Alina Salmen and Kristof Dhont, in The Psychologist, on the gendered nature of meat consumption and veganism. January 2021.
Historically and culturally, we have come to believe that meat is essential for strength, and traditional gender roles demand strength and toughness from men in particular. Real men eat meat…
Sweaty, muscly men punching bags and lifting weights to the sound of heavy grunts and loud hip-hop music… The opening sequence of James Cameron’s recent documentary The Game Changers leaves no doubt that this is not your run-of-the-mill pro-vegan documentary. Rather than shedding light on animal cruelty or making a case for the disastrous environmental impact of meat consumption, The Ultimate Fighter winner James Wilks travels around the globe to meet plant-based professional athletes, aiming to clear up the myth that animal protein is necessary for physical strength and performance.
The idea that meat is manly is engrained in society and permeates pop culture and advertising. For instance, meat advertisements often target men by praising the masculinity of eating meat or by portraying sexualised women alongside meat, implying that both women and animals are consumption products for men. Several scholars have picked up on this, including vegan feminist Carol J. Adams. As early as 1990, Adams wrote that ‘in some respects we all acknowledge the sexual politics of meat. When we think that men, especially male athletes, need meat, or when wives report that they could give up meat but they fix it for their husbands, the overt association between meat eating and virile maleness is enacted.’
Such ideas have long been confined to philosophical and sociological spaces. But in recent years, and with the growing popularity of plant-based diets, psychological scientists have also developed a keen interest in the link between meat and masculinity and its implications for individuals and society.
Meat is manly
What does psychological research say about the meat-masculinity hypothesis? A straightforward first test is to compare men and women’s levels of meat consumption. And indeed, research consistently shows that, across cultures, men eat bigger portions of meat and eat meat more frequently than women. Women on the other hand report eating more fruit, vegetables, vegetarian meat substitutes, and vegetarian meals than men. Women are also more likely to self-identify as vegetarian or vegan. In other words, gender dynamics have a profound impact on meat eating habits, consistent with the meat-masculinity hypothesis (Loughnan & Davies, 2020; Rosenfeld, 2018; Ruby, 2012).