Updated: May 5, 2020
What is gendered food? It's a concept we've all come across at some point. It's the idea that if you want to be manly, you eat a hunk of meat: a burger, wings or ribs... a nice juicy steak. If you want to be ladylike, you get the light-portion chicken entree or maybe just a salad. This extends into all kinds of categories: beer for men, white wine for women... Yogurt, kale, acai bowls, pudding, cupcakes and chocolate? Those are all for women. Sorry, guys.
Now, you may be a man thinking, "I eat kale and yogurt all the time. I like to eat healthy." or a woman saying "Come on, everybody likes beer and wings, right?" Of course, these stereotypes have NOTHING to do with what we actually like as people. Almost everyone likes a good burger or a fancy filet, and plenty of people spend a lot of time, and even make a hobby out of trying to eat healthy.
There's this whole thing about messy foods too, like ribs and wings. Guys, you don't look any cooler with sauce on your face than your girlfriend does, and ladies, let's be honest... Trying to daintily eat huge floppy lettuce leaves covered in ranch dressing is JUST as hard as trying to eat ribs without getting sauce literally everywhere.
Our basic nutritional needs don't determine any of these differences either. Nearly all of the nutritional differences between men and women are due to the fact that men are, well, bigger than women. If you got all the protein you need in a day from a steak, men would need a steak about a half-ounce bigger than a woman would. Whoop-de-doo. One striking difference is that women need MORE THAN DOUBLE the amount of dietary iron as men, which would make steak a girl food. (1) Again, sorry dudes.
Despite the fact that, on paper, categorizing food into genders is ABSURD, it's a mentality that still affects us all. A really important way this affects us, is that healthy food tends to fall in that "girly" category. That's really bad news for men. In the U.S. in 2014, men on average ate 6% fewer vegetables than women, and a whopping 25% less fruit. (2) Men of every age ate less fruit and vegetables that year than their female counterparts. (I've done some math myself here, and I've excluded data on fruit juice because it's not a good dietary substitute for eating fruit.) In Canada in 2017 some 5 million women ate at least five servings total of fruits and veggies per day (the generally recommended amount) and only 3 million men reported similar amounts. (3) Now that's only 23% of Canada's population getting the recommended amount either way. In America, almost no one is getting the amount they're supposed to, particularly those of us under the age of 50, so we ALL need to do better. Nevertheless, you can clearly see that men are drawing the short stick when it comes to these important food groups. In addition, but not surprisingly, men eat A LOT more meat products than women. Data from U.S. food intake guidelines show men eating on average 38% more meat than women, with men between the ages of 18-70 eating significantly more than recommended amounts in this category. (4) Most of us hope that the U.S. will have greater measures of equality for everyone in the future, and that includes men being JUST AS HEALTHY as women. For that to happen, men need to eat more produce and less meat.
In order to address the issue it's important to ask why men and women eat differently in the first place. There are a lot of theories, but the only ones that can explain not just why men don't have healthy eating patterns (because obviously MOST of us don't) but why those patterns are less healthy than women's are cultural. What are the differences between the ways men and women perceive food?
Since, try as I might, I could not find any solid answers, I decided to ask some men and women in my community what they thought. I learned SO MUCH from talking with these people, and was made aware of so many issues I hadn't even considered, that I thought it would be unfair to you, the readers, to not let you benefit directly from their experience.
I did the following interviews in person, or over the phone and recorded the conversation. I did some minor and infrequent rearranging of content for relevance and structure, but have left every individual sentence in it's original wording and intent. My interviewees are not to be regarded as experts in nutrition, and while you may learn things from them, you should always verify. There's a fine line here between opinion and fact.
1. Let me introduce my interviewees: “Describe your diet”
Grace, 25: So, I would say 80% of the time, I’ll eat like really healthy and really good for like a month or two and then have like a week of horrible eating. When I’m eating good, it’s a lot of unprocessed foods, food from scratch. Fruit and vegetables, not a lot of grains… fruits, vegetables and meat mostly. I eat a lot of potatoes too. I try to follow whole 30. When I make a plate I try to make half of it vegetables.
Lindsey, 36: I’ve been trying to adopt, like a plant-based diet. I’ll eat some fish and shellfish here and there. I’ve been trying to up my grains, and fruits and veggies. I do eat eggs, and I limit the amount of dairy. I’ve been drinking almond milk, and trying to not eat a lot of cheese.
Diane, 57: Plant-based, probably 95% vegan. I will use parmesan cheese.
Jake, 27: Mainly plant-based meals twice a day, almost completely home-cooked meals
Patrick, 28: I conform mostly to the traditional southern meat-and-two-sides… usually one’s a starch and one’s a vegetable. When I eat out, it’s a similar thing, like… an entrée and a side and a drink.
Eric, 37: My diet is typically American in style, but mostly homemade. I consider it a relatively well-balanced diet in the traditional sense. I do intermittent fasting three or four days a week, with one 24 hour fast a week.
