Researchers have proposed a change in the perception of plant-based food with marketing, helping men to eat more of it. Studies have shown eating more plant-based meals is better for health and the planet. But cultural preferences are significant barriers to reducing meat consumption — especially for men, who are underrepresented among vegans and vegetarians.
The team from Universities of Wurzburg and Bamberg in Germany stated that eating meat is associated with masculinity, and that gender stereotypes label plant-based diets as suitable for women but not men. The study showed that while you can influence the perception of plant-based dishes as ‘feminine’, you can’t change food preferences.
“Men might be less inclined to consume vegan food due to the need to perform gender,” said lead author Alma Scholz of the study published in the journal Frontiers in Communication. “However, with vegan food being framed in a masculine way, men might feel less resistance and become more likely to consume it.”
For the study, the team recruited participants online and provided them with descriptions of several dishes. These descriptions contained words that were either conventionally associated with the dish or which were typically associated with ‘masculine’ foods. The researchers asked participants to rate the dishes and their suitability for men and women.
The researchers also measured male participants’ identification with different forms of masculinity, as well as all participants’ attitudes towards veganism. They asked participants to report the amount of meat they typically ate and their reasons for choosing their diet.
The team found that women in their sample were more likely to be vegan, and that they rated veganism higher than men did. The most common reasons cited for choosing veganism were ethical and health reasons, and the more reasons someone gave for reducing their meat consumption, the more they were likely to reduce it. Participants who knew vegans were more likely to have a positive attitude towards meat-free dishes.
Men’s preference for vegan dishes didn’t change with the altered descriptions of the dishes, but the altered description did change the perception of the dishes: they were considered less feminine and more neutral.
Men who identified less with traditional masculinity were more affected by masculine marketing when they rated dishes, but the scientists found that this was most of their male sample: a more diverse sample might show different results.
But a short-term intervention, said the scientists, is not enough to change what’s on the menu. “Even if this shift did not go all the way, long-term interventions might have the potential of even stronger shifts, resulting in an improvement in men’s liking of vegan dishes, and are thus worth further exploration,” Scholz said.
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