food and gender

August 27, 2010

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Whilst there are definitely men who embrace a veg lifestyle out there and women who get excited about a big ol’ hunk of meat, we’re still hit over the head left, right, and centre with the idea that certain foods are for men and others are a decidedly ladies-only affair.

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You only have to look to advertisements on television to see items like yoghurt, chocolate, and sweet alco-pops being targeted at women.

Men though? Men eat meat. Because they are men. Rawr.

So, where did these gendered ideas come from and do they have any basis in reality?

I read a great article on Salon recently that got me pondering the question of how food gets gendered. Genetic differences? Gender socialization? Heredity? And what about the rest of the world?

  • There are some scientists whose research has shown that there is actually a genetic predisposition amongst us as to whether we enjoy sweets or meats. According to this research women are predisposed to prefer sweet tastes and to be more sensitive to bitter ones. Men on the other hand, are hard-wired to enjoy more bitter flavours. Imagine in your mind the sweet cocktails with names like My Pink Lady versus a nice big manly pint of bitter, hoppy beer. You get the picture.
  • There is also the evolution argument that rears its head and suggests that men and women have different physiological needs which determine why they prefer certain foods. According to this theory we’ve been predisposed to these preferences since cave-dwelling times, i.e. “Men, as hunters, see meat as a reward and also need more protein than women in order to build muscle mass”. Current trends suggest a continuation according to this research.
  • An interesting addition to this side of the argument is David Katz’s assertion that different hormonal compositions affect what foods men and women crave. He says that the foods that women crave during pregnancy and whilst they are pre-menstrual might affect the foods that they generally hanker for year-round. Interesting stuff.
  • And what about the rest of the world, beyond the United States’ borders? A Montclair University study found that 50% of American women craved chocolate while only 20% of men reported the same cravings. Unsurprisingly, things are different elsewhere. The same study in Spain found that an equal number of men and women craved chocolate and in Egypt, neither sex craved it. In another U.K. study it was found that school-aged boys prefer chowing down on sweets and fatty foods whereas girls were more willing to incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into their diets.

It got me thinking (as the Salon author also pondered) about my own cravings, habits and customary behaviour with food. I certainly have a very sweet tooth in terms of full-on cravings, compared to my husband, lover of meat and hoppy beer.

I’m also very aware of how culture and society predetermines that I be conscious of my weight and appearance at a level and in a manner that men don’t quite experience in the same way. That surely affects some of my choices and “tastes”.

What about countries that aren’t as rich or developed as the U.S. or U.K.? Is food valued more or in a different way?

This is obviously such a huge area for discussion and something that I can’t go that deeply into in one post. Hopefully in time I can delve into it further. What are your thoughts?

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Holly August 27, 2010 at 9:00 am

ooohhhh i love this, and i read that exact same Salon article! honestly, before reading it, it was something i had never really thought about. however, once people start pointing it out – it really is true! i have to say i fall into the woman “stereotype” – i prefer sweets to the max over bitter thangs (olives? YUCK). although, i am a full-on beer lover, which is funny because i never EVER drank it in college.

so, maybe there is possibility we do have some power over what we crave? definitely interesting stuff. i think this warrants more research and another post :)

can’t wait to see you tonight!!!! loves!

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crunchy granola gal August 27, 2010 at 9:03 am

very interesting topic! i think there may be some genetic predisposition towards foods based on gender, but overall it seems more believable that gendered foods are a socially constructed idea. cupcake shops are adorned with pretty colors and generally have a cutesy kind of vibe. steakhouses, on the other hand, are dimly lit, have very plain decorations and a very masculine, almost masculine vibe. girls who love meat and beers are somehow considered a bit grungier or tough, no? and guys who eat greek yogurt are somehow less… dude, ya know? these are all social constructs that we believe to be true! oh, media brainwashing…

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crunchy granola gal August 27, 2010 at 9:06 am

masculine, almost masculine vibe? this is what happens when i blog comment (with long gaps of time) at work. nothing makes sense!

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Christina August 27, 2010 at 9:47 am

interesting interesting! i have to agree though. i DEFINITELY prefer sweets over the “manly” food. My best friend (guy) at school always tries to make me eat his stupid olives everytime i go over. no thanks. hand me the cookie jar please. haha i definitly think there is a genetic predisposition going on here. or like you said, society making girls/guys think they have to eat a certain way and look a certain way? hmm…

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Madeline - Greens and Jeans August 27, 2010 at 11:10 am

This made me laugh, because according to my cravings, I am a man.

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janetha g. August 27, 2010 at 11:47 am

really great post, lady! i find it surprising that nobody has touched on this topic before, actually–well, not any of the blogs i read, at least. i look forward to you delving in more :) and actually, ironically, marshall is more meatless than i am!

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Katharina August 29, 2010 at 10:35 pm

This is such an interesting post! When you mentioned that in Spain the percentage of both men and women craving chocolate was relatively the same made me think of.. the romance language countries. I wonder if may be it has to do with how.. emotional both sexes are in those countries (i.e. Spain, Italy, South American countries). I guess we’d have to look at the statistics of those countries! I also wonder if maybe the traditional foods of each country maybe sparks cravings for particular foods be they salty or sweet. Maybe stimulate is a better word? Really though, this is such an interesting topic! I’m always thinking about how things in our world are connected, and how we may not realize it. For instance, an observation that I’ve made: in countries like Spain and Argentina where they are known for their meats, they tend to have very hot-tempers. Maybe it’s the meat in combination of the other things they consume. But I’ve noticed that heavy meat-eaters tend to be more aggressive in nature and I think it may correlate with the fact that it just takes longer for the body to digest (can cause stress in the body I guess). Anyway, I hope you had a lovely weekend!!!

XOXO

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Susan August 30, 2010 at 7:53 am

I would love to hear about similar studies in relation to SALTY food. Most people I know have some form of sweet tooth, but I’m more concerned about those I know who seem to have addictions to salt! I wonder if one gender is more inclined to it than the other?? I think a lot of it has to do with what you ate growing up.

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minneville April 6, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Came across this post of yours earlier this week and got me thinking about certain food in a “gendered” way. am getting a blog post about it soon!

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