Mike, 62: When I eat at home, I’m eating vegan. When I go out, or travel, I modify it. I’ll eat fish.
2. “Are there any foods or food groups you restrict your intake of, or avoid for health reasons?”
Grace: When I’m doing whole 30 I’m not eating pasta or grains.
Lindsey: Mostly, red meat and too much dairy.
Diane: Probably dairy… and meat, any processed food… More the processed food, any processed meats or anything that isn’t natural.
Jake: I try to avoid a lot of saturated fats, fried foods. I try to keep that to a minimum… those have always been bad.
Patrick: I try to avoid red meats because of cholesterol.
Eric: I don’t drink soda. I try to stay away from sweets. I don’t eat french fries very often… I try to stay away from most, like, empty calories. Not a big, like, rice fan or just carbohydrate fan in general, like I never crave bread.
Mike: I avoid soy products. There are some people who believe that soy, for men, is not good, because it promotes estrogen production. I’ve been reading a little more about that, and there isn’t necessarily uniform consensus about whether that’s an issue, but I tend to avoid soy anyway. Also certain things that are on the “dirty dozen” list.
3. “Do you have personal reasons for your dietary choices?”
Grace: I did whole 30, and I lost a bunch of weight, and it worked, so I thought I would just stick with that.
Lindsey: Many reasons kinda factor in. I know that high cholesterol kinda runs on my side of the family, so there’s that component. Another is, with the beef and chicken, I don’t know if I want to say like chicken is more like I’m not eating ‘cause of my health but that I just don’t want to eat it. I just don’t like knowing where it’s coming from.
Diane: I know [animal products] are bad for me… just general health reasons.
Jake: I just know how it makes me feel afterwards. I don’t want to gain a bunch of weight, and I want to have a healthy heart, so no matter how good it might taste, it’s not worth dying too early.
Patrick: High cholesterol runs in my family. I’m genetically predisposed to it… My dad’s and my grandfather’s livers both produce more cholesterol than normal. I think it’s something generationally, in the past two or three generations that there’s been more awareness for.
Eric: No, not really. I’m not staunch in any of my eating habits.
Mike: In 2012 I was diagnosed with cancer, which came as quite a shock for me because I tend to be pretty healthy, and I exercise pretty regularly. I did a lot of reading about the cancer that I was diagnosed with, and one of the books I found had a very large section about diet and the diet’s connection to cancer. That’s when I decided to go vegan. There were several foods, or types of foods that were listed as cancer foods, essentially, foods that encourage cancer growth. There’s something called IGF-1 which is a human growth hormone. Animal protein is one of the sources of IGF, and they recommend avoiding it. Insulin, in general, is something that promotes cancer growth… cancer cells feed on it. The other thing they cited was glucose through sugar, and the third thing was milk, or dairy products. They have a protein called casein, which is also cancer-encouraging. So that got me to exploring eating vegan and transitioning to a vegan diet. (Here I asked Mike if his early life experiences made it easier to transition to veganism later in life) Probably. Probably especially because my dad got really interested in a healthy diet and exercising regularly. That probably inspired me more than anything else to develop an interest in what was healthy, and then the discipline to stick to a healthy eating style.
4. a) “What foods or food groups are most important to your personal health?”
Grace: I would say vegetables and protein foods, I guess any kind of protein but for me protein means meat most of the time.
Lindsey: That’d be veggies. Veggies, veggies, veggies, and then I guess grains second… like whole grains.
Diane: Fruits and vegetables with full nutrients.
Jake: I genuinely think, things that provide natural energy. Probably fruits and vegetables are the most important thing for health. They just are. They provide the most bang for their buck.
Patrick: Basically, anything with vitamins and minerals, fruits and vegetables. I don’t practice that as much as I should, but who of us does?
Eric: I disagree with the question in general, because like, the most important thing is calories… I have a hard time answering that question. Certainly, nutrient-dense foods, like certain berries and vegetables are probably best for you because it’s a convenient source to get nutrients, but that doesn’t mean much. You know, consuming a lot of something with less nutrients, that works too.
Mike: Fresh fruits and vegetables, plant proteins… you know, lentils are really good. Avocados too, those are really good for you. Yeah, I mean no single food group… so it’s really about balance, I don’t know if there’s one thing I’d point to, but if I avoid the foods that I know are not good, then I know I’m eating all the other stuff that is good.
b) “What about as a man/woman specifically?”
Grace: I know dairy and calcium are important, but when I do whole 30 I also don’t eat dairy. So I know it’s important, but I don’t know if I get enough of it, the calcium, not specifically dairy.
Lindsey: I don’t think so. Like I don’t fall into that trap where I think I need dairy for Osteoporosis, or different hormonal things, so I don’t think so. I don’t think I can think of anything I need as a woman, versus a man.
