The Unhealthy Truth About Food And Sex

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.

Chocolate's for chicks, unless EXPLICITLY stated otherwise....

Chocolate’s for chicks, unless EXPLICITLY stated otherwise….

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]

Is he less of a guy...

Is he less of a guy…

...than that one...?

…than that one…?

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 aย  bunch of young louts kicking a pig’s bladder about.

Diet CokeNearly a decade ago, in 2005, The Coca Cola Company came up with a stroke of marketing genius, touted as its first “new” product launch in 22 years: Coke Zero.

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.

Even in Korea...

Even in Korea…

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.

Dannon's (Danone in Europe) Oikos yoghurt promotion

Dannon’s (Danone in Europe) Oikos Greek yoghurt promotion

Powerful Yogurt

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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60 thoughts on “The Unhealthy Truth About Food And Sex

  1. northern_star

    Yoghurt designed for men?! Are people really taken in by this stuff? I guess they must be. How very bizarre.

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  2. Expat Eye

    Ha ha, ‘Powerful’ yogurt ๐Ÿ™‚ Life expectancy for Latvian men is very low – I think it’s late sixties. Maybe it’s the shashliks and beer (and vodka) or maybe they just give up on life because it’s too hard here – soon I’ll be in the land of the beer belly, so I can do a comparison ๐Ÿ˜‰

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Yes… I realise you have your own very sophisticated theories about life expectancy in Latvia ๐Ÿ˜‰ Can’t wait for your “compare and contrast” post due in a year’s time!

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  3. Anna

    Brilliant. I absolutely hate the marketing approach of ‘slap some pink on it and all the chicks will buy it!” There are now ‘sports bars for women’ in NYC – yup, all fruity drinks and pink booths. WHAT THE F*CK I say? And seriously, HOW did yogurt become a women-only food????

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Totally agree. Some of the packaging is just ridiculous. Equally, virtually-all-black packaging for male-targeted products.

      I don’t know how this yoghurt-gender-bias thing happened. I haven’t checked this out, but I doubt this is the case in cultures where yoghurt has a long and traditional consumption history, e.g. Bulgaria or Greece. Maybe someone will enlighten us on this…

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      1. Anna

        OOOH that’d be good to find out. In our family dad eats the most yogurt, whereas I subsist primarily on beer and beef. Seriously, I just at half a pound of ground beef for lunch. And that’s it.

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      2. ladyofthecakes Post author

        God, even Linda is doing better than you on the healthy eating front these days – who’d have thunk it???

        Now that you’ve mentioned the “D” word, my dad also used to eat quite a bit of yoghurt.

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  4. Wendy Kate

    I seem to remember something once about real men not eating quiche…I have to say my man loves quiche and good job he is also vegetarian ‘cos that would be a deal-breaker for sure if he wasn’t….Anyway, I don’t eat quiche cos its cheesy and eggey ๐Ÿ™‚

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      1. freebutfun

        Hihi.

        Quite interesting though about the “gender food”. I’ve been trying to think of some more examples or something opposing it but I think you really hit the nail with this post!

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  5. pollyheath

    There is a ‘man yogurt’ and ‘man energy drink’ sold in Russia. The Russky and I sample both and let’s just say the men can keep them.

    I agree that the weird sexism of food isn’t helping anyone. Well, except for those ad execs getting paid to slap some pink on a bottle and call it lady-friendly.

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      1. pollyheath

        I definitely avoid energy drinks – especially the Russian one which notes specifically “not for women!!!!” with blaring letters.

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      1. ladyofthecakes Post author

        I gave the girls smoothies ๐Ÿ˜‰
        Also, I’m not getting the sense that wine is all that much of a girly drink here in Southern Europe…
        But OK. I shall add Baileys, just for you. I guess we should have *some* type of tipple.

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      2. Heyjude

        The OH ordered two Baileys in a pub a few years ago (one for him and one for me – I’m not greedy) and a beer swilling, paunchy guy at the bar said to him “that’s a girly drink” He almost got it thrown over him!

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      3. ladyofthecakes Post author

        Be glad you restrained yourself. One of my most traumatic childhood memories is of being teased by a classmate after school (we must have been around 9 yrs old) and me, incandescent with ire, cracking my ice cream cone over his head. That pig-snouted moron certainly wasn’t worth sacrificing my favourite Wednesday treat!

