Meat consumption and successful masculine performance

The other day I saw a young couple in their mid-20’s sit down at a table in the cafe of the co-op. I couldn’t help but overhear their conversation, “You need to eat more!” a guy proclaimed in a demanding, half-joking way. He glanced down at the girls plate and smiled.  She smiled back and while I couldn’t hear her response her tone sounded sarcastic. I leaned to my left to glance over at her plate; she had a salad stacked high with a variety of veggies, and a serving of vegetarian chili on the side. The guy didn’t have that much more food on his plate, however the food he did have was heavier and richer, and he was eating meat.

This was interesting to me because I had read an article titled ‘Metrosexuality Can Stuff It: Beef Consumption as (Heteromasculine) Fortification’ literally the day prior. In the article, the author points to social scientific research on food consumption that reveals that meat consumption plays a significant role in successful masculine performance.

I thought about the look on the guys face when he said “you need to eat more!” Did he really want her to eat more? According to Burke, where it may seem ‘‘un-ladylike’’ to eat much, consuming large quantities of food seems expected from men. In western culture, consuming animal flesh, especially beef, has a long association with traditional masculinity (Burke, 261). Furthermore, research indicates that men’s eating goes largely unnoticed, whereas women often feel the social norms for proper consumption weighing down upon them (Saukko; Scott;Spitzack). Thus, it’s easy for males to tell females to eat more for that’s how they’ve been conditioned to think. Perhaps the girls sarcastic response and the fact that she seemed to take the guys comment lightly, is an indication that she’s disregarding the guys comment for she recognizes that the social norms surrounding food are different for for women and men. I don’t mean to speculate, or overanalyze this small interaction, but there’s something to be said about the expected norms surrounding eating for women. It seems every magazine, TV show, and other media outlet is screaming ladies, eat less!

The problem I have with the social logic behind presenting meat as a masculine food of choice, is that it assumes that by consuming meat men gain strength, whereas vegetables and other non-meat products provide nothing to the body in the way of substance (Burke). This is deceiving and troublesome for several reasons. One reason being, women are healthier than men and thus outlive them. We’re a strong and resilient bunch, in part because of the food choices that we make.

Burke’s article continues to explain the history behind this social logic: the cultural tradition of saving meat for men grows from beliefs about meat’s effect on the body as emboldening and empowering. Associations between men and meat seen in social behavior research and cultural critiques solidify underlying notions that men naturally hold strength and power, while women merely stand by watching.

What do you think, is this perspective insightful? Does it offer you a more critical eye as to why you might make some of the food choices you do? At the end of the day, I find it fascinating to consider how all of this is a social construction, yet the extent to which it impacts our lives (and in many cases our health) is immense.

FN 3/5

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  1. Cooking and Observing at the Co-op - May 9, 2012

    […] and potential implications this has for food consumption and health practices. Check out this post to learn […]

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