Tag Archives: gender

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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Modeling Behavior: Giada at Home

Giada at Home is a show on the Food Network that I became familiar with over spring break. Although Giada doesn’t go out of her way to use local, organic or whole foods, it reminds me of my time at City Market because they sell almost all of the ingredients used in the show, and also I love to cook!

In this clip, Giada prepares Spinach Bacon Grilled Cheese for her family. The clip opens with a scene of her and her family, yet she is the only one we see in kitchen preparing food. Giada is dressed up and appears to be wearing a significant amount of make-up. In this episode (and all others that I’ve seen) we never see Giada eat the food she makes. Social Learning Theory says that we learn how to behave by modeling others behavior. Social theorist Albert Bandara uses this theory to explain potential effects of mass media on people’s behavior, asserting that “children and adults acquire attitudes, emotional responses and new styles of conduct through filmed and televised modeling”.

Under this discourse, the video of Giada at Home models behaviors that could contribute to how the public identifies with: the role of gender in the space of the kitchen, standards for physical and bodily appearance in realation to food, overall family structure and division of labor between members of the family. The gendered identity brought out by Giada at Home is illustrated by a quote from the Essence of Cooking Shows: How the Food Network Constructs Consumer Fantasies by Cheri Ketchum.

Within a tradition of women being socialized into being intimate care providers, this affirms a larger gender-stereotyped fantasy of social relations. These lone women also advised their audiences how to make meals that were sure to please others, a common selfless act that women are encouraged to engage in. For example, Sara Moulton of Sara’s Secrets asked, “Can you imagine how happy your child will be with these desserts?

Furthermore, Giada’s unusually petite size could contribute to young girls and adults feeling they need to be skinny, physically attractive, dress well and wear make-up in order to fit the role that Giada portrays (mother, chef, wife, etc.)  The fact that we rarely see Giada eat on the show may suggest that women should prepare food for their family, but not necessarily eat it, which raises many of its own questions. Given that 65% of women in the U.S. have eating disorders, the potential contribution this could have on audiences’ food practices could be highly problematic or  dangerous as women today are going to increasingly extreme lengths to look more like the unrealistic body types that are see on TV and through other media.

Another way entertainment media such at Giada at Home may impact health practices surrounding food is through consuming products (foods, appliances, etc.) that the viewer believes will make them “more like” Giada. Unsurprisingly, much of Giada’s success is attributed to her cookbooks, brand alliances and food products, and it’s not just Giada at Home, but the Food Network at large. According to Ketchum, the life-style oriented Food Network portrays ecstasy through consumption, creating new standards for entertaining, which gives people visions and advice on how to gain pleasures through consuming. For example, by buying Giada’s cookbook viewers may feel they’ve formed a connection to her which in turn creates pleasure.

While this is not problematic in itself, the article mentions that it’s dangerous to move toward a situation where content is even more closely tied to selling goods. Ketchum refers to this as “infomercials packaged as programming” and argues that the more this occurs the less likely shows are to seriously address any of the problems with contemporary food production and consumption (e.g., genetic engineering, the exploitation of a disenfranchised).

With entertainment media modeling consumption, unrealistic beauty standards and gendered kitchen work, I’m concerned. What changes need to be made so that cooking shows like Giada at Home provide a more accurate and diverse reflection of our contemporary food system and the myriad of identities, people, organizations that are part of it?

WP 3/23