“In Western societies,” explains Dr. Attila Pohlmann, “masculine behavior is socially valued and needs to be on constant display in order to be validated”. Dr Pohlmann is currently crowdfunding a new Experiment.com project, entitled “Meat! Can manhood stomach the punch of the vegetarian alternative?“, which has almost reached it’s goal of $3000.
The experiment is designed to answer the questions: 1) Is there scientific support for the pervasive myth that red meat affords masculinity to consumers? 2) Would masculinity suffer psychologically and physiologically from the consumption of vegetarian alternatives? 3) Why do masculine persons highly value meat dishes, and which biological and psychological factors/processes motivate their preferences?
We at TheDiscerningBrute.com have been talking about the volatile link between meat and masculinity for years. Resident dietician Matt Ruscigno argued that we are Protein Obsessed, we were astonished to find out what happened to over 500 male inmates when 85% of a California prison went vegan. We interviewed one of the world’s strongest men, Patrik Baboumian, about being both an ethical vegan and one of the most fearsome strongmen on the planet, and we contemplated how strongly the tools of meat preparation resonate with those seeking to exhibit masculine power.
The president-elect of the American College of Cardiology is vegan (as are some of his cardiologist colleagues), as are increasing numbers of men in hyper-masculine sports – from the NFL’s defensive lineman David Carter to NBA’s Ben Gordon to Crossfit coach and gym owner Ed Bauer and the entire Plant Built bodybuilding team. Even ex-military intelligence officer Damien Mander is vegan, who uses his training to protect endangered species. Hollywood heartthrob Liam Hemsworth famously went vegan recently, and even in nature, elephants, many gorillas, pandas, rhinos, horses and other powerful, muscular animals are mostly herbivorous. But despite all of this many people still believe the mythology that you need to eat muscle to become muscular. It’s an aesthetically irrational logic (it seems to make sense on a purely aesthetic level, like eating brains would make you smarter).
Since the Stone Age, the incorporation of meat has served both as a symbol and as a signal for masculinity. Today, meat still has the same meaning. Many men would gladly embrace the health risks associated with red meat rather than taking the slightest risk of being associated with the feminine attributes of a vegan diet. Meat consumption is often used to psychologically defend the ego against omnipresent threats to coveted masculine status.
Pohlmann’s team has already studied the psychological mechanisms underlying this phenomenon. With additional funding, the team intends to conduct saliva testing to expand on their initial findings using hormonal biomarkers, such as testosterone and cortisol.
In a previous experiment the researchers found that after consumers experience a threat to their masculinity, the availability of a meat pizza lowered their anxiety back to the level of an unthreatened control group. A vegetarian alternative presented to the threatened group did not produce the same anxiety-alleviating effect. The researchers hypothesize this effect is due to the masculinity-symbolizing power of meat, but want to conduct further research to partial out the psychological and physiological effects of meat consumption on masculinity.
With men being their primary target, many marketing messages promote meat consumption by exploiting masculine anxieties and fortifying an alleged natural link between meat consumption and manliness.
“The strongly pronounced gender-food linkage presents a dilemma for traditionally masculine persons when it comes to deciding what to eat. Consistently they choose the steak over the vegetarian alternative. Helping us to complete the picture of the psychological and physiological factors involved in this process will hopefully influence marketing messages about masculinity and meat consumption in socially beneficial ways,” says project leader Dr. Pohlmann.
While it is a staple method in medical and clinical research, salivary analysis has only become practical and affordable to social scientists in recent years.
In using Experiment to help raise the funds, Pohlmann and his colleagues are sharing progress reports in real-time. In return for backing the project, donors will also be recognized when the results are published in publicly accessible outlets. If fully funded, the project’s findings would have implications for psychology, food marketing, as well as studies in nutrition.
- The American Psycological Association published Real Men Don’t Eat (Vegetable) Quiche: Masculinity and the Justification of Meat Consumption by Hank Rothgerber.
- The University of Chicago Press’ Journal of Consumer Research highlighted the phenomenon of masculinity in association to meat: Why Do Male Consumers Avoid Vegetarian Options?
- The Discerning Brute on Masculinity & Meat