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“Real Men Just Laugh At Quiche” – Masculinity and Meat Eating

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Surprise, surprise – the advertisers have done it again.  They’ve figured out what makes a ‘real man’ and what you’ll have to do to be one, which apparently includes laughing at anyone who might hesitate to devour up huge slabs of animal carcass –so rare it’s still bleeding, one would imagine. You are man, hear you roar.  But while most people might pass this advertisement at the corner of Yonge and Church in Toronto and not think too much about it, this ad reproduces extremely problematic understandings of both gender norms and food politics.

Meat eating has historically been constructed as a ‘male’ practice. Wings and beer, steak and fries -these are the things that ‘men’ eat. Why? Because men are (apparently) conquerors, incidentally of both animals and women. Man the hunter, man the carnal being, man the patriarch. So far this sounds like the typical story we all tell ourselves (or that is told to us), so what’s the big problem?

Well, there are many causes for concern hidden seamlessly in this commonplace advertising message. Firstly, meat eating is a privileged and unsustainable practice.  Meat eating is enjoyed by the wealthy elites of the world and is a significant contributing factor to global hunger, as enormous quantities of grain and corn are grown to feed animals on meat farms that could be diverted for human consumption.  Vast tracks of the rainforest are razed daily to create space for meat farms, usually at the hands of wealthy transnational corporations (McDonalds and the Keg to be sure). This contributes to climate change as our carbon banks (forests) are depleted, and the methane emitted from livestock is a top contributor to greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Incredible amounts of water are also required to produce meat, as water is needed to grow the animal feed and to nourish the animals, while animal waste that is shot full of hormones contaminates waterways through runoff. This is not to mention the deplorable conditions that animal lives are subject to and the violence that ends those lives, all to serve the interests of capital. If everyone ate more vegetarian and vegan meals, we could help put a serious dent in climate change, world hunger, and water/resource shortages.

Another important issue related to meat eating is human health.  Cholesterol is only found in animal products, so a vegan/vegetarian diet drastically reduces one’s potential to develop heart disease or issues related to high blood pressure. Veganism has also been proven to alleviate the symptoms of diabetes, with compelling evidence to suggest it can help alleviate the effects of certain cancers as well.  The hormones injected into livestock to prevent disease (as the grouping of so many animals in one area invites disease) are also a source of concern when they enter human bodies.

But ‘men’ aren’t supposed to care about health, right? Men are tough, men take risks, men aren’t cautious. To hell with my heart, I’m a man. Well, do men care about the environment? Do men care about injustice and insecurity? Do men care to take the time to learn more? And what about women, do real women just laugh at quiche? Why not? How is it that what is just, considerate, and sustainable is framed as being ‘feminine’ and, by consequence, of less value than what is masculine?

And therein lies the biggest problem with this message: what is masculine is to be striven for, what is feminine is to be mocked. This tricky little message is implicit in so many things around us, most visible in common insults (“You throw (or do anything) like a girl”). Homophobia is based on this hierarchy of privilege -masculine good, feminine bad. Feminine laughable.

Scholars have repeatedly made connections between patriarchy and unsustainable practices (Haraway, 1991; Sandilands et al., 2004).  Most academics and researchers will assert that in order to craft a sustainable future, we also need to strive for sustainability in the social realm. In other words, if there continues to be domination of men over women (or rich over poor), there will continue to be domination of humans over nature and exploitation, oppression and competition will continue to drive us deeper into social and ecological crises. Meat eating and masculinity is a fantastic example of this. The positioning of men over women -masculine over feminine- serves as justification to promote an extremely unsustainable and exploitative practice; meat eating. If, for just a second, we could take a time out and stop laughing at all that is feminine, we might consider alternatives to our current practices that would be more sustainable and socially just. If, for just a second, we could realize that gender is a fluid and meaningless category and the norms that we have ascribed to ‘men’ and ‘women’ are arbitrary, we could critically think about which norms are positive and progressive versus problematic and hindering.

If ‘real men’ could choose for themselves what makes sense for their own lives and the life of our planet instead of falling prey to peer pressure inspired by callous media representations, women and ‘femininity’ would benefit from no longer being considered a big joke, the health of the planet would benefit from reduced meat consumption, and the health of people -both here and in the Global South- would increase as more people would be fed and less people would be susceptible to heart disease.  Why don’t we see commercials like that?

Well, money. But that’s a whole other story.

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