Vegetarian playboy man

On Masculinity and Vegetarianism

Women are twice more likely than men to be vegan or vegetarian in Western societies, but why?

Charles Deluvio

“When I walked past the butcher’s shop and looