Male Gender Performance and the Rejection of the Veggie Patty

zucchini burger

Mmm! So womanly.

Last week, my friend Sebastian and I volunteered to grill hamburgers at a public barbeque. We were both sequestered to our own separate grills and assigned a patty variety: Sebastian would be in charge of the veggie patties and I would be responsible for the beef. As the break between classes neared, we both loaded our grills in preparation for the hungry students that would soon discover free food on campus. There was never any question that we would push more beef burgers than veggie as that is usually the case with barbeques (beef is simply a more popular choice) but what surprised me was how adamantly veggie patties would be denied by the men.

The ensuing horde of students looking for a free burger made it impossible for me to keep up with the demand. My grill was simply not hot or large enough to keep the line moving without the occasional gap in service. But while I tried to gain lost ground and feed the hungry masses, there stood Sebastian next to me who, it seemed, could not even give his veggie burgers away, at least not to men anyway. Sure, there were a few females who approached Sebastian for a burger and even the odd man but for the most part, the male population of Lakehead University rejected the veggie patties with an animosity that goes beyond an aversion to the taste.

What Sebastian was offering was not simply a soy-based product, it was a cultural symbol: a symbol that equates to feminine eating habits. Even those men that were initially attracted to Sebastian’s thicker, juicier, and better cooked patties literally backed off in horror when it was discovered they contained no beef. They would be happy to wait the ten minutes for burgers containing cow, thank you very much.

Cow

Now that there is what I call “Man Food”!

It would seem that men choose their food based on the sexual politics that lie within the food they eat. Men that long to be deemed “manly” will chose “manly” foods. This has been commented on by many gender theorists including Michael S. Kimmel who tells us that, “[Men’s] efforts to maintain a manly front cover everything we do. What we wear. How we talk. What we eat.” So what is it about beef patties that are so “manly”? Or, what is it about veggie patties that are so “womanly”?

It seems a meat/vegetable binary has become connected to a man/woman binary in the realm of food and that this comparison has become common knowledge on the subconscious level of our society. Without being able to express where I picked up on these rules initially, I can go into any western themed restaurant and divide the menu into “manly foods” and “womanly foods”. As ridiculous as that claim sounds, if one actually stops to consider the notion of a prepared meal’s “gender”, I argue that anyone who has lived within this society long enough could perform the same task with similar results.

Returning to the barbeque, what Sebastian and I witnessed that day was men being caught in the act of self-policing. For a heterosexual man, to be linked to an effeminizing activity, such as eating a hamburger made from vegetables, is the ultimate shame. “The fear of being seen as a sissy dominates the cultural definitions of manhood,” writes Kimmel.

Perhaps it seems trite to allow the subject to weigh so heavily on my mind. It is, after all, just a hamburger. But when a sense of sexual-self is so tied to the complete aversion to “effeminizing” activities in such a self-conscious way, real issues are never far behind. This is the kind of thinking that has led to the objectification of woman, the demonizing of the queer community, and the effeminizing (or the hyper-masculating) of racial minorities in a desperate attempt to maintain what is perceived as manliness in a Western society.

When all was said and done, Sebastian had been forced to toss veggie burgers into the cold snow. In a botched attempt to be prepared for the consumers that didn’t come, the charred hockey pucks that were once perfectly edible veggie patties were cast aside: discarded symbols of man’s complete refusal of the feminine left to steam in a dirty snow bank.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a piece I ran a few months back on my Tumblr site. I’ve learnt that Tumblr isn’t the greatest atmosphere for lengthy posts so I thought I’d re-post this here while I work my way out of exam hell.

Cheers!

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4 thoughts on “Male Gender Performance and the Rejection of the Veggie Patty

  1. It’s definitely a cultural thing that I’ve noticed, growing up in Canada and now living in Japan. In Canada, you’d practically have to tear a guy off the ceiling to get him to eat tofu or soy; here in Japan, it’s just a matter of course. The femininization of food, in Japan, at least, is entirely relegated to the preparation of it, not in the actual consumption.

    If you ever need any more proof of what you talked about, though, just watch commercials! See who gets targeted for pasta vs. beef, or healthy foods vs. junk. I’d pay a million dollars to see a guy eating yogurt in a commercial who doesn’t have to defend his masculinity somehow (jumping out of a plane, maybe?).

    • For sure! Your comment on TV ads and food reminded me of a hilarious observation made on Cracked about men and their relationship to yogurt.

      In a shocking display of arrogance, yogurt companies determined at some point that half the population on the planet was no longer a suitable audience for their product. In the commercial universe, men don’t eat yogurt, and in some cases, can’t even see it.

      What I find even more strange, is how the cultural stereotype of men needing more protein and women needing more greens is actually, biologically speaking, backwards.

      What concerns me is how little people question this gendered relationship to food. For the most part, we hear hunter/gatherer cave(wo)men pseudoscience and allow this to dictate our eating habits while men’s cholesterol levels sky-rocket and women become anemic.

      We are a strange species, aren’t we?

  2. Oh jeez. Could cultural notions of gender be any dorkier? I knew that meat eating vs. vegetarianism has been viewed as gendered for ages, but I didn’t realize that it extended so far into other food choices too.

    Here’s a gender breakdown of vegetarianism from Wikipedia:

    A 1992 market research study conducted by the Yankelovich research organisation claimed that “of the 12.4 million people [in the US] who call themselves vegetarian, 68% are female, while only 32% are male”.

    Apparently the gender divide extends into animal rights/welfare activism, too. I attended a rally for animal rights in the early 90s. Of the thousands of people who showed up, most of them were women. It was completely weird.

    • Ha! I think “dorky” is the perfect word for this particular phenomenon. It does strike me as bizarre how fragile the sexuality of cis-identifying straight men appears to be. I’ve recently read a bunch of Michael Kimmel’s work which deals with this idea of young men’s sense of sexual self constantly being constantly threatened by “feminine” behaviour.

      With that in mind, I really don’t find the information or the anecdote you share very surprising which is sad, I think. Opting towards a vegetarian lifestyle and advocating for the rights of animals (or even just being more conscious of one’s meat consumption) requires one to out themselves as being empathetic which translates into “having feelings” and that is not on for a man who is inwardly terrified of being labeled a sissy. Or worse.

      Few men, I fear, realize the constructs that they operate in, never mind a willingness to challenge these societal norms.

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