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.
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?