There is an intimate link between food and gender, but it’s probably not what you’re thinking. Forget perky asparagus, squelchy oysters, slippery figs and anything else imbued with folklore or aphrodisiacal connotations. It’s much more basic than that:
Salad, fruit, vegetables, smoothies, chocolate, Baileys: Women’s food/drink
Steak, sausages, pork pie, burgers, potatoes, vindaloo, beer: Men’s food/drink
As absurd as this ad hoc dichotomy may seem, it presents an eternal headache for public health organisations and food marketers alike.
I vividly recall an episode of The Apprentice (UK edition) that aired well over a decade ago, in which a corporate scion, tasked with evaluating a fresh-faced crop of budding executives, barked at a softly-spoken, young Asian candidate: “Go and eat some red meat!”.
Meanwhile, Japan is experiencing a well-publicised social movement, in which young men renounce the traditional male role. Instead of turning into slavish “salarymen” chained to their corporate desks 16+ hours a day, they go for jobs they actually enjoy, actively cultivate the more sensitive and empathetic sides of their personalities, and spend their free time shopping and socialising with their (strictly platonic, ahem…) girlfriends. These guys are referred to as “herbivore men” (as opposed to their traditional “carnivore men” counterparts). [Here is an article on this fascinating subject, if you’re interested in global/national social trends]
One fact that I’ve always found baffling is that average male life expectancy consistently trails behind that of women. In most countries, the difference is around three years. Why is that?!
Not only do men have much more power than women, but, save for a set of precariously vulnerable, dangly goolies, their bodies are far less complicated than those of females. I mean, just take into account the ravages of pregnancy, followed by the potential damage (including death!) that can occur when pushing out multiple ten-pound sprogs, then having your life energy sucked out of your mammaries for months on end – men suffer none of these physical tribulations. Putting up some shelves at the weekend, rummaging around underneath rusty cars, and, perhaps, a few drunken pub brawls in their youth… I dare say, it doesn’t quite compare.
As I see it, the reason why men pop their clogs so early essentially boils down to this: They just don’t look after themselves. And eating some green stuff every once in a while plays a major part in this. They consider their bodies to be “machines”, obliged to yield to their will. Every warning sign emanating from within, like a twinge of chest pain or bleeding from the eyeballs, is staunchly ignored, until it’s way too late, until no amount of roasted aubergines on a bed of arugula will save them.
Unlike women, men are under far less pressure to maintain a healthy body weight. While an overweight woman is constantly reminded of her unsightliness, a man is allowed to parade his paunch around with pride. In Bavaria (where I’m from) reigns the popular saying, “A man without a beer belly is a cripple”.
Men don’t diet. If anything, they work out. Or, failing that (as most of them do), they watch a bunch of young louts kicking a pig’s bladder about.
I’ve put “new” in quotes, because, as we all know, the company’s sugar-free cola has been around for donkey’s years, in the guise of Diet Coke (or Coca-Cola Light, as it is marketed in Europe and elsewhere). However, it is downright impossible to sell anything bearing the words “diet” and/or “light” to a bloke. Heaven forbid!
Coke Zero, aimed squarely at the boys, has been a roaring success. In 2013, 3.7 billion litres of the stuff were guzzled up globally, and sales are still on the up, while those of Diet Coke are in dismal decline.
Another food that men just wouldn’t touch for fear of their chest hair falling out is yoghurt. Yoghurt – some of which is *pink*, for Pete’s sake! – is a girlie food, fair and square. Or, rather, that’s how it was until the still fairly recent kick-off of the “high protein trend”. (If it hasn’t hit your corner of the world yet, don’t worry, it will.)
The high protein trend is the biggest thing in the US’s packaged food market right now, and it all started on the back of Greek yoghurt, which, due to how it is processed, contains slightly more protein than standard yoghurt. And since protein = muscle = manliness, clever marketers seized this golden opportunity to convince yoghurt-spurning males that a pot of fermented dairy was every bit as macho as a steak.
As always, I’d really love to hear from my readers – are there any foods or drinks in your part of the world that suffer from a cultural gender bias? Are the words “high protein” spreading like small pox over all manner of food packaging in your local supermarket? What are the male vs. female attitudes to (healthy) eating in your (host) culture? Any thoughts on and around this topic are greatly appreciated 🙂