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Gendered Food & “Masculinity”

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Is your salad female? Is that animal flesh male? Do we care? Welcome to the fresh hell of the 21st century where cultural tradition is equated with evolutionary biology.

A recent article in the Eater talks about a 2012 study in which “mammal muscle meat” is considered to have a strong link to the feeling of “masculinity” in men. “Offal cuts, like liver or heart” had weaker associations. The association of “muscle meat” to masculinity is explained with the supposed biological argument that men are perceived as hunters. The women in the study were more strongly associated with “chocolate and salad,” which was attributed to both the cultural stereotype of dieting and the biological assumption that women are more likely to be foragers.

The video in the article goes deeper into the research and asks whether animal flesh is “male” and non-flesh produce is “female.” As with all mainstream dietary discussion, there is the underlying assumption that humans evolved biologically to consume animal products. The reality is that it was merely our culture that “evolved” to include animal products in our diets and not our bodies. Biologically speaking, our bodies are no more suited to digest animal products safely than they were at the dawn of human civilisation.

The article equivocates on whether our eating habits are cultural or biological. But as far as morality is concerned that’s like equivocating over whether the male exploitation of women is cultural or biological, or whether the subjugation of certain groups of human beings is cultural or biological. To then ask whether these acts are “masculine” or “feminine” misses the fundamental point. The real question is whether our actions constitute a moral wrong.

Nutritionalist, David Katz, maintains that “all culture originates from biology,” but that implies that our cultural injustices towards humans – and not just animals – originate from biology too. While it is certainly not the case that humans were ever supposed to consume animal products from a biological standpoint, even if we accept Katz’s argument that biology informed our culture, it is easy to see the implications. This would mean that all cultural oppression of humans had/has its roots in evolutionary biology too. Slavery, genital mutilation, rape, molestation, etc,. all of these things things would have to be rooted in “biology” and not just animal consumption.

But we unanimously reject these human injustices, and so even for those who maintain that animal consumption is part of our biology, it is no justification for continuing to exploit animals for our unnecessary purposes. Just as biology is no justification for the exploitation of humans – we don’t need to use animals as our resources. Once we recognise something as morally wrong, it matters not whether the source of the exploitation is cultural or biological.

The flesh and animal produce discussed in the Eater article certainly is gendered, just not in the way people are talking about it. It came from someone – a non-human boy or a girl who did not want to die.

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