Is being a vegetarian woman easier than being a vegetarian man? I started to wonder more about the gender differences and societal pressures when I was talking to a male friend of mine who is a fellow long-time veggie. He was telling me how often people poke fun of his diet and I realize that I really don’t get the same negative feedback. Wanting to learn more, I reached out to him for an interview though he requested that it be anonymous.
Real Men Eat Tofu
What my male friend experiences is real and there is actually much written on this topic. Business Insider published an article called “Successful Men Who are Vegetarian” citing famous veggies like Bill Clinton. The beginning of the article offers the statement: Real men eat meat as a description of the metaphor that meat-eating is an often associated male quality and links to articles that explore the relationship between meat and maleness including “Is Meat Male” and the Psychology of Men and Masculinity: real men don’t eat (vegetable) quiche. I’ve heard my vegetarian or vegan male friends (or even those trying to cut back on meat if not cutting it out completely) receive negative comments when out for lunch or dinner with co-workers, on a date, a sporting event or family function. I thought it might be helpful today to support my readers in assessing their own gender beliefs and to hear more from a man who struggles with negative comments. And keep in mind that this friend of mine lives in SEATTLE – a notoriously open and liberal environment.
Vegetarian Men, Anybody Out There?
The Vegetarian Times has an article on Vegetarianism in America where you can learn more about the statistics of veggies in this country (as of 2008) including the fact that 7.3 million Americans are vegetarians and an additional 22.8 million follow a vegetarian-inclined diet. These numbers are only growing as vegetarian and plant-based diets have been trending strongly. According to the Vegetarian Times article, being a vegetarian man is not unusual; they estimate that 59 percent of vegetarians are female and 41 percent are male. Another article found that 79% of vegans and vegetarians are women. These stark differences reflect a lack of definitive research on the prevalence of veganism and vegetarianism in males and females and the reasoning for the suspected difference.
I think some of the feedback from this interview will surprise you and hopefully shed some light on some barriers and pressures that men face when cutting meat out of their diets. Read on to learn more about how men feel about being vegetarian and please check out the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group Consumer Page for awesome resources!
Is being a vegetarian woman easier than being a vegetarian man? An Interview with my friend:
How long have you been a vegetarian? And what type of vegetarian are you
Pescatarian for 16 years
What are some of the reasons for being a vegetarian?
Primarily the environmental damage/carbon impact associated with factory farming and the moral implications of supporting practices that allow sentient animals to be treated as commodities. *For more info on this topic, see the recent Washington Post article “The Profound Planetary Consequences of Eating Less Meat” or “Reducing your dietary footprint” by dietitian Chris Vogliano
What have been some of the benefits to your vegetarian diet/lifestyle?
Possibly unrelated, but I appear to avoid the indigestion/acid issues experienced by most regular meat eaters that I know. There is also a psychological benefit to feeling that you are making the moral choice by abstaining from meat, especially factory raised meat. I believe that as a society, our treatment of sentient life is an issue that will be judged by history.
Do you (or have you in the past) gotten any negative feedback or comments on being a vegetarian?
Routinely. In a meat-centric society, the decision to eat vegetarian is constantly challenged, dismissed as a “phase”.
Do you think that a vegetarian man has different challenges than a vegetarian woman?
Yes, especially in America where the belief that “a man eats meat” is advertised and propagated so intensely.
What are some potential barriers for men becoming vegetarians or adopting a more plant-based diet?
Peer pressure/judgement is likely one of the biggest barriers for a man becoming a vegetarian. It requires confidence and a certainty in your choices to be a vegetarian in our society, especially for a man. Most of us were raised to believe that meat consumption correlates to masculinity, and some men rely on their consumption of meat as confirmation of their manhood. In particular, I’ve often observed that men of a smaller physical stature or that otherwise appear to be insecure in their masculinity are usually the most vocal critics of vegetarians.
What would you like to people to know about being a vegetarian (man or just in general)?
There’s nothing that an individual has greater control over than what they decide to eat. If you’re interested in lessening your impact on the planet, choosing to eat a more plant-based diet is one of the easiest and most effective methods. Educating yourself about the food that you eat (how it’s produced, environmental impact, etc) is the best way to develop the resolve to stick with your decision to become a vegetarian.
Final comments and thoughts:
“Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” —Albert Einstein.
After interviewing my friend I truly believe that something must be done to make dietary preferences gender neutral. Vegetarian diets are beneficial across genders, although their prevalence is dominant in females. This bias towards men eating meat must be shifted and adapted to modern values across genders. It is clear that vegetarian men are at a social disadvantage due to the false claims that “real men eat meat”. As our food system, dietary preferences, and ethical and environmental standards evolve so should our paradigm around gendered dietary patterns. With support we can help to shift the paradigm of vegetarianism to be more gender inclusive in addition to being ethically, culturally, and socio economically diverse.
Ginger Hultin,MS, RD, CSO
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