Diane: I try to eat a lot of cauliflower, kale and broccoli, um, stuff that has iodine which helps with the thyroid, spinach and sweet potatoes for iron… fruit that has vitamin C in it. I try to get my vitamins naturally versus getting them through supplements. (Here I asked if she believes these nutrients are specifically more important for women) I’ve read that they are, but then that’s because women have more thyroid issues and hormonal issues than men do. So maybe the studies are going more towards women than men, because men don’t have PMS and menopause and all of that.
Jake: Anything that can reduce cholesterol. Especially the men in my family have high cholesterol, so I try to avoid foods that, again, are high in saturated fats or would lead to clogged arteries... fatty bacon, or like a deep-fried oreo.
Patrick: … … nothing I know of.
Eric: No, I don’t think so. I don’t really think much about that in general, because, I haven’t researched it. I crave a lot of meat, and I think as far as maintaining muscle mass and my brain, that’s pretty important.
Mike: Nothing’s jumping out at me. I know women are going to be worrying about osteoporosis, getting the calcium where it should be… Premenopausal women are worried about iron. So, yeah, I can’t think of anything specific, other than the things I mentioned earlier, which I watch out for as a vegan and not as a man.
5. “What foods are marketed to you most as a man/woman?”
Grace: Definitely like yogurt, like Activia, things that help your digestive system. Or like the orange juice commercials that are like half the sugar. I feel like diet foods are probably more targeted towards women.
Lindsey: I don’t know… um… we don’t really watch cable news, ya know and then... I see things on my Facebook feed, but that’s collagen or, like random things, not really food, um… I can think of old advertisements, well not old, but, when I did watch TV, like yogurt, uh… usually like, low fat, low carb, low sugar I feel like are advertised more toward women. Like trying to give you like a quick fix or something.
Diane: I don’t agree with it, but, yogurt, dairy yes, but especially yogurt. What I don’t agree with is, if you look at the studies, they say that’s the worst food you can eat for breast cancer is dairy. Even the Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation, their logo is on, like, Yoplait. But if you look at the studies, the documentation, yogurt is the worst thing to have if you have breast cancer.
Jake: Only because it’s been on my mind recently, I always thought it’s hilarious that there are Lean Cuisine frozen foods for women, and for men, it’s like, f***in’ XLXL, like crazy-huge portion size, fill your hunger. It’s funny that that’s what I see most, like a man is never satisfied. They’re always hungry and need bigger and bigger meals to satisfy their hunger. Most of the time it’s processed, not as good for you.
Patrick: I would say, traditionally, most American bar food is targeted towards men. Ya know, beer and wings… a big gross burger… things like that. Even today, when a lot of barriers have been broken down, like, traditional, bone-in, wings are marketed more towards men, and boneless wings are towards that… you have to be dainty, and classy and eat it with a fork, and… not a lot of men want to eat boneless wings, like “Those are chicken nuggets. That’s not a wing.”
Eric: By far then it’s going to be like, you know, your alcohol lobby there as far as marketing goes. Very few industries market quite as heavily as the alcohol lobby does, so, there’s that. I remember back in the day there used to be “Beef: it's what’s for dinner” commercials all the time, like on the evening news. Now they’ve been replaced by drug companies.
Mike: Like Arby’s “We have the meat”? Most of them are not vegan… beef oriented foods.
6. “Have you ever worried about how your female/male peers will perceive you when eating a certain food? What food?”
Grace: Any traditional unhealthy, or junk food, I feel like self-conscious if I’m eating a massive amount of it in front of people. If I was eating a big-a** bowl of green beans, I don’t think I’d be judged, but if I was eating a big-a** bowl of oreos, people would be like “what the hell” after like the tenth oreo.
Lindsey: Oh I see that all the time. I went to Chick-fil-a to go out with friends and our kids, and if the first girl that orders gets a salad, typically, everyone gets a salad. Even going out to a regular restaurant, I feel like women will pick up on, not everyone, but if someone’s eating lighter and they order before you, you double-think like “should I really order the loaded mac’ n’ cheese?” Know what I mean? I typically don’t feel too pressured, but I’ve seen it where others have. I love food, so, like I look up menus before I get to the restaurant, you know, I already have in my mind what I want. I don’t really care, but I do pick up on certain people, like, “oh, she’s getting that?” I don’t know.
Diane: I used to, now I don’t, but even just a year ago when I was a little more overweight, I didn’t want to eat anything that made me look like I was not taking care of myself, like French fries or anything fatty, or desserts or anything like that. I used to not want to go back and get seconds because I didn’t want people to say “gosh, look at her, she shouldn’t be eating that.” Now it’s like, because I eat so good, that when I do eat French fries, I don’t care, like “I can have those, because I’ve done so good.”
Jake: When I was in high school, I decided to get French fries with my meal every Friday, but there were kids, specifically guys, who ate it every day: chicken fingers and fries, every single day. That’s just one thing I can remember always being a little self-conscious about it. That’s not really what I wanted to eat, yet that was pretty much what all my male friends would get. So if I had to buy my lunch, I just got chicken fingers and fries, even though I probably wanted something else more exciting. If I ate something different it would be noticed.