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  6. linnetmoss

    Wonderful post! I cracked up at the sight of the chocolate bar that’s “Not for girls!” And the Powerful Yogurt. To say nothing of the dangly goolies. The other day I caught sight of an energy drink called “Muscle Milk.” It had a label that prominently said “contains no milk,” yet one of the ingredients was “milk proteins.” Was the “no milk” message there to prevent any association with babies and children?
    Anyway, I have noticed a tendency for men to shy away from white wine. In the US, wine drinking is already a bit dicey, depending on one’s class and subculture. So men often stick to red wine because it is perceived as more “meaty” and in fact is usually paired with beef, whereas white wines go better with lighter dishes. I don’t think European men suffer from this prejudice, but I could be wrong…

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      I knew this one would be a hit with you ๐Ÿ˜‰

      I know about Muscle Milk, and, seeing that it contains milk protein, it’s rather confusing. I don’t know how they get away with that, coz they can’t really claim that it’s milk/dairy-free (looking at the ingredients list, it clearly ain’t!) Must be yet another labelling loophole, sigh.

      Wine is tricky… depends where you are in Europe. It’s by no means a homogenous culture. However, I’d say that the red/white wine gender divide you’ve observed in the US also applies here, in many parts.

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  7. expatlingo

    I thought Coke Zero was also sweetened with something different than Diet Coke and thus tasted a bit different? Of course, I supposed they could have just barely changed something in order to have a reason to launch a new (black labeled) drink! Hadn’t thought of it!

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      True, they’ve altered the sweetener composition slightly, but so what… I doubt the average person who drinks this stuff (and that includes me) could even tell in a taste test ๐Ÿ˜‰

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      1. expatlingo

        Funnily enough I just drank a Coke Zero today. I too was sucked in by the black can. Perhaps even for women Diet Coke has a whiff of desperate diet (think the old trip TAB) to it?

        Someone had told me they thought it tasted more like regular Coke. I was lied to.

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      2. ladyofthecakes Post author

        I don’t find the taste unpleasant… but nothing tastes like real sugar ๐Ÿ˜‰ It’s the thought of the 37 sugar cubes dissolved in one litre of ordinary coke that puts me off.

        As an aside, I used to work for Coke, quarter of a century ago…

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  8. Charlotte Steggz

    Really great post! However, I have to correct you a little on the Japanese herbivore guys. As much as I’d love to tell you that more J-guys are choosing jobs they enjoy, this isn’t the case at all. They are still mainly faceless drones pumped into companies every year. The herbivore part comes more with – as you said – hanging out with girls and not worrying about dating. Japanese guys have too much to worry about with exams and work and so on that they just can’t be arsed with dating.

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Hi there, and thanks for the background info. I gathered from my reading around that most of these lads seem to still be living with their parents and weren’t doing all that much on the work front.

      I love your blog, btw, but seem to be having trouble leaving comments. I can’t remember my stupid disqus or whateverit’s called login. Sigh.

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      1. Charlotte Steggz

        Oh, I don’t use Disqus anymore because people kept complaining. It’s commentluv now – you should be able to just use Twitter or something, I think? Choosing a comment platform is the hardest thing.

        Japanese people don’t really have time to rest. They are in constant exams until they graduate and then go straight into a company – which they stay at until they die (for men) and until they marry (for women). It’s a conveyor belt life.

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      2. ladyofthecakes Post author

        Yes, I’ve read some books about this, I find it utterly fascinating. You’ve lived there, I gather, so you’ll have an inside view of the system.

        I’ll have to check re. commenting ๐Ÿ™‚

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  9. Jackie Cangro

    So interesting! I guess everything else is marketed based on gender — why not food? I wonder if that results in a price difference. In the US, “women’s” products are often more expensive than “men’s” products, even though they are the same. For example, men’s disposable razors are $1 or more cheaper than women’s razors even though they are made by the same company. The only difference? The color! The women’s razors are pink and the men’s razors are blue.
    Do you find that food products marketed toward women are more expensive?

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      I’d never noticed that about the disposable razors! I’m sure it’s the same over here…

      Re. food… well, I can’t give you a price comparison off the cuff, but if they’ve spent a lot of money advertising something, then there’ll be a premium to pay, and since many health-and-wellness positioned products are marketed at women, they’ll be more expensive than ‘standard’ offerings.

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  10. NancyTex

    The blatant packaging/marketing to each of the genders even extends to alcohol: Skinny Girl wine, Skinny Girl vodka, as examples. Ridiculous.

    I don’t like regular yogurt (its consistency skeeves me out) – but I love Greek yogurt. That there is a higher volume of protein delivered is an added bonus for me. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Ah yes, and Skinny Cow ice cream!

      I do wonder whether this whole protein thing is just vastly over-hyped. We don’t need that much… protein malnutrition is virtually unknown in industrial countries. On the other hand, I do find a protein-rich meal more satisfying than one that’s almost exclusively based on carbohydrates.

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  11. joannesisco

    What a great post! You have no idea how many conversations this man vs woman stereotype has triggered in our home!! Husband – who likes salad, all things vegetable, chocolate … you name it – and doesn’t really care for meat in general, finds these stereotypes highly offensive.
    And anything PINK is almost guaranteed to provoke a rant. I think that what bothers him most is that it doesn’t usually bother me ๐Ÿ™‚

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