According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, many cultures, including ours, consider eating meat to be manly. But as a growing body of scientific evidence shows that animal protein can cause a host of problems for men—including impotence, prostate cancer, penile cancer, smaller penis size, breast growth, and infertility—we think it’s time that metaphor make way for a new one: veggies = virility.
But how did meat become equated with masculinity in the first place?
As cavemen, men were hunters, relying on meat for protein when other food was scarce. But today in the Western world, food is easily available. We have groceries on nearly every corner, offering a seemingly endless supply of produce and grains. That’s good news, because eating an adequate number of calories per day made up of any normal variety of plant foods gives us all the protein our bodies need. Despite this truth, most men still connote protein with strength, and meat with protein. And even though hunting has been replaced by factory farming, men have tightly held on to the responsibility of handling meat—manning the grill and cutting the steak—and of course, eating meat, as a way to validate their manhood. Meat eating has also been perpetuated as a male gender archetype in other ways throughout history.
In feudal times, men who ate meat, a luxury item, were associated with patriarchy, wealth, and status. During World War I, meat was often diverted from civilian women to male soldiers. Interestingly, researchers have noted that the arbiters of cultural traditions, usually men, tend to selectively maintain traditions that benefit themselves—thus, men may themselves propagate the idea of meat as male so they can monopolize the supply.
Research has also shown that “in most cultures, manhood is earned through social displays, competition, and aggression, and is socially, rather than biologically determined.” Restaurants and food companies selling animal products deviously capitalize on this need for social approval, as well as the already established convention that meat is male, by using advertising that exploits men’s insecurities and solidifies the stereotype. But when men’s consumption of meat causes them to suffer from impotence and infertility—the very opposite of society’s perception of masculinity—it’s time to set the record straight. And, with so many meat alternatives on the market that look, feel, and taste just like the real thing, there is no need to risk not getting it up.
Reluctant to leave the grill? Just swap your usual meaty fare for delicious veggie dogs and burgers. And visit TryVeg.com for more tasty, vegetarian recipes that promise to satisfy even the beefiest of men.
* First photo features professional vegan bodybuilder Robert Cheeke; second photo features professional vegan boxer Timothy Bradley.