Patrick: I can’t eat a banana without breaking it in half… It’s a little too phallic. (Here I asked “what about a corn dog?”) Yeah, I’ve eaten a corn dog in public, I never thought about the corn dog. Or maybe something super messy would be on the list, like not a lot of places sell sloppy joes, but maybe something like a that would be weird to eat in public. I’m not a particularly apologetic person anyways, so… like we had an ice cream social at work, and the next day we had leftover ice cream. At 9:30 in the morning I had just gotten to work, and I’m eating a Klondike bar, and everybody’s like “Really, Patrick? This early in the morning?” and I’m like, you wish you had a Klondike bar right now.
Eric: No, I don’t worry about much in general, but… no… no.
Mike: No. No, it’s never been an issue, I think all my friends have been pretty understanding about my diet choices.
7. “Have you ever been pressured to eat certain foods or in a certain way because you’re a man/woman?”
Grace: Um, I don’t think so. I mean I think you hear to eat less because you’re a girl, but not specific foods.
Lindsey: I feel like not eating too much, like being gluttonous. It’s the only thought in your mind, being a young girl, like what I eat is going to affect the way I look. Not even the way I feel, but am I gonna be pretty.
Diane: I’d have to say more my family members than my peers. Growing up I remember that, like girls weren’t supposed to pick up ribs with their fingers, the way the men were allowed to do that. You would see where the women would make more meat for the men in the family, and women got smaller portions of the meat. I think it was always meat, or the men would get more food. I would be bigger than my brother, because I was older than him, and he would get to eat more because he was a boy. Jack [my husband,] was the same thing. His mom would make more for the men, but since he was the littlest he would have to wait till his dad and his brothers got extra before he got anything extra, and the girls didn’t get extra.
Jake: Yes, my future father-in-law wanted me to enjoy steak, and he said, I’m going to make it to where you’re gonna LOVE it. I’ve heard that so many times from my own brother-in-law and other family members and other friends, like just wait until you try this steak! You’ll love steak after you eat this steak, and it was always steak, and I never understood it. I don’t understand why that’s the one thing for men, almost like a rite of passage, like you have to eat the biggest most juicy steak. Because I am a man, I should enjoy it, but because I keep telling them “oh, I didn’t really enjoy that.” They find that it’s almost insulting to them, which is just crazy! I don’t say the same thing if they don’t enjoy for instance… dill pickle chips. I don’t say, “How can you not like dill pickle chips? Every guy likes dill pickle chips! What’s wrong with you?”
Patrick: None of my friends are particularly aggressive in that regard. My father-in-law has given me crap for boneless wings. The two biggest ones are probably salads and boneless wings… or ice cream in the morning. 😉 I had a friend say he’ll never eat a salad because his food eats salad. He definitely follows that trend.
Eric: No, nothing that I can think of. Like, I mean, sure, there’s like, when the guys are hanging out… Like, I did this the other weekend. I had a habanero pepper in the fridge and we’re all sitting around and it’s like, “Hey, you f**kers, which one of you is going to take a bite of this?”
Mike: Um… no. No I haven’t really had an issue. I will tell you that I can think of two instances where I was in a part of the country where they were known for their steaks, and this was before I went vegan, but well after I cut out red meat. There were two restaurants in particular that I went to, and I was with a group, in one case, and someone that I did business with, who I was meeting in person for the first time, and we went to a restaurant that was known for their steak, and I actually ate a steak. I felt terrible afterwards, not psychologically, but physically.
8. “If I put a bowl of food in front of you and tell you it’s vegan. What’s the first thing you think?”
Grace: I probably would want to know what’s in it, out of curiosity. I wouldn’t have any negative thoughts towards it, but I would probably think that like, it wouldn’t taste as good as something with meat in it.
Lindsey: I’m interested. I’m definitely curious and want to try it. I’m very in that space where anything thing that’s novel or different for me, I definitely want to try it.
Diane: Now I would be excited. Before I wouldn’t, because there’s some things that I don’t like. I don’t like food items that try to mimic food items. I don’t like fake meat. I tried a fake chicken tender, and I looked at it and I go “I can’t eat it because it looks so gross.”
Jake: Since my conversion onto eating more plant based food, I’m almost excited because I want to find more interesting things. I grew up in a household where we had the same rotation of meals. There wasn’t anything unique and definitely not vegan. So anytime something’s vegan, I’m honestly excited, because I want to try something new and I want to see what else is out there. The whole world is filled with so much great food, and I don’t think it all has to be tied directly to meat.
Patrick: My first thought of most vegan food is it’s going to be them trying to get me to eat something that is supposed to have meat in it, or something like that. I feel like most vegans are like, “this is a vegan turkey dinner, and it tastes the same.” And I’m like, no. I have a distinguished palate and I know the difference and it doesn’t taste anything like it. I’m a straight-shooting kind of person. I don’t try and bullshit anybody. I used to sell appliances, and when it comes to appliances I’m not going to tell you it’s going to last forever. I’m not going to give you any false expectations. Speaking to vegans, if you just approached it as its own food, it would taste great.
