Understanding Gender Identities and Food Preferences to Increase the Consumption of a Plant-Based Diet With Heuristics

Understanding Gender Identities and Food Preferences to Increase the Consumption of a Plant-Based Diet With Heuristics

Estela Seabra (The New School, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8003-4.ch002
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This chapter discerns existent food preferences and their correlation with women and men, and gender biases, in America. It then proposes a strategy to test the most efficient heuristics to nudge those more averse to a plant-based, sustainable diet. By understanding how negative biases can be reversed through the application of behavioral economics, the plant-based industry and American government can most effectively build marketing procedures to be employed in campaigns, menus, packaging, and media to portray sustainable diets as appealing for men and women, and important for environmental wellbeing. The study recognizes and navigates the irrationality of human preferences as actors in the food market. By accounting for gender norms, cultural roles, and subconscious behavior, it will effectively produce insight on the best heuristical approaches to cognitively orchestrate a wider acceptance, and consequent consumption, of plant-based foods.
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Theoretical Background And Purpose

It has been found by Pew Research Center that men who do not eat meat are perceived as approximately 40% less masculine than women. There are no hormonal imbalances, data or behavioral traits to support this observation. Moreover, it has been found that women are significantly more likely to try, adhere to and buy sustainably-produced foods, especially plant-based diets. It is theorized that strong ties between the public’s perception of a vegan diet and sexism exist. This is likely the case due to media representation. If this is found to be true in the analysis, it will be crucial to identify potential instances of sexism and gender representations to understand the behavioral triggers they activate, and propose heuristic strategies to alter the outlook of a plant-based diet from one of “unmanliness”, “fragility” and “undernutrition”, to a more all-encompassing gender outlook that appeals to the participation of all people.

Moreover, beyond neutralizing the potential sexist cognitive biases revolving around veganism in the media, this proposal aims to suggest heuristic nudges to inspire and animate individuals towards a sustainable, plant-based diet as a symbol of personal empowerment based on responsibility and an interconnectedness with humanity. It may contribute to the goal of sustainable practices, illuminating the symbiotic nature of social circles and their environment. By harnessing behavioral pushes to perceive vegan diets as nutritionally complete, tasteful and empowering, public cognitive biases that hold no factual basis will become unfounded, unsustainable. Thus, individuals can be positively nudged to follow diet choices that benefit themselves, their peers, the ecosystem, and future lives. The study will discern the most effective heuristics, alone and in combination, focused on American target audiences, to create these nudges.

Research Question

How can heuristics most efficiently be used to nudge the American public to positively perceive vegan food and livelihoods, accounting for different gender preferences and gendered food biases?


It is hypothesized that men and women will react differently to different heuristics. It is theorized that men will react more strongly to heuristics, colors, anchoring and such that reinforces their already existent, preconceived masculine ideals. Similarly, women will also strongly respond to heuristics that anchor veganism to feminine ideals. However, it is theorized that women, being less aversely biased to the vegan food industry, potentially due to its linkage with weight loss (a widespread archetype amongst US women), will also respond most strongly to heuristic use that reinforces vegan information, and the nutritional benefits of foods. Simultaneously, it is hypothesized that men will be more responsive to gustatory pleasure and lifestyle status than information.

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