Reconciling Not Eating Meat and Masculinity in the Marketing Discourse for New Food Alternatives

Reconciling Not Eating Meat and Masculinity in the Marketing Discourse for New Food Alternatives

Diana Bogueva (Curtin University, Australia) and Dora Marinova (Curtin University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7350-0.ch014


Traditional hegemonic masculinity can be traced on the typical man's plate where meat represents the centerpiece. Meat consumption dominates the current marketing discourse which builds on masculinity to reinforce the stereotyped gender-based diets. In light of scientific evidence about the detrimental impacts of meat consumption on human wellbeing and environmental health, this chapter argues that men are at the crossroads where the concept of masculinity is being redefined. Their social role is similarly changing with new expectations for more sustainable diets which call for plant-based food choices and possibly lab-grown meat. Some men are endorsing these imperatives while others continue to succumb to social inertia. A new marketing discourse is needed which reconciles masculinity with not eating meat and encourages a transition to alternative dietary choices that are better for personal health, allow improved use of the planet's resources, and have less impact on climate change.
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Meat’s association with manliness in Western cultures is based on a long-established socially constructed gender identity, a norm and a way for society to exert pressure on men’s food selection to communicate their masculinity. Being a complex food choice, the consumption of meat, and in particular red meat, endorses a pleiad of meanings and traits contributing to creating perceptions about men’s masculine identity (Adams, 1990; Fiddles, 1991; Rogers, 2008; Ruby & Heine, 2011; Rozin, Hormes, Faith, & Wansink, 2012; Rothgerber, 2013; Meah, 2014; Schösler, de Boer, Boersema, & Aiking, 2015; Sumpter, 2015; Bogueva & Phau, 2016; Bogueva & Marinova, 2018). This is in contrast to the precarious feminine identity which gravitates around avoiding meat and preference for plant-based options (Prättälä, Paalanen, Grinberga, Helasoja, Kasmel, & Petkeviciene, 2007; Zhu, Brescoll, Newman, & Uhlmann, 2015; Bogueva & Marinova, 2018). In the West, the hegemonic meat culture is supported by the ultra-powerful livestock industry and associated lobby groups which constantly bombard the public through advertising, especially on the social media, influencing them to remain meat-hooked (Brester & Schroeder, 1995; McDermott, 2012; Shanker, 2015; Zaraska, 2016; Hanrahan, Elvery, McGhee, & Liddy, 2017; Hunt, 2017). The reinforcement of manliness through meat consumption messages deprives consumers of the ability to make informed and independent decisions about their eating preferences, including quantities and frequency, and forces them to separate food by gender appropriation. Splitting food into male and female manifests the acceptance of gendered dietary norms and also subconscious individual approval of such socially-established perceptions. Recent studies show that men tend to choose significantly more gender-normative masculine meal options, usually containing large portions with ample meat, while women do not object to lighter, vegetarian, plant-based foods (Sobal, 2005; Bartlett, 2010; Gal & Wilkie, 2010; Potts & Parry, 2010; McPhail, Beagan, & Chapman, 2012; Rothgerber, 2013; Cavazza, Guidetti, & Butera, 2015; Zhu, Brescoll, Newman, & Uhlmann, 2015; Bogueva, Raphaely, Marinova, & Marinova, 2017). In addition, a male choice to not consume meat is often perceived as an assault on the gender stereotype compromising masculinity and the male gender identity (Sobal, 2005; Gal & Wilkie, 2010; Bogueva & Marinova, 2018).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Vegan: A human diet which excludes all animal-based products; the term can also be used in reference to a person who follows such a diet.

Meat Alternatives (or Alternatives to Meat): Food products based on plants and lab-grown in-vitro meat (the latter is also described as clean or cultured meat); these products can also be described as meat analogues or meat substitutes.

Masculinity: Manifestation of personal traits, behaviors, and social roles associated with men and boys; manifestation of manliness.

Flexitarian: A human diet which aims at reducing the consumption of all kinds of meat; the diet aims in particular to keep red meat consumption within the limit recommended by reputable health organizations – a maximum of 500 g of lean fresh meat; the term can also be used in reference to a person who follows such a diet.

Clean Meat/Cultured Meat/Lab-Grown Meat: Meat grown in-vitro from animal cells; it requires less resources and produces less pollution compared to livestock-based meat.

Manliness: A set of traits, abilities, attributes, and qualities which characterize the male human species.

Stereotype: A generalized and simplified belief or image about a particular category of people.

Advertising: A marketing communication paid by an interested body which is represented through text, sound, images, or combination of these and openly conveys particular ideas or messages.

Social Marketing: Marketing which aims at inducing a behavioral change and maintaining such behavior for the greater social good, including benefits for the individual and society as a whole.

Vegetarian: A human diet which excludes all kinds of meat and fish; the term can also be used in reference to a person who follows such a diet.

Discourse: A way of talking about an issue which represents the current structures of power, dominant culture, and institutions within society.

Myth: A widely held belief or set of ideas which are wrong and not based on convincing scientific evidence.

Hegemonic: Ruling, dominant, or highly influential within a social context.

Macho: A man who is explicitly proud of his masculinity; the term is also associated with an assumption that such a man will be assertively and even aggressively displaying his masculinity.

Vested Interest: A personal reason for involvement in a particular activity or in supporting a particular idea because of the expectations for financial gain or other advantages.

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