Eric: Will it taste like it’s lacking something? Will I enjoy the taste of it? There’s not many flavors I don’t like, - except cucumber- but like would meat make this taste better? Imagine this situation: you have a refrigerator full of ingredients and some ingredients that would make the food taste better and you choose not to use them.
Mike: Wow, somebody else cooks like me! Another thing might be… “oh, I hope I like it, because I’m always looking for new recipes.” The first thing is I’d be interested in learning why you cooked a vegan meal, whether it be, somehow these people found out before I got there that I was vegan. Maybe they don’t cook vegan all the time, but they are kinda going along with it ‘cause I’m coming over. In other cases I’d discover… I don’t know if I’ve ever found that actually, discovered someone that I know is actually vegan.
9. “Men in the U.S. eat 25% less fruit, and 38% more meat than women. Why do you think that is?”
Grace: I feel like women probably cook a lot more than men, and like are more health-conscious, and men are more like whatever’s easy and quick, which I feel like probably more often is meat. Growing up I used to always worry about calories. I would eat anything, I wouldn’t care if it was unhealthy or not, like if I thought it would help me lose weight, I would eat it. One time I did a tuna fish diet, where all you eat is tuna fish for like two weeks. I knew that wasn’t very healthy, I mean, I wasn’t eating enough calories, and mercury’s not good for you, but I’m like, okay I’ll try it. Now that I’m older I’m like, I need like a balanced diet that’s good for my body and is a sustainable thing to help me live. I’ve tried all kinds of diets, I’ve tried low-carb, I’ve tried counting calories. Pretty much everything, and nothing really worked until I started eating more vegetables on whole 30 and less processed foods.
Lindsey: Because men think meat makes them strong. *laughs* I don’t know. And you’re right, I don’t typically see… men eating fruit. I’m only going off of being with my husband so long, I don’t know about other men, but I know for him, I don’t know, he just… he’ll eat it but, he doesn’t have a taste or a hunger for it. Like he doesn’t think of that as an option, and I don’t really know why. It’s kinda sugary and he’s not a big sugar person.
Diane: We put out there that men need more protein, and they think that they get it from just meat, and they don’t know they can get it from vegetables and other sources. Even protein powders and everything is more geared toward men, and I think that’s why. Women used to eat fruit because we were told it was a lighter food. In a way, I think fruit is more effeminate.
Jake: I think there’s a perception for men to appear… powerful, amongst even other men. To see a guy eating fruit, just doesn’t portray strength. It provides the nutrients and everything you need, but if you see somebody else tear into a big ol’ ham hock, ya’ know, they’re reminded of Vikings and that sort of mentality, of like, this is a man because he can go out and kill his own food and eat it, but if you eat a fruit it’s almost like… What, did he go up to a tree and pluck it? It doesn’t show that additional step of power and strength. It’s that perception of, look how powerful I am, and my dominance over nature almost. You can’t conquer a fruit.
Patrick: I would say that due to weight and image consciousness for women, both women pressuring and men pressuring, but that’s a different interview, but the pressure women feel on maintaining their image and their figure, I feel like they probably educated themselves on eating healthier and better. Men have never traditionally been told to maintain their figure, so they’ve never really cared what they’ve eaten, so they just eat what they want, what they crave, what they’re looking for.
Eric: Certainly I’m just guessing, but reason would be because… the perception that it tastes better or that we crave it or whatever. Given the choices between a ribeye steak and… really anything else, I’ll choose the ribeye steak, all things being equal. If one has the means to choose the food that they’d like to eat, they’ll probably pick that. I don’t necessarily think that it’s peer-pressure or any kind of social pressure, because honestly, if nobody was watching me, and I was a single guy, and I’m eating every meal at home by myself, I don’t think my diet would change that much.
Mike: There are two sides to that, why do women eat less meat and more fruit than men, as well as why men eat more meat and less fruit… I don’t know, there is the whole marketing engine behind meat, I think, that targets men more than women. Ya know, the whole “Beef: it’s what’s for dinner” or whatever that ad was, the whole cowboy-macho thing behind the meat industry. There’s the whole exercise routine, that men have different than women. The whole weight-training, body-building, but the whole idea is kind of to build muscle mass. With the exception of female body builders, most women aren’t interested in building muscle mass. I think at a high level, the fitness goals are similar, you know, they want to be healthy, they want to avoid major illnesses, but I think the difference is that a lot of men are more focused on muscle-building. I’ve been eating fruit for so long, for breakfast for over twenty years, I guess I’ve kind of filtered out that men around me might not be eating fruit and just wondering why? I’m trying to think of why that might be and I’m not coming up with any answer.
10. “By some estimates, 80% of vegans are women. Why do you think that is?”
