Men’s tendency to eat meat driven by link to masculinity, study finds

October 04, 2012
A new study published in the October issue of the Journal of Consumer Research, reveals a strong association between eating meat and masculinity across Western cultures. The findings suggest what men choose to consume – or not consume – may be shaped by metaphors and deeper beliefs about what certain foods might say about them.
Dr. Myles Faith

Dr. Myles Faith

“Food is more than just physical molecules and nutrients; it’s also about deeper symbols and meanings that may influence our choices,” said Myles Faith, PhD, associate professor of nutrition at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and one of the study’s authors. “As our study suggests, a steak is not just a steak. It also appears to represent something about masculinity and maleness.”

In a number of experiments that looked at metaphors and certain foods, such as meat and milk, the authors found that people rated meat as more masculine than vegetables. They also found that meat generated more masculine words when people discussed it and that people viewed male meat-eaters as being more masculine than non-meat eaters.
Most of the studies took place in the United States and Britain, but the authors also analyzed 23 languages that use gendered pronouns. They discovered that across most languages, meat was related to the male gender.
“To the strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, All-American male, red meat is a strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, All-American food,” the authors write. “Soy is not. To eat it, they would have to give up a food they saw as strong and powerful like themselves for a food they saw as weak and wimpy.”
Faith and his colleagues say their findings suggest more research is needed to better understand how underlying metaphors and symbols in our minds relate to health behaviors, including diet. He added that, at least for some men, seeing athletes or coaches endorse healthier options might make those food products more acceptable or desirable.
Other researchers on the study include lead author Paul Rozin, PhD, professor of psychology, University of Pennsylvania; Julia Hormes, PhD, postdoctoral fellow, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center; and Brian Wansink, PhD, John S. Dyson Professor of Marketing, Cornell University.


UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: Linda Kastleman, communications editor, (919) 966-8317 or