Plant-based eating, an issue of gender?

Gender is currently the strongest predictor of levels of meat consumption. This is reflected in findings that Finnish men eat more meat but less fruit and vegetables than women and in the Vegan Society’s UK-based survey which found 63 percent of people who identified as vegan were female, while only 37 percent were male in 2016. This contrast may largely be due to the cultural significance of meat in Western culture where meat has historically been coded as a masculine symbol for power, strength and virility.

But why should men reduce their meat consumption?

From the perspective of health, men are more susceptible than women to obesity, heart disease, hypertension and cancer partly as a result of higher consumption of meat. While for the environment, diet profiles have markedly different impacts. Men show a higher impact in terms of Global Warming Potential, ammonia emissions and land-use in contrast to women partly due to differences in diet. If men were to shift qualitatively to the usual diet of women, then 14.8 Mt CO2 eq. and 60.1 kt. ammonia emissions could be saved annually. (Meier & Christen, 2012, p. 550)

What are the barriers?

The belief that meat provides strength and vigor to men is deep seated and still relevant to many people today. According to a recent survey male vegetarians were perceived as less masculine than meat consuming men but enjoy a stronger sense of virtue and morality. It is also widely believed that meat is important for health and the feeling of ‘fullness’. The phrase, ‘without meat, it’s not proper food’ is familiar to many who have tried to discuss the topic with meat-eating friends and family. These beliefs are propagated by advertising campaigns which tap into gender stereotypes.

Meat consumption may also be influenced by the fact that women are more emotionally engaged, and show more concern when it comes to environmental issues, which is one of major motivators for switching to a plant-based diet.

Are things changing?

According to the recent Eat-Lancet report reducing meat consumption is a top priority for a sustainable future and here men’s eating preferences could make a real difference. Fortunately, there are signs that attitudes towards plant-based eating are changing and studies show young people (of both genders), are more open to ‘flexitarian’ eating and have the highest proportion of non-meat eaters. Young people are also more likely to be swayed by moral and environmental reasons than older generations. However, to truly tackle this issue is it important to address gender stereotypes that enforce social norms related not only to food but to many aspects of life.

Sources:
https://www.plantbasednews.org/post/why-arent-more-men-vegan
Kildal, C. L., & Syse, K. L. (2017). Meat and masculinity in the Norwegian Armed Forces. Appetite, 112, 69–77. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2016.12.032
Meier, T., & Christen, O. (2012). Gender as a factor in an environmental assessment of the consumption of animal and plant-based foods in Germany. The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 17(5), 550–564. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-012-0387-x
Roos, G., Prättälä, R., & Koski, K. (2001). Men, masculinity and food: interviews with Finnish carpenters and engineers. Appetite, 37(1), 47–56. https://doi.org/10.1006/appe.2001.0409
Roos, G., & Wndel, M. (2005). “I EAT BECAUSE I’M HUNGRY, BECAUSE IT’S GOOD, AND TO BECOME FULL”: EVERYDAY EATING VOICED BY MALE CARPENTERS, DRIVERS, AND ENGINEERS IN CONTEMPORARY OSLO. Food and Foodways, 13(1–2), 169–180. https://doi.org/10.1080/07409710590915427
Ruby, M. B., & Heine, S. J. (2011). Meat, morals, and masculinity. Appetite, 56(2), 447–450. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2011.01.018
Sumpter, K. C. (2015). Masculinity and Meat Consumption: An Analysis Through the Theoretical Lens of Hegemonic Masculinity and Alternative Masculinity Theories: Masculinity and Meat Consumption. Sociology Compass, 9(2), 104–114. https://doi.org/10.1111/soc4.12241

Image: rawpixel.com from Pexels

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