Grace: A lot of guys think that they need meat. They probably think they need it to survive or think that, like, they wouldn’t be happy without it. I feel like a lot of girls know that there’s alternatives. Also, it’s a lot more effort to be vegan. I think that guys think they’re going to get made fun of, depending on the group of guys. *(Grace and I have a group of mutual friends)* I think, in our group, other guys are, like, interested in it. I feel like our group isn’t judgy and are like, open to things.
Lindsey: I think it goes back to the male thinking they need absurd amounts of protein, and it’s ingrained in them, that you need it to survive. You need meat to get strong, survive. I think they think of vegans as sickly, of not having the right nutrition. Women, on the other hand… I don’t know. I guess it’s the strength thing.
Diane: Men are more conditioned to eat meat. Women tend to take better care of their body and are more in tune with their bodies, so when we eat, we know when we don’t feel good. So we eat meat and we go *blegh* whereas men usually don’t say anything. They don’t associate what they ate with what’s happening with their body. It’s ‘cause we talk about our food more. We’re more conscious of what we put in our mouth, we’re conscious of whether we put in the right thing or the wrong thing, we’re more conscious of our weight, our skin. All that stuff where men just do their daily… they just eat what’s put in front of them. Unless they’re educated about it like Adrian, [my teenage son] who’s so about his body. So he’s really been educating himself to eat correctly.
Jake: Veganism is seen as weak. Men think, because it’s primal, it’s more masculine, and that’s something that’s completely invaded our culture. I think there’s a loss of perception entirely amongst men, because we assume that cavemen just sat around a fire and ate meat, and that was their diet, and occasionally the women would go out and get some berries and they would supplement with it, but that was not the case. *(I’ll mention here that Jake holds a Bachelor’s degree in anthropology)* Cooking meat in general provided our brain power to just splurge as a species, but I think men latch on to that as the sole reason, yet we forget things such as the fact that our ancestors were seeking out the most nutrient-dense roots and herbs to feed our brain. You go back to caveman days, and they didn’t want to hunt the animals because that was unreliable, and you could possibly get killed. If you find a plant that grows in a certain area that every season you can gather more and more from, that’s a more reliable form of sustenance and you’ll survive longer. Only a small portion of their diet consisted of meat because it was so hard to find in the first place. They weren’t actively hunting all the time.
Patrick: I think it comes back to men perceiving meat as kind of the “we don’t eat vegetables. We eat our meats.” And then on top of that education. Men don’t read magazines that you would find vegan diets in. Men read… gun magazines, I guess, I don’t know. Like, that’s it’s own stereotype. We don’t read People or Cosmo, or any of those magazines. We really get our ads from TV or news outlets or at work. There’s also that stigma of… your woman is trying to make you eat healthier, and there’s immediate pushback as opposed to finding the information yourself, and deciding to do it on your own. It’s not always this way, but I feel like, generally speaking, in the United States, a female is going to find an article about a diet, and then pressure the family to do it that way… in a traditional setting. And there are a lot of traditional households still out there.
Eric: In general, women are more compassionate and empathetic, so that would be one. Two, I think women are generally more self-conscious and so they’re more likely to pick up any sort of diet than a male would be.
Mike: I think it’s a cultural thing. Men are expected to eat meat, ‘cause it’s a manly thing. It’s reinforced through advertising, and probably also the movies that we watch.
11. “What was/would be the biggest obstacle you’d face in adopting a plant-based diet?”
Grace: Missing the foods that I’ve been eating for the past 25 years, like spaghetti and meatballs, a turkey sandwich… ground beef tacos, like I know there are plant-based versions of all these foods, like alternatives, like I could make vegetarian pasta. But I know what the meat version tastes like. My brain will always know.
Lindsey: I have a few I could think of. One of them is going out to eat and having options. Usually there’s some, but not a lot, or I feel like I could make something better at home. Cooking at home is difficult because I still live with three people that desire meat. It hasn’t been too difficult, but it can be challenging sometimes.
Diane: I think the hardest part was learning how to cook differently. Taking my recipes and figuring out how to make them without meat and still have my family want to eat them. We were fortunate that three out of four of us wanted to do the plant-based. Jack was a little resistant, but he’ll eat whatever’s put in front of him. If something comes where it has meat in it, we’ll all give him the meat.
Jake: I think it started even before I met Sarah *(me, his fiancé)*, because the men wanted me to enjoy steak and I never did, and I’m not a big fan of bloody, juicy meat. That’s never appealed to me. Honestly the hardest thing is to reduce eggs and cheese, not even milk, because there’s so many good substitutes, but just cheese and eggs in particular. I don’t particularly think of it as a challenge anymore, because when I started, I thought I would be, like, missing out on flavors. I initially thought that meat imbued a flavor on something and that you need the bulk of the meat to fill out a dish, but it’s not true at all. I genuinely think the meat itself is not where the flavor lies.
Patrick: Some of it’s going to be just trying the new things. So right now, just work-life balancing, school… everything I’ve been balancing… I love cooking, and I love being in the kitchen, but I haven’t found time for that anymore. So developing new recipes, and finding new things and having the time to be creative, going and finding a recipe that’s primarily vegetarian… And then altering everything you find in the kitchen. We don’t go grocery shopping every day, everything we have… we have a large amount of money invested in what’s in the kitchen, and so you’re trying to use up all that stuff you’ve already invested in, so going out and buying more stuff… again, you just gotta find the time to do so. I for one have never been interested in the idea of giving up anything. I feel like we need to educate people on how to balance everything. I don’t think men should be eating as much meat as they do. I don’t think there should be such a disparity between what men and women are eating, and how much vegetables and fruits, but again I think it comes back to education and it comes back to the time it takes to adjust.
Eric: If I was to go completely plant-based, I would be concerned about obtaining an optimal amount of protein in general. I do know that plant protein, your body doesn’t uptake it as readily as animal proteins. Whether or not you're taking in whole proteins, I know plants don’t digest as fast in the digestive tract, so a lot of the proteins that are in certain plants and vegetables and such aren’t absorbed into the body. So just because it’s there in the plant, doesn’t mean that your body’s taking it all in. So, the biggest obstacle for me would be education to replace it, and it’s just a lot easier for me, and I don’t see any reason not to pick up one steak instead of eating four pounds of beans.
Mike: The biggest one was making sure I got enough protein from plant sources. I made sure of that. Related to that was finding good meals to cook and making sure that I had balance in my diet. My nutritionist recommends that when I exercise that I get close to 80 grams a day. I don’t actually know how much I’ve been getting lately, because it’s been a while since I’ve actually kept a meal diary and tracked exactly what I’m getting. I do know which plant-based foods are higher in protein than others. I also happen to know, because I’ve gone through the process of tracking and counting and adding it up, that there are some things you don’t think of as protein foods that have some protein in them, and will add to your protein count over the course of the day.
12. Do you have any thoughts about how to get people more interested in their own health or in a plant-based diet?
(I added this question after I interviewed Diane and Lindsey, unfortunately)
Grace: You can do anything for a week or two. So like, try making half your plate vegetables for a week, and see how you feel after that week. It can even be like frozen vegetables or a ready-made salad, like, easy vegetables. Once you try something, you don’t realize how sh**ty you felt before until you try something new and you’re like “wow, I feel a lot better when I’m eating this way”.
Jake: By going plant-based, I have found myself even discovering dishes I normally wouldn’t have in the first place, and realizing that I’m enjoying food even more because of it, by limiting myself, because I’m forced to get creative. I think that’s something men don’t find masculine, but I find it completely a masculine thing, to be able to adapt like that. I feel most men want to have the perception of strength, more than the actual strength itself, and I think there’s some innate reason for a man to eat meat specifically because it connotes that idea of “I conquered this animal.” I don’t know, I think it takes more strength to love something than to hurt something. I think that genuinely takes more effort.
Patrick: Before they’ve had a heart attack, right? I think starting earlier. I don’t want to say it’s too late for the older generation, which I include myself in because I’ve been out of college for a while. In elementary and middle school you learn that there are different food groups, but they don’t really tell you what they’re for, or at least I didn’t get that in traditional school. I didn’t learn until college, when I took a weight training and nutritional course, where I learned what the hell a calorie actually was, chemically speaking, to my body. We actually learned how to convert, like, this many grams of protein is this many calories. I actually learned why proteins and fats are better for you than sugars. Like, from soft drinks, which take nothing for your body to turn into fat, and then immediately your body’s like, “well, you just dumped all of these calories on us, and we don’t need them. We’re just sitting at a desk.” so we just store them as fat. Nobody realizes that’s actually what’s happening. I didn’t learn that until college and there’s no reason that should be higher education learning that I needed to get a loan for. That should not be elite wisdom. That nutrition class I took in college should be a required class for high school graduation.
Eric: I wouldn’t bother. I mean, I’m going to let everybody be responsible for themselves. It’s not my place to decide what’s good and bad for someone else, it’s their life to live. I don’t know, I would say avoid the sugar. It’s the most bang for your buck, just cut as much sugar out as you can.
Mike: I’d recommend that they understand why [eating a plant-based diet is best for you] by watching shows or reading books about it. Try to move as close as you can to a plant-based diet, or at least understand the health-related implications of the food that you’re eating, whether good or bad, know the foods that contribute to a healthy diet, and the foods that you might be eating that aren’t. Educate yourself.
Thus concludes the interview! Some major takeaways I had from this process were that women pay more attention to what they eat, largely because of the toxic influence of unattainable beauty standards and just generally because we worry more about (surprise) how our peers will perceive us than how we're treating our bodies. So, it's not even necessarily something we can take great pride in.
I also think a large reason we have a cultural perception that men and women have different tastes and needs is because of advertising. A food company with a buck to make will always play to your insecurities to get you to conform to a buying pattern that pads their pockets. It's the nature of the beast. If you weren't already aware, these large companies even have their own science divisions that are paid to perform and publish studies that conclude whatever they want it to conclude, but that's another post... ;)
There is a clear push in this post toward a plant-based diet, but let me be clear about my intentions here: I am NOT trying to tell you what to eat. I AM trying to suggest that the messages you've received, either explicitly or subliminally, about how men or women, or boys or girls should eat need to be examined and questioned. Your diet has an enormous impact on your health, and your health has a TREMENDOUS impact on your quality of life as you age. Nobody ever thinks they're going to get heart disease or diabetes until it's too late, (or if you're lucky, your doctor warns you when they see early signs). Nobody thinks a stroke makes you manly or tough, and starving and depriving yourself won't make you beautiful. Everyone thinks they feel fine until they don't. So, if you're not going to let me tell you what to eat, don't let your buddy Hank or ya' girl Jessica tell you what to eat either.
Man or woman, you deserve to be healthy. I'm asking you to treat your body with respect and put a little time and effort into making sure your body will serve you for many years to come.
That being said, here's a way to do that without too much time OR effort:
This recipe features refreshing, summery flavors and a lighter enchilada experience, while still comforting and filling. This recipe features a green enchilada sauce instead of red, to set off the fresh flavors of the corn and cilantro. We’re keeping it a little simpler this time, so if you have less than an hour to make a stunning home-cooked meal, this is for you!
Beans & Corn Filling
· 1 Tbsp Neutral Cooking Oil · 4-6 Cloves Garlic (Minced or Pressed) · 1 Jalapeño (Minced) · 3 Green Onions (Diced) · 1 Can of Whole-Kernel Corn (Drained) · 1 Can of Black beans (Drained and rinsed) · 1 tsp of Ancho Chili Powder · Dash of Cayenne Pepper (Or your favorite hot sauce) · Dash of Cumin · 10 oz Can of Green Enchilada Sauce · 7 oz Can of Salsa Verde (or you can just buy a jar and eat the rest with chips! It’s nearly a cup of salsa) · Salt to Taste · Maybe a squeeze of lemon Heat a large frying pan over a medium flame, then add oil and your garlic, jalapeño and green onion. Once it starts to make noise in the pan, only give it another minute or two, before adding your spices. (Don’t add salt till the end) Another minute with the spices, then add your corn and beans. We’re only going to cook this long enough for everything to combine and get hot. While the beans are warming, combine the green enchilada sauce with the salsa verde. (I added a bright green habanero hot sauce to mine, which accentuated the color and dialed up the heat!) Once the bean filling is hot, turn off the heat and add about a third of your green sauce mixture. Test for saltiness. Add a little citrus if you want it more tangy.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Take about a third of your remaining sauce and spread it out on the bottom of a casserole dish. Warm about 6 medium tortillas (bigger than taco, but not the huge burrito ones) in the microwave. I like to rub just a touch of water on each one, put them in a stack and give them about a minute. On each one, add enough filling to go the whole length of the burrito about an inch and a half wide. Roll those suckers up and place them in the pan with the loose edge of the tortilla tucked underneath. Place them all side by side, then top with the remaining sauce, making sure not to neglect the ends or they’ll stick to the pan and make it harder to remove your enchiladas. No bueno. Bake for about 20 minutes. While they’re in the oven, go ahead and make your salsa (see below)
Mango - Avocado Salsa
· 1 Avocado (Cut into chunks. Slightly less ripe than you would use for guac works great here.) · Generous shake of salt · 1 Tbsp Lime juice (Fresh tastes better) · 1 Mango (diced) · Half a bunch of cilantro (or however much seems like the right amount to you, finely chopped) Place your avocado chunks in a bowl and add the salt and lime juice. Stir it around until the chunks are well coated and have become kinda saucy. Then add your mango and cilantro. You may not use the whole mango depending on its size, so start with half and then see if that’s roughly the avocado to mango ratio you want. Add as needed. All done!
When your enchiladas are done, pull them out and let them sit for about 5 minutes. Place an enchilada or two on your plate, top generously with mango avocado salsa and dig in!
1. Nutritional differences between men and women https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/good-nutrition-should-guidelines-differ-for-men-and-women
2. Fruit and Vegetable consumption in the U.S. https://fruitsandveggies.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/2015-State_of_the_Plate.pdf
3. Health indicators in Canadian population by sex https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=1310009601&pickMembers%5B0%5D=1.1&pickMembers%5B1%5D=2.1&pickMembers%5B2%5D=3.2
4. U.S. Nutritional guidelines with data from 2007-2010 on American eating patterns https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/chapter-2/a-closer-look-at-current-intakes-and-recommended-shifts/#figure-2-6
5. History of food-gendering https://theconversation.com/how-steak-became-manly-and-salads-became-feminine-124147