Meat-eating & Toxic Masculinity in the Media

“Vegetables are for girls . . . If your instincts tell you following a vegetarian diet isn’t manly, you’re right.” —Men’s Health



All aspects of life are gendered, even those we would otherwise deem insignificant, such as food. It is often hard to look beyond the plate - if it tastes good, we get it. However, food is inscribed with multiple meanings related to class, region, age, nationality, ethnicity, and especially gender. This has been the case throughout history. In the USA, traditional masculine foods are beef, potatoes, and beer, while feminine foods are yogurt, salads, fruit, etc.


To briefly explain meat’s relation with masculinity it is important to look at a variety of social factors.


In most societies, men have hypermasculinized meat, often claiming that a meal is not a real meal without meat. This may be due to the association that meat has with power, and status - an essential part of the male identity. In hunter-gatherer societies, bringing home the largest kill shows dominance and is a sign of prestige for men. They demonstrate their power in hunting practices by conquering other species, and bringing them home as providers of the family. To do so symbolises their strength, showing that to eat in a masculine way is to eat the meat of a conquered species.





This rings eerily true when we think of how women are also referred to as pieces of meat when objectified, and how men think of them as "trophies". In this wonderful essay, David Grazian goes into how college students perform gender through a ritualistic "girl hunt" when going to look for girls in clubs. Before going on the hunt, young men talk amongst themselves to boost their confidence, and drink, exhibiting male camaraderie. This is similar to hunters having a “prayer circle” before going on a hunt to show solidarity. An elaborated performance of masculinity is continued during the hunt, when the male scopes out the “prize”. The group nature of girl hunting is similar to the group nature of game hunting, and post-hunt rituals of men discussing their night - boasting the amount of numbers they received, or women they were with - akin to hunters proudly posing with their catch. Hence the objectification of women allows for them to be viewed as conquests, much as animals are.


Furthermore, historically, European aristocrats consumed meat, while the lower classes would eat complex carbohydrates, such as chickpeas. Women, who were considered second-class citizens, would consume vegetables and fruits rather than meat. In Pakistan, vegetable dishes, such as daal or bindhi are cheaper than meat dishes, and more readily available. Research shows that there is a link between meat and status, with experiments proving that people with low socioeconomic status prefer more meat driven by a desire for status. An essential part of hegemonic masculinity is to be the “alpha”, something that is defined by class, and status in a modern capitalist world.


But how has the media contributed to this phenomena?


Cookbooks have barbeque sections full of meat addressed towards men. Readers are advised with meat-filled dishes for Father’s Day, but no such dish is recommended for Mother’s Day. A Western icon of manly eating is a cowboy who catches his own meat, prepares it, and eats it.



But this extends beyond Western society. Here we can take the example of a local Pakistani product “Jango”, a meat snack. A visit to their Facebook page shows us their tagline “Shair ka bacha gosht khata hay”, and their promotional posters which define what a “real man” is, which as they insinuate is always synonymous with the consumption of meat.







However, they are not the only brand to do so. The most apparent part of a vintage Campbell Beef Soup poster reads “FOR MEN ONLY”, and other posters depicting meat as the reason why “men love home”, and that good meat is guaranteed by “good housekeeping”. Beyond posters, advertisement campaigns and television programs depict that masculinity is performed in the consumption of meat, and on the contrary, femininity is not.





An example of this is Burger King’s 2006 “Manthem” advertisement that was a parody of the 1972 feminist anthem “I Am Woman”. The advertisement highlights the male bruteness, rejecting feminine foods, with the singer saying that he is too hungry “to settle for chick food”, and “...I’m going on a prowl”. The man rejects the initial setting he is in due to its civility, and fine dining nature, and exchanges it for a more urbanised setting, and a Texas Double Whopper from Burger King, while gathering with multiple men from different backgrounds. The ad aptly genders food, calling the burger a masculine food, and “quiche” a feminine food. It is also coded as working class, with the images of cowboys and cattle through the use of “Texas”. The men walk past workers who flex their biceps while eating their burgers, symbolising the link between masculinity and exhibiting physical strength. The man explicitly refers to tofu as well, waving it goodbye.





Tofu is considered to be a feminine food, and also an anti-meat. We see a similar pattern resonated in a 2006 Hummer advertisement where a man buying tofu is embarrassed in front of a man buying heaps of meat, and then buys a Hummer to feel masculine again. The initial tagline of the advertisement read: “Restore your manhood”, but after criticism was toned down to “Restore the balance”.





Similar themes dominate the popular show “Man V. Food”, which has constant displays of hegemonic masculinity and toughness as the male host of the show visits restaurants in America to consume unrealistic amounts of food as a challenge to his manhood. In an episode known as the “Four Horsemen Burger”, the host appears on screen loading a gun shooting cheeseburgers in the air. The gun acts as a phallic symbol, and establishes male dominance over the nonhuman. The host also channels the image of a Western cowboy, archetypal to the Western man.





In another challenge, his meal is brought to him, and he calls for a salad in an effeminate voice, attributing gender to his meal choice, and presenting a caricature of female choices, holding them synonymous to vegetarian choices. This protects the hegemonic masculine concept of meat being solely for the man, and the exclusion of females from this.

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