Eating a salad is what society thinks women often do, while guzzling pints of beer at a bar is almost exclusively a perceived male habit. Subconsciously, we all tend to attach certain foods to gender – it’s no surprise then that food commercials use gender marketing to cater to both sexes differently.
So what is it with certain foods and drinks that get the boy vs girl treatment? Is it a genetic thing, or are they associated with culturalisation?
Is it Biological?
It’s not a stretch to imagine that most guys love their meat – whether it’s a cheeseburger or a beef rendang. A study by Hank Rothgerber of Bellarmine University revealed that men are more pro-meat than women because of its protein value (among other findings), and that it makes them ‘feel like real men’.
Men are also much less likely to eat their veggies than women, particularly when they feel healthy, so they may doubt their need for a balanced diet. Women, on the other hand, are much better at consuming their greens, which could be related to their desire to be healthy and look good – more so than men – according to a National Cancer Institute survey.
Some of this gender-driven eating can also be explained by evolution, according to Yale University’s David Katz. Men, as hunters, needed more protein to build muscle mass, so meat was a reward. Over time, this created different caloric requirements between the two sexes, because prehistoric men and women had differing access to foods.
Even hormonal differences could explain why men generally prefer stronger food flavours than women. Women, especially those of reproductive age, are more sensitive to flavours than men, according to multiple studies.
Is it Cultural?
What we eat goes back to the idea of priming – how culture imprints concepts in our minds.
In an experiment titled ‘Macho Nachos’, participants were asked to rate which foods they considered masculine and feminine: baked vs fried chicken, baked potatoes vs fries, baked vs fried fish, etc. The results showed that there was a significant tie to food and gender perception – people were more likely to see the unhealthier options as masculine, and the healthier options as feminine.
It’s also common to assume that brightly-coloured cocktails with mini-umbrellas or cute cupcakes are often positioned for women, hinting that women prefer sweet flavours. But we all know that isn’t the truth; simply ask your peers and you’ll see who really prefers sweet treats.
Another influence could be old-fashioned gender-based marketing. According to the gospel of advertising, women like dieting, desserts, and looking nice, whereas men like beer, sports, and meat.
You’ll see that beer commercials always depict men drinking beer while enjoying sports, or hanging out with the boys.
On the flip side, you’ll notice that any commercial for yogurt will teach you that it is exclusively eaten by women. Some even combine other stereotypes of women, like being a fan of Korean dramas.
The influence continues to fast food brands – you may have seen suggestive ads from Burger King (‘It’ll Blow Your Mind Away’) and Carl’s Jr (‘Everybody Loves Big Breasts’) that would appeal to men, or at the very least seem offensive to women.
Even food packaging may have a role to play. Consider chocolates – if you’re thinking of chocolate bars like Snickers or Mars, then it would be considered more masculine than say, a box of Godiva chocolates. Price tag aside, packaging has a powerful role to play in its image.
The way a food is packaged might even influence its ‘gender’ – for instance, it may not be ‘manly’ for a guy to eat muffins from a pretty box, but it’s totally acceptable to label him a ‘stud muffin’, implying that it’s women who are muffin consumers.
Cultural priming is a big influence, and it’s even affecting our association of food with gender.
Society perpetuates myth
If you take a step back, it’s ridiculous to associate a piece of steak as manly, or a bowl of salad as ladylike, just because society expects you to. There is no doubt that many of us defy these food preference stereotypes, because we eat – or want to eat – what we feel like eating. We already unnecessarily associate so many things with gender – ie. pink is for girls, boys don’t cry – so why is there a need to associate our basic source of sustenance too?