Print Edition - 2018-08-29  |  The Guardian

Men, be bold and order the vegetarian option

  • A study shows that men fear social shame for not eating meat
- GREG DOUGLAS

Aug 29, 2018-

Try to picture an alpha male, and you’ll probably think of someone who survives mostly on steak, and possibly owns a large dog which also survives mostly on steak. Steak is a manly food. Celery is not. Those just seem to be the rules.

So it’s not totally surprising that a survey has found men in Britain fear social shame for choosing vegetarian options.

There has for a long time been a red-wine-and-beef culture, in which men are expected to choose the food that is the richest, the fullest and the biggest. This may stem in part from a time when meat was for most people more of an occasional feast choice than a daily staple, making it an economic status marker as well as one of strength and virility.

More recently this has mixed with the growing culture of male physical perfection, with men and boys spending more time in the gym to get that Instagram-perfect sculpted look, helped along by a generous dose of protein (though now perhaps more likely to be lean chicken than dripping, marbled steak). This cultural fad is slightly baffling when you consider the evidence that most people actually eat more protein than they can use, urinating out the rest.

Of course the study’s results suggest not just that men who want to choose vegetarian options feel social shame, but also that this shaming is itself a widespread practice. You might say that it hardly shouts “leader of men” to pick the sausage and mash when really you want the grilled aubergine, but what does it say about the people who are so defensive about their own choices they feel the need to pressure others to conform?

Meat-eaters are increasingly aware of the ecological, ethical and health problems caused by their consumption. For some, this isn’t enough to make them give up a pleasurable pursuit, but if enough people packed it in--if eating meat became the exception--then even the most ardent meat-eater might change their habits.

What should men do, then, if they want to reduce their meat-eating without constant questioning of their choices? One answer may be to make a clean break. It is hard just to do less of something, because each time you need to order you have to make the effort to decide afresh, working out how best to bat away the unwanted advice of your fellow diners, as well as wrestling with your own inner conflicts. Deciding once and for all to give up meat is a single decision which then doesn’t come up for discussion as often, as it becomes an accepted fact of life.

Yes, adapting to environmental reality of our modern world is hard, requiring social change that can only be brought about by individuals being bold enough to break from the attitudes of the past. But if a veggie diet can power the toughest men, it should surely be enough for alpha males everywhere.

Published: 29-08-2018 07:42

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