Words by Sebastian Schultz
One of my favourite adverts was broadcast in China in 2012.
As a groom gallantly emerges from a house carrying his bride, a narrator exclaims, “manly man”.
This is followed by a montage of scenes depicting men… being men. The final scene shows a man biting into a burger, and the narrator says, “100% manly man. 100% pure beef”.
This was an advert for McDonald’s that was made to perpetuate the claim that meat is inherently masculine. Regardless of if you believe this to be true or not, the statistics reflect that very few vegetarians and vegans identify as male. In fact, only 24% of plant-based consumers around the world identify as men.
I find this strange, because many of the health conditions and socioeconomic circumstances that deter someone from eating a predominantly plant-based diet disproportionately impact women. For example, women are more prone to anaemia (iron deficiency) then men, yet they are still more likely to go vegan or vegetarian.
Psychologists have been aware of the mysterious lack of male vegetarians and vegans for years and have identified issues that have contributed to the notion that in order to be a man, you must eat meat. Labelled the ‘meat paradox’ in 2018, the professional consensus seems to point towards historical factors that associate meat with danger. Men used to have to hunt before bringing back their prize that reinforced their masculinity. Talk about ‘bringing home the bacon’ huh?
Today, the idea that men must eat meat has contributed to the phenomenon of
‘precarious masculinity’ where they feel the need to reassert their manliness out of fear they will lose it if they don’t. Another explanation, called ‘social dominance theory’, suggests that men are more likely to eat meat because it is a means for them to reinforce their superiority – by consuming an animal, they are asserting their power over it.
Perhaps this also explains why minorities are more likely to go vegan or vegetarian. Less queer people for example, may not feel the need to live up to the heteronormative ideals of the ‘meat eater’.
It may be unreasonable to expect everyone to go vegan overnight but if you refuse to try a mushroom burger or eat a salad because ‘it makes you less of a man’, I think the issue is with you, dude, not the tofu.