There are many things that come to mind when we hear the words “masculine” and “feminine.” Different things are socially assigned to be one way or the other; magazines like Vogue and Glamour and romantic comedies (often dubbed “chick flicks”) are generally viewed as “girly.” On the other hand, contact sports and action movies are commonly perceived as “manly.”
We can now add another item to the list: food. According to a study conducted by Hank Rothgerber of Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY, men associate eating meat with masculinity. This study, which is published in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity, was among the first to delve deeper into the question of why there seem to be fewer vegetarian men than women.
In Rothgerber’s two-part study, he asked 125 undergraduate males and females about their meat-eating habits, and 89 students about their justification for eating meat. Results showed that the males had more direct rationalization for meat consumption; one student said that animals “just taste too good not to eat them.” Some also said that humans were just meant to eat meat, and that that is why we are here on earth. In an interview with NBC News, Rothgerber said, “There is a group of manly men who swear off what they call chick food, and they seek a Double Whopper to declare their manhood.”
The female participants had a different perspective on the matter. More females followed vegetarian diets, and they had more indirect and apologetic motives for their lower meat consumption. Many cited the notion of poor treatment of animals in food production, and did not believe that femininity and masculinity play a role in eating behaviors.
Interestingly, the participants’ responses were not directly influenced by health concerns. The males said that they eat meat because they view it as masculine, yet there was little discussion of their views on the health implications from their chosen diet. Similarly, the females did not state that they adopted vegetarian diets because of the benefits of eating non-meat food sources and consuming less red meat. It is interesting to see what may drive males and females to behave differently, especially in their eating habits.
However, there were some limitations in this study design. There were only 125 participants, and they were all from the same undergraduate university, therefore this was not a representative sample. There are several other reasons why people decide whether or not to adopt vegetarian diets, such as cultural or religious considerations. Rothgerber could have also been biased in his study design; in the same NBC News interview mentioned earlier, he discusses the harmful effects of farm animal production on the environment, as well as on the body.
Regardless of the intentions of this study, as a member of the Friedman School of Nutrition, it has become increasingly evident to me just how powerful food can be. We celebrate holidays that are centered around it. It brings families and communities together. Food even has an affect on our psychological well-being. So next time you are around a man that is insistent on operating his grill and consuming copious amounts of meat while refusing to eat a salad, you now know that there may be some forces of nature or nurture behind it.
Sher Carvajal is a first year Nutrition Communication student who enjoyed the Florida sunshine a little too much over Christmas break before coming back to cold and snowy Boston. She loved seeing friends and family and hopes everyone had an amazing New Years! J