Many men have a complicated relationship with meat, from misconceptions about healthy quantities to fraught perceptions of masculinity, which makes them leery of a vegetarian diet.
It’s widely known that men in the United States are attached to eating meat, but did you know they eat an incredible 57 percent more meat than women do?
This statistic comes from a U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which compared average intakes of protein foods to the recommended intake amounts for each gender and age group. The average intake of meat, poultry, and eggs was highest for teenage boys and adult men, far exceeding recommended amounts, whereas females of all age groups remained within the recommended amounts.
Men’s relationship with meat is complex for a number of reasons. As Civil Eats reports, many men tend to view meatless meals as incomplete and believe that humans are designed to eat a lot of meat:
“Men are less likely to view plant-based diets as nutritious or tasty. They also don’t tend to believe that plant-based foods provide enough energy. (This might be part of the reason behind the fact that Americans eat around twice the recommended daily allowance of protein every day, despite the fact that the body is unable to store it.)”
To make matters more complicated, both men and women associate meat-eating with strength and masculinity, characteristics that men in particular are eager to cultivate. Civil Eats cites a study in which “men who eat a beef-heavy diet are perceived as 20 percent more masculine and 30 percent less feminine than vegetarians.” This makes men less inclined to give up meat, because they think they’ll have to work harder to affirm their masculinity in other ways.
I’d argue, too, that lack of cooking ability contributes to this problem. Women still do the majority of household chores, including meal preparation, which suggests that men do not get the practical kitchen experience that women do. So when they do prepare food, they probably opt for meat – the easiest thing to cook that requires less forethought and complexity than vegetarian dishes.
All of this is problematic for the environmental, health, and animal welfare advocates who believe that meat consumption must decline for the wellbeing of the planet, our bodies, and our consciences. Heavy red meat consumption has been linked to higher cancer rates; beef emits 20 times more greenhouse gases than beans; and industrial animal agriculture is a resource-intensive, highly polluting industry.
How can this message get through to men?
Civil Eats points out that there are ways to transform one’s perception of a situation to make it more favorable. The example given is that of personal care products, something that was once shunned but is now embraced. Men are buying products that they would have never dreamed of touching in the past:
“With names like ‘Facial Fuel’ and ‘Urban Camouflage Concealer,’ these products are designed to ensure men feel masculine while shopping for lotions and other items long seen as ‘women’s products.’… Many are packaged in grey or black containers—often resembling cigar or liquor packaging—with bold typeface and sparse design.”
Is there a way to package vegetarianism in a more masculine light? Absolutely, and researchers are working hard on this is the context of other eco-friendly products.
“Instead of using traditional marketing messages about green products (which are typically perceived as feminine), we changed the messages to be more masculine in nature by changing the phrasing, colors, etc. When we did that, we found that men were more willing to ‘go green’.” – TreeHugger
It’s just a matter of time. If men can be convinced to buy cosmetic concealer, then I suspect a widespread acceptance of veggie burgers isn’t far off.