Meat for men, salad for women – breaking with stereotypes:

When you imagine a person, sitting in a fancy restaurant, neatly dressed, eating a big, raw  steak, dripping red, what gender does the person have? Most people would probably imagine a man, even though there is of course no such category for different types of food.

All over the world, more women are vegans and vegetarians than men. A survey conducted in the United States led to the finding that just 24% of vegans were men, which is supported by the  social media, that presents us more with girls showing the next fantastic vegan recipe, while guys present their post workout meal with 1kg chicken to reach the required protein level for optimal muscle growth.

These stereotypes are simple minded, and only lead to an increased drawback into gender norms and stereotypes. If we already have specific gender norms for the food we eat, which is a basic human need and something we do every day, how are we supposed to get rid of the stereotypes and norms in the bigger picture, in the much more complex areas of life and society?

It is sad that a man has to feel like being vegan or vegetarian is something “feminine” and “unmanly”, stressed by expressions like “soy boys”, which the urban dictionary defines as a slang term applying to “males who completely and utterly lack all necessary masculine qualities”. The expression probably comes  from the myth that the over-consumption of soya products harms the male physique even though this has not been proven to be accurate. Studies which scientists took with male rats led to the result that due to a high dose of phytoestrogens, the ability to produce offspring was negatively influenced, but since rats metabolise soy isoflavones differently to humans, the same effect does not carry over to male humans. In fact, clinical studies explicitly prove that isoflavone-rich soy does not affect  testosterone levels or oestrogen levels.

The ”men eat meat” stereotype is nothing new, with Steven Heine, psychologist at the University of British Columbia, pointing out that it has been influenced by historical factors, with the man being hunter and provider and the women gathering plants and vegetables and caring for the children, associated with danger and superiority. But in the world of today, it simply isn’t very dangerous anymore to walk to the supermarket and buy some meat. “I don´t think people necessarily recognize the extent to which the food they choose to eat affects their identity” states Margret Thomas a physiologist at Earlham college, Indiana and found that men are only seen as being less masculine if they are vegan or vegetarian for a choice, not if it is part of their essential diet. Where is the difference? There should be none.

Underlined by advertisements and social media, the food stereotypes get passed down through the generations, leaving men to be ashamed to order a salad in a restaurant on a men´s trip, and negatively impacting our environment since men find it not “man enough” to be vegan. I consider it long overdue to break with these societal constructs, and let everyone eat what they desire, no matter the gender. 

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