Sunday, December 2, 2007

Why are men so proud of not eating vegetarian food?

I frequently encounter men who do not like vegetarian food. I'm not talking about just quietly not liking vegetables, which would be fair enough. (I know people who don't like fruit and even people who don't like water, so there's really no limit to how basic a food or entire food group might be and there exist people who do not like it.) I'm talking about men who go on at some length about how they like meat and only meat and bring on the meat, and imply if not state outright that a man who likes vegetables excessively is less of a man. One person I know who speaks like this even loves vegetables and vegetarian food, if you judge by what he enjoys eating and not by what he says.

Each man needs to have a certain critical mass of masculine signifiers. I approve of this; I am comfortable with men having a certain amount of masculinity. But many of the masculine signifiers require some kind of work, or sacrifice, or are painful in some way. Here are some: success, ambition, stoicism, being good at sports, doing the iron man competition, having big muscles, helping you move furniture, not crying when sad, pretending not to like delicious umbrella drinks, etc. But eating meat... there's one that requires little sacrifice (on the eater's part, that is.) Liking meat comes naturally. And hey, maybe many of the other masculine signifiers do too ... but most of them require work.
This reminds me of lyrics from one of my favorite songs by the inimitable Rev. Fred Lane:
From "The Man With the Foldback Ears"
(Song has a spaghetti western feel to it)
"A man wants to smell like a man
To crush a tin can in the palm of his hand
(sound of can being crushed) a man."


Cindi said...

I think meat-eating has a long association w/ male privilege. There is a part in the novel The Bread Givers (about a Jewish immigrant family struggling to make it in NY in the 1920s) where a young woman is talking about how hard she has worked all day, how hungry she is, and going to a lunch counter and paying her money and ordering say, a beef stew, and the people working would just give her broth to save the beef for the men who "needed" it. Reading that made me feel conflicted as a vegetarian.
Lots of people think you couldn't have big muscles or fuel a hard-working body w/o meat, so for some guys, meat-eating lends them the cache of muscularity and hard work.
Taking up lots of physical space is another masculine signifier that doesn't take any work. Keeping oneself compact (the feminine signifier) is much more difficult.

William said...

Well, I can say one thing that guys who eat a lot of meat excel in ... body odor.

One person you know who occasionally speaks like this said...

Before you and Cindi get too carried away pounding your chests and complaining about what boobs men are, you should remember and consider:

(1) Anti-vegetable animus is not by any means a mere reflection of machismo or of male pretension, nor is it an exclusively male phenomenon. Whatever its bases (I could speculate, and I suspect that wealth is one of them, but I'm trying to be brief), it is a widespread cultural phenomenon that spans both sexes. For example, the scene in an episode of Married With Children in which the children -- a boy and a girl -- exclaim, "We're so hungry we could eat vegetables!"

(2) When voiced seriously, the objection is not usually to vegetables per se, but to a meal or diet consisting exclusively of vegetables. It is not the inclusion of vegetables but the exclusion of meat to which anti-vegetarians object.

So I think you've both missed the mark a bit. While there certainly is a masculine element to anti-vegetarian animus,* there is much more to it as well.

* E.g., a saying I heard my grandfather use: "Milk is for puppies. Men eat meat." I might add that Grandad -- a lifelong breeder of Airedale Terriers -- fed meat to his bitches as well as his dogs upon their reaching adulthood. And the meat was always mixed with a vegetable- and grain-based kibble.