men who practice vegan or vegetarianism face harsher judgements for their choices than do their female counterparts.
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“People generally are more critical of men who eat plant-based than they are of women who eat plant-based, partly because of the common belief that meat is a man’s food,” reiterates professor Matthew Ruby.
But why is our culture so intent on connecting eating meat with being a big, strong burly man?
Well, researchers have three ideas:
Men are the providers.
A theory put forth by Julia Twigg in 1979 posits that the idea goes back to our hunter-gatherer roots, with the most successful hunters being large, strong men who could best a wild animal.
“In many cultures, hunting was a very male activity,” explained Ruby. “Men were the ones going out, doing the hunting, and providing the meat.”
Eating meat is risky.
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Subconsciously, masculinity is a precarious thing that must be re-upped on the regular – and one of the ways men do that is by engaging in risky behavior like avoiding medical or mental health care, engaging in risky sexual behavior, or abusing substances.
Or, perhaps, by cultivating a diet that includes large portions heavy on the red meat.
We should note that this is a newer theory, as just a few decades ago eating red meat was still seen as an essential part of a healthy diet. Now…less so.
Not to mention the climate concerns!
Meat can be equated with white male privilege.
According to Carol Adams, author of The Sexual Politics of Meat, the myth that meat=strength is “traceable to this intersection of colonialism, white supremacy, and masculinity.”
She says that red meat used to be a luxury reserved for aristocrats, who were overwhelmingly white and very male-centric. The English aristocracy bragged that they were able to colonize India because of how their soldiers ate red meat while the natives didn’t, and during World War II, meat was rationed at home to make sure the army had enough to go around.
The world is evolving, though, so even though the link between red meat and masculinity remains pervasive, that doesn’t mean it can’t change. Although fast food chains haven’t been quick to adapt, and most of their ads continue to target men (some exclusively), major chains like Burger King are introducing alternative mean “burgers” into their menus.
So I guess you never know…maybe we really can change.