There is a well-accepted notion in pop psychology that men and women are strikingly different– in communication styles, emotional expression, sexuality, and more. But what about eating habits? Or willingness to change their diet for the better? While I shun the assumption that all men are less good at communicating or empathizing than their female counterparts, research has supported such gender differences for the majority of males. And while I am fortunate enough to have a male partner who likes to cook and reads ingredient labels, I know that a gender gap exists in the food culture of healthy eating.
Several skilled authors and researchers such as Carol Adams (The Sexual Politics of Meat), Jeremy MacClancy (Consuming Culture) and Susan Basow (Lafayette University research on masculine/feminine food choices) have explored this gender gap and the reasons behind it. And, as with everything food (or gender) related, it is complicated. But there is an observable trend in our society that links healthy eating (and health consciousness in general) with femininity. Women are more likely to see doctors for preventative care while men are more likely to wait until there is a serious problem. Women who consume lighter, plant-based meals are typically viewed as more feminine and attractive while greasy and meat-heavy meals are associated with manliness. Anyone who watches television has certainly witnessed this phenomenon. Next time you are watching food advertising, look out for such gender stereotypes; you might be amazed at how prevalent they are!
So what might the impact be of such gender generalizations when it comes to healthy eating? If you’ve ever made a big change in your diet to become healthier, you may have experienced it firsthand: society is more supportive of women making healthy eating choices and more critical of men who do so. Think of vegetarianism as an example. How many vegetarian women do you know? How many men? If your circle of friends reflects the US population, the women outnumber the men 2 to 1. But despite a greater level of resistance to their healthy eating choices, men may need to make these choices more than anyone. The chronic diet-related diseases that are our country’s top killers are more common (and more often fatal) in men. Eating a healthier diet is the path to longer life and better health, but many men feel pressured not to walk it.
If living longer and being sick less is not enough motivation to help men overcome societal stereotypes and make eating changes for the better, consider this: is impotence manly? Recent research has shown a strong link between meat-heavy processed diets and erectile dysfunction. So if men fit another widely-used stereotype and do indeed define themselves largely by sexual prowess, then eating healthy may be the most manly thing any of them can do! So it’s time to tell the world…real men eat WELL!