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Within the great debate on the relationship between the consumption of meat in the world and the greenhouse gas emissions related to human activities, responsible for global warming, a difference attested by some recent scientific studies is that relating to the eating habits of male people compared to those of the female gender. In a Research Published last November in the scientific journal PLOS One and conducted in the United Kingdom by the University of Leeds, men’s eating habits were responsible for 41 per cent more emissions than those of women, mainly due to a greater consumption of meat .
Other recent research not related to the topic of global warming has confirmed the data relating to the greater consumption of meat among men, in the age group between 20 and 39 years, and in-depth analysis of the relationships between these eating habits and traditional gender roles. Greater compliance with those roles in the male population, according to one study published last November in the scientific journal Appetiteis associated with increased meat consumption and less inclination to become vegetarians.
A plausible reason for this behavior, according to the authors of the study, could be the fact that eating meat is considered a ‘real’ male habit in many circles, based on established social models linked to traditional gender roles. A widespread and deeply rooted prejudice in various male groups and among body-building enthusiasts is that a meat-free diet cannot favor the development of powerful muscles, for example, or in general that a vegan diet – the one that avoid all foods that contain animal products, including eggs and dairy products – it is not compatible with certain traditional models of masculinity.
For some years, however, the popularity of eating habits that do not include the intake of animal proteins has been growing even in environments traditionally associated with a high consumption of meat and considered places of formation and consolidation of certain stereotypes about masculinity. Some newspapers and specialized magazines started as early as 2010 a use the neologism “hegans” – afterwards resumed even in some scientific studies – to define, within an emerging phenomenon, males between 40 and 50 who were converting to a vegan diet after having followed a meat-based diet for a long time.
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According to data widespread from the English organization Vegan Society, considered the oldest vegan organization in the world, from 2014 to 2019 the number of vegan people in the UK, currently around 600,000, quadrupled. And in general, according to one study published in 2021 by the magazine The Lancet Planetary Healthpeople have reduced their meat consumption by 17 percent in ten years, although most of these people are still female.
In a recent item on Guardian vegan freelance journalist David Hillier described the prejudices that still exist regarding vegan men, but explained how things are progressively changing thanks to the increasing availability of alternative foods to meat, to documentaries such as The Game Changersproduced in 2018 by former British mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter James Wilks, and to the growing popularity of vegetarian or vegan athletes and sports personalities.
Among them are Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic, American basketball player Chris Paul, American MMA wrestler Nate Diaz, Iranian-born German-Armenian former weightlifter and bodybuilder Patrik Baboumian and British Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton. Others, such as Austrian-born American politician, actor, and former bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger, have drastically reduced their meat consumption.
Hillier, who hasn’t eaten meat since he was five years old, wrote that since he was young he got used to a series of habitual behaviors among people close to him: from the concerns of his parents about the alleged incompleteness of his diet, to to mockery and derision from friends. Derision that included “the inevitable use of ‘gay’ as an insult, mainly by boys who seemed offended by my decision not to eat dead things.”
He said that when he was a boy he hated ordering food when he was out with other boys – “because I knew there would be giggles and comments about my masculinity” – and that for many years he hid the real reason for his choice, preferring to describe it as a habit rather than attributing it to an explicit sensitivity and attention to animal welfare.
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In the 1990s, American writer and essayist Carol J. Adams delved into the relationship between meat consumption and the patriarchal culture of contemporary societies in her hit book The sexual politics of the flesh. According to Adams, we live in a world strongly based on gender binaryism, in which masculine things are generally given greater value. In this context, “every time a man goes vegan, he questions the basic assumptions about masculinity and femininity,” Adams told Guardian.
The English Ed Winters, a vegan activist author of a popular Youtube channel with over 420,000 subscribers, he claims to routinely receive criticism that questions his masculinity and sexual orientation. “They call me “soy boy“, And many say” And he will be gay, since he is vegan “,” said Winters, explaining that vegan men “challenge what people traditionally perceive as virile” and that it is the result of a complex set of factors, a social superstructure “created by the media, advertising and group pressure”.
In Anglo-Saxon-speaking countries, soy boy is a derogatory expression often used to describe men lacking masculine characteristics and related to disputed hypothesis that soy phytoestrogens, molecules similar to female sex hormones, may have feminizing effects in men.
For several years it has been a widely used expression in some online communities and groups active on social networks that promote male values and experiences based on domination and aggression, part of a vast network commonly called manosphere (“Androsphere”). And in recent times it has become very popular among far-right groups to define not only vegans but in general progressives and other groups of people whose behaviors and lifestyles are not deemed compatible with some traditional values of society.
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Although research often has denied the idea that a diet devoid of foods of animal origin cannot provide a sufficient amount of protein, much of the demonization of vegan nutrition in some male settings is still based on this type of prejudice. Prejudices in turn historically derived from the idea, widespread since the early decades of the twentieth century, that proteins are a fundamental element of physical strength and insufficient protein intake the main reason of malnutrition in many areas of the world.
“Animal proteins are said to be complete because they contain all essential amino acids while most plant proteins, except soy, quinoa and hemp, lack one or more than one,” he said. Guardian Caroline Farrell, an English nutritionist who has previously worked with Premier League football clubs such as Watford and Fulham. However, Farrell added that vegans can easily get all the amino acids they need by taking a variety of plant-based proteins every day, perhaps including soy products or legumes, grains and nuts. And she said that while five years ago it was very rare for a man to follow a vegan diet, today about 40 percent of his male clients follow one, respecting the recommendations regarding protein requirements.
A progressive change in the image of vegan males in terms of greater adherence to consolidated models of masculinity has contributed to favoring the choices of a vegan diet within environments traditionally adverse to that eating style. Which, however, risks, according to someone searchesto reinforce certain prejudices and stereotypes rather than reshape or reduce them.
Hillier cited the example from the 2010 book Meat Is for Pussies (“Meat is for the pussies”), a book on vegan nutrition and training written by American triathlete John Joseph McGowan, known for being the lead singer of American hardcore band Cro-Mags. Some recent studies have also indicated the growing diffusion on social networks of descriptions of the phenomenon of veganism in relation to old ideals of masculinity. They are generally descriptions spread through the channels of influencers, even very popular ones, able to obtain profits by leveraging the values of virility and physical strength to sell vegan products, and by leveraging “redemptive narratives” in which they insist a lot on ‘ have become even stronger and healthier after having stopped eating meat.
But both patterns of masculinity firmly linked to meat consumption and some emerging ones in relation to vegan food choices, according to Adams, share a certain worldview and a certain set of values within society that associate women with something. of negative and weak. As if no model of masculinity can assert itself except through the “need not to be associated with women, who are perceived by society as more compassionate and empathetic”.
Hillier finally cited an example of successful commercial communication linked to vegan nutrition and which does not fall into gender stereotypes: the line of vegan foods and recipe books Bosh!, hugely successful in the UK, founded by two 37-year-old Brits, Henry Firth and Ian Theasby, vegan since 2015 and authors of a popular YouTube channel. Firth and Theasby, Hillier wrote, have contributed to rejuvenating an idea of vegan nutrition previously linked to physical and spiritual well-being. They publish recipes for hamburgers, pies, first and second courses very popular with both men and women.
One of the most frequent controversies, Firth and Theasby told Hillier, is that fueled by people – mostly men – who write to complain that the names of their recipes are partly names of traditionally meat-based dishes (“burgers” , ‘Sausages’, ‘meatballs’ or ‘steaks’). As if those people, according to a question that has been debated for some time also in the industrial field, did not accept the possibility that a word used to define meat could define something that does not contain meat.
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