Experts agree that eating more plant-based meals is a healthier choice for individuals and a more sustainable option for our planet. However, deeply ingrained cultural preferences and stereotypes, particularly those related to gender, continue to be significant barriers to reducing meat consumption, especially among men.
A recent study published in the research journal Frontiers in Communication sheds light on these challenges and explores the potential of marketing to transform perceptions of plant-based foods, potentially encouraging more men to embrace this dietary shift.
Traditional associations between meat consumption, strength, and masculinity have often pigeonholed plant-based diets as more suitable for women than men. In fact, a study published in the journal Sex Roles earlier this year found that men who identified as more masculine were associated with a lower likelihood of reducing their meat consumption or considering veganism.
Women, on the other hand, tend to express greater concern for animal welfare, which has historically been a common motivation for adopting vegan or vegetarian diets.
Marketing vegan food as manly
But times may be changing. A recent survey found that vegetarianism is no longer deemed unsuitable for men, although veganism still carries a perception of being less masculine.
Despite this shift, men often prioritize choices that align with their gender identity more than women do, resulting in continued high meat consumption among males.
The new research, led by Alma Scholz, delves into the connection between masculinity, gender stereotypes, and meat consumption.
Scholz, who conducted her research at the University of Würzburg and is now affiliated with Stockholm University, argues that altering the presentation and marketing of vegan food could be a potential solution. By framing vegan food in a more masculine light, men may be more inclined to embrace it, reducing resistance to dietary changes.
Scholz and her colleague, Jan Lenhart, PhD, from the University of Bamberg, embarked on a study to investigate whether changing the marketing of vegan foods could influence men’s perceptions and preferences.
They recruited participants online and provided descriptions of various dishes, which included words traditionally associated with the dishes as well as those associated with “masculine” foods. Participants were then asked to rate the dishes and assess their suitability for both men and women.
The researchers also evaluated participants’ identification with different forms of masculinity and their attitudes toward veganism. Additionally, participants were asked about their current meat consumption levels and the reasons behind their dietary choices.
Changing the perception of vegan food
The study revealed that women participants were more likely to follow a vegan diet and held a more favorable view of veganism compared to men. Ethical and health reasons were the most common motivations for adopting a vegan diet. Importantly, participants who were acquainted with vegans tended to exhibit a more positive attitude towards meat-free dishes.
Interestingly, the preference for vegan dishes among men did not significantly change with the altered descriptions provided.
However, the altered descriptions did succeed in altering the perception of these dishes. They were seen as less feminine and more neutral, potentially paving the way for men to embrace them without feeling that they compromised their masculinity.
“With a short intervention, the perception regarding gender suitability of vegan food was shifted away from femininity and closer toward a neutral position,” Scholz said in a statement.
It is worth noting that men who identified with traditional masculinity were more influenced by masculine marketing when rating dishes. However, this finding was observed in most male participants, indicating that a broader and more diverse sample might yield different results.
While the study provides valuable insights, the researchers emphasize that a short-term intervention alone may not be sufficient to bring about significant changes in dietary choices.
“Even if this shift did not go all the way, long-term interventions might have the potential for even stronger shifts, resulting in an improvement in men’s liking of vegan dishes, and are thus worth further exploration,” Scholz added.
Gender stereotypes and food choices
The study highlights the enduring influence of gender stereotypes on dietary choices and the potential for marketing to play a role in reshaping these perceptions.
As the world grapples with the urgent need for more sustainable food choices, finding ways to encourage men to embrace plant-based diets is increasingly crucial. Future research may shed more light on the effectiveness of long-term interventions in altering men’s preferences and fostering a more sustainable and equitable food culture.