I’ve always wondered why eating meat is associated with masculinity, as if something as superficial as one’s dietary preference is somehow indicative of “manliness” and “strength”. I think most normal people can easily identify the face of this as bullshit, though there are unconscious notions and beliefs ingrained into us by decades of advertising as well as addictive highly processed foods. I’ve heard this rhetoric for as long as I can remember and I’d like to call it out as bullshit, while avoiding the obvious arguments of meat contributing to an imbalance of resources, ethical factors, health concerns, environmental costs, or the fact that you can’t feed 10 billion people with meat. This isn’t to bash on people who eat meat, but more of a criticism of this juvenile mentality that not eating meat makes a person “weak” or even “feminine”.
When it comes up in conversation, certain people seem more interested in my diet than I am. Likely a result of a defensive impulse, as though their dietary preference is an integral part of their identity. To use an analogy, some guys feel their masculinity is threatened when they hear that another man is vegan in the same way that certain men are threatened by homosexuality. Their fragile sense of masculinity is being threatened.
Personally, my current diet is primarily vegetarian. I eat mostly plants (fruits, vegetables, seeds, legumes, and beans) but will also eat eggs and dairy on occasion. I’ve been a pescatarian for several years (one who eats fish, but no other type of animal), until a few months ago I cut out fish entirely. Around 8 years, I became more concerned about my health and began to exercise frequently, train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu & Muay-Thai, and began to strip out all the garbage I was putting in my body (that isn’t to say my current diet is “perfect” by any means, but my diet has improved by leaps and bounds). As my lifestyle progressed, I gradually began cutting meats starting with pork and beef, and eventually cut out poultry about four years ago. I share this because as I started to develop a better physique, strength, and the ability to confidently defend myself, the amount of meat I was consuming dropped significantly. I am far more stronger, confident, and “masculine” than I was in my meat-eating days.
But why is eating meat “manly”? At some point in our culture, “manliness” became a term associated with meat consumption. Maybe it’s because in hunter-gatherer tribes, hunting was very much connected to masculinity because you had to be quite fit to take down a large animal (as well as being prone to communicating and cooperation as hunting wasn’t a one-man job). Though women also hunted, it was primarily a job done by males. Hunter-gather tribes also didn’t even consume meat regularly – they were primarily foragers that would hunt occasionally. That said, the vast majority of males in the United States have not once gone hunting in their life, yet the act of eating meat somehow gives them idea of being a “hunter” despite the fact that they’ve never killed an animal and their meat was purchased in a plastic package from a grocery store chain or, more common in the US, a fast food drive through window. And even then, that meat was mass-produced in a factory farm often several hundred miles away.
What’s far more likely is that terms like “manliness” and it’s synonyms has been co-opted by the advertising industry and used to market meat products. This is primarily where where the meat/masculinity notion comes from. Go to the grocery store and look at the shitty frozen food packages (oftentimes marketed toward men that don’t know how to cook for themselves) and you’ll quickly see how much “Protein” and depictions of “Manliness” is emphasized. And because of that “protein” label, it’s somehow interpreted as a healthy food to men who don’t know any better, though I’d suspect there’s also some traces of protein in literal dog shit so you might as well be eating that. Due to heavy marketing, over the last 50 years “protein” became synonymous with “meat” and “meat” with “strength” since protein is macronutrient required for muscle growth.
We’re told though subtle messaging that vegetarians and vegans are the antithesis of “manliness”, somehow protein deficient weaklings that hide in holes whenever a threat appears. Which itself is silly because protein can easily and more readily be obtained through beans, rice, peas, etc.
If one’s sense of masculinity is highly correlated to to something as superficial as eating meat, that is a very strong indicator of weak masculinity. To me, masculinity is about physical and emotional strength, taking risks, being strong in the face of adversity, being a protector, and taking the lead in uncertain situations. Believing that a diet without meat makes someone less masculine or weak is a juvenile mindset that likely stems from a fragile sense of masculinity in itself.
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