Men, Meat and Masculinity Linked

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Is there any summer activity manlier than slapping a thick steak on the grill and chowing down? According to a new study, nope.

The report published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that people associate meat with masculinity, a fact that may make healthier, vegetable-heavy diets seem wimpy and unappealing.

"To the strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, All-American male, red meat is a strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, all-American food," the authors wrote. "Soy is not. To eat it, they would have to give up a food they saw as strong and powerful like themselves for a food they saw as weak and wimpy."

Researchers conducted a series of studies testing metaphors associated with food. They found that people from Western cultures typically link manliness with meat, especially meatier muscle like steak. They also found that people associated meat with more masculine words and that meat-eaters are considered manlier than those who steer clear of or don't dine on swine or cattle.

Interestingly, the researchers found that meat was associated with the male gender in 23 languages that assign gender to certain words.

Maybe the association comes from thoughts of strength and power in the muscle that meat comes from, the researchers speculated,or maybe it comes from thoughts of macho activities like hunting. Whatever the case, the study suggested that men seem to feel uneasy about picking a portobello mushroom over a pork chop.

The health risks associated with meat-heavy diets are becoming increasingly evident. One study found that eating a single serving of red meat every day was linked to an increased risk of early death.

Dr. Ulka Agarwal, chief medical officer for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a non-profit group that promotes preventive medicine, animal rights and plant-based diets, said the "meat is macho, veggies are lame" mindset is really an outdated way of thinking about eating.

"The face of plant-based diets is changing as they become more mainstream," Agarwal said. "It's not just hippies, but also professional athletes who are following plant-based diets now."

PCRM is already working on promoting the pros of plant-eating to men. The group that was behind controversial billboards in Chicago proclaiming that "hot dogs cause butt cancer" now promotes a program featuring masculine celebrities such as NBA players, firefighters  and ultramarathoners discussing the benefits of eating a plant-based diet and how it helps them perform.

Agarwal said an easy way to start on a plant-based diet is to avoid eating meat for one day a week.

"Easing people into these changes can really help them develop a taste for plant-based foods," she said.

So go ahead, guys. Slap some soy cheese on that black bean burger and bask in your masculinity.