Meat & Masculinity: Evaluating the Definition of the Real Man


Meat & Masculinity: Evaluating the Definition of the “Real Man”

Al Baynard

13 December 2016

N. Williams

Philosophy of Food


According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, research showed that the average American citizen consumed a total of 71.2 pounds of red meat along with 54.1 pounds of poultry in the year of 2012 alone. The category for red meat consists of beef, veal, pork and lamb while chicken and turkey are defined as poultry.1While there is a large percentage of women that do indeed participate in meat eating, society has created a correlation between men and meat in regards to masculinity. Philosophers and researchers believe this association stems all the way back to Medieval Europe when meat was viewed as luxury for the elite classes. This created a connection between meat and power, which throughout time triggered into a new relationship between meat and masculinity. Common knowledge, according to societal norms, claims that when a man doesn’t live a lifestyle involving the consumption of meat, his masculinity and manhood should and is normally questioned. I will argue that the male population as a whole is harmed or is set up to be harmed in more ways than one because of the societal idea that encourages meat-eating to be defined as a masculine activity.

Men who do not participate in eating meat are commonly scrutinized and treated differently than a male who is considered a carnivore. A large contrast can be seen when looking at the percentages of men and women who live a vegetarian lifestyle in the United States with women making up roughly 60%, leaving 40% pertaining to men. The gap between genders in terms of individuals who practice veganism is even greater with 79% of the participants being women. A study done by the Appetite Journal in 2011 found that most men, including some vegetarians themselves, identify vegetarian males as “more virtuous and less masculine”.2 The first piece of evidence used to support this claim will come from a helpful aid used frequently throughout the day by many people: Google. By simply typing in the words


“vegetarian and men”, several appalling phrases and article titles came to the surface of the computer screen. These titles drew attention to famous, attractive men who are considered masculine that lived a vegan lifestyle, spoke of vegetarian men possessing lower sperm count and one article even focused on answering the question as to where the fear of veganism stems from as a male. Simply viewing these titles, and furthermore reading the actual articles, stimulates the mind towards considering the question of whether or not a male can be considered a “real man”if he abstains from meat-eating.

This connection made between meat and masculinity is also reinforced through the media in commercials such as the Manthem which was advertised by Burger King and other endorsements such as Hardee’s advertisements. Carol Adams, renowned writer and advocate for equality, is the author of The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory which discusses several issues regarding the politics of food and zones in on the discussion regarding the correlation between meat and masculinity. She writes, “In some respects we all acknowledge the sexual politics of meat. When we think that men, especially male athletes, need meat, or when wives report that they could give up meat but they fix it for their husbands, the overt association between meat eating and virile maleness is enacted. It is the covert associations that are more elusive to pinpoint as they are so deeply embedded within our culture.”3 These type of societal reinforcements as well as several other everyday depictions cause a negative emphasis to be placed on men that register themselves as vegetarian or vegan, which in return can impact a non-meat eating male negatively socially and mentally.

Dr. Nancy Williams’argument in her Foucauldian analysis titled Meat Eating and Masculinity works to also support my claim. Her thesis states: “…the conceptualization of meat eating as a masculine exercise is itself a mechanism of docility and the failure to critique and resist this practice may put men’s bodies at significant risk for ill health as well as curtailing self-management and agential possibilities.”This complex statement is drawing attention to the pressure placed on men to lead lifestyles that involve the consumption of meat. Williams’shares that this pressure implements a great risk for serious health problems. Some examples of these illnesses include heart disease, erectile dysfunction, diabetes and cancer.4 Furthermore, the average amount of meat that is consumed by Americans on a daily basis has risen at an exponential rate and is expected to continue to increase in the years to come.

Speaking from a different standpoint, some may argue that there is an alternative reason as to why men that consume meat are continuously being deemed unhealthy and finding themselves diagnosed with life-changing illnesses. There is a slight chance that men could be putting themselves at risk for health issues due to other things, such as occupation, alcohol consumption and/or poor self-care. An approximate 23% of males in the United States reported that they participated 5 times a month in binge drinking and the average number of drinks consumed stood at an 8 during these periods of binging. Furthermore, the female population is half as likely to binge drink in comparison to the male population. Lastly, research has been done to show that the of cancer can increase due to alcohol consumption.5 Studies also show that men tend to die sooner than women, which would help to explain the fact that researchers have found that women are two times more likely to go to a doctor over a two-year time period than the average man. A shocking statistic was uncovered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control explaining that men showed more than double a chance of saying they had not once contacted a health professional in their adulthood.6 This claim does work to shine a light on a possible flaw in the argument at hand which could potentially weaken the claim that male meat eaters are put at a health risk because of the food they are consuming. However when addressing this objection to Williams’beliefs as well as several other researchers and philosophers, a rebuttal can easily be established.

A plethora of studies have been done to show that while alcohol consumption can indeed increase some health risks, the impact of meat eating and the risks that follow are just as great if not more harmful. For example, a study conducted by the Physicians Committee established that people who avoided meat were less likely to develop cancer.On the Men’s Journal webpage, another study was carried out by Harvard researchers that lasted over 28 years and involved an estimated 121,000 participants. Individuals who participated were granted a daily portion of 3 ounces of red meat, half the amount of the average American male, and were still deemed 13% more likely to die from cancer or heart disease.7John Joseph serves as the lead singer for Cro-Mags, a legendary hardcore punk band, is an Ironman triathlete and also authored a book called Meat is For Pussies that discusses the harmful impact that the conflation of masculinity and meat eating has on the male population. He finds himself to be a passionate advocate in getting the word out about the truth behind meat eating and the dangerous health risks it entails while also leading what many would define as a masculine lifestyle. He stated his feelings quite blatantly in an article when…There’s the stereotype that meat is macho, it’s protein, and real men eat meat. But because of these foods, these same ‘real men’are suffering from all kinds of diseases, heart attacks, and erectile dysfunction where their fucking dicks don’t work”.8

In conclusion, as the average amount of meat eaten by the male population continuously inflates as it has for generation upon generation, as will the health risks for men. Whether or not a man participates in the consumption of meat should hold no true bearing on the way he is perceived, masculine or not. This idea is completely irrelevant and was founded on baseless expectations and assumptions of the male population and the definition of masculinity. The relationship that has been formed between meat eating and masculinity should be eradicated due to the fact that it can cause a significant amount of damage on men in regards to their health, social life and mental state.


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23. doi:10.1111/j.1467-3010.2011.01892.x.

  1. Croswell, Alexis. "No, Meat Is Not Manly: Here’s Why." One Green Planet. Accessed December 13, 2016.
  1. "Carol J. Adams Quotes (Author of The Sexual Politics of Meat)." Accessed December 13, 2016.
  1. Williams, Nancy. “Meat Eating and Masculinity: A Foucauldian Analysis”.Accessed December 13, 2016.
  1. Fact Sheets – Excessive Alcohol Use and Risks to Men’s Health. Accessed December 13, 2016.
  1. Alemedrala, Anna. “Here’s Why Men Don’t Like Going to the Doctor.” Huffington Post. Accessed December 13, 2016.
  1. Hopper, Joseph. “Is Red Meat Bad for You?”. Men’s Journal. Accessed December 13, 2016.
  1. Bolen, Brooke. "Why Men Are Afraid of Going Vegan." MUNCHIES: Food by VICE. 2016. Accessed December 13, 2016.