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The world population and global food requirements are exponentially increasing, and with that comes an increase of meat production. According to Our World in Data, in 2018 the world produced around 340 million tonnes of meat, and that number is climbing every year. Amongst many other influences, the expectation and representation of eating habits for men in Westernized culture contributes to the growing consumption of meat across the nation.
The style of marketing for fast food joints such as Burger King and Carl's Jr. promotes the idea that to be a man, you must consume meat. Countless commercials and billboard ads show stereotypically masculine men eating large beef burgers and steaks, often shirtless or with a woman casually draped around his waist. They are shown doing stereotypically manly tasks such as construction work and grilling, while simultaneously consuming large quantities of meat. This image is not uncommon in mass media, but why do we equate eating meat with being a manly man?
The slaughtering and cooking of these large animals, often cows, in restaurants around the nation appears to represent dominance, strength, and masculinity. Dating back to the era of colonization, Americans have been farming and slaughtering large animals for food and sport. The idea that a man can capture and kill such a strong being reflects that man's strength, athleticism, and aggression, all of which are traits that are still valued as masculine and appealing today. This deeply rooted sentiment of masculinity in our eating in turn affects mass consumption and the market, encouraging both fast food joints and upscale restaurants to have meat heavy options regardless of their geographical location.
Although meat is a traditional part of the American diet, experiments similar to the trials shown in Louie Psihoyos’s documentary The Game Changers tells a narrative that favors the plant-based diet. The film presents numerous respected athletes switching to a plant-based diet, and concludes that this lifestyle can actually permit optimal fuel, increased blood flow, improved muscle efficiency, and overall reduced inflammation. From strongmen to bodybuilders to boxers, the stereotypically manly men vouched that they felt and performed better on the plant-based diet, further contradicting the unfounded prejudice that to be athletic and strong you must eat meat. It should also be noted that meat eating has been shown to increase risk of heart disease, strokes, and diabetes in comparison to plant-based diets. So why are we still marketing masculinity as meat-eating if science suggests otherwise?
At the end of the day, the animal agriculture industry is fiscally motivated. Our society has ingrained the idea that men are supposed to be strong, smart, athletic, and fearless. We have created an environment in which men must act masculine in every way, and their eating habits are no exception. Companies market meat as masculine to appeal to the consumer. By presenting a man with a food option that identifies them with their gender, it is understandable they would feel pressure to uphold that image. The meat market is so heavily reliant on toxic masculinity, and without the perpetuation of gender conformity and loyal consumers, the current marketing strategies would fail altogether.
Social constructs of masculinity put pressure on men to consume products that are harmful to the health of both themselves and the environment. Perhaps it’s time we reevaluate both these constructs and our own diets, and stop pushing this damaging persona on our male population.
Paige Millham is a summer college intern at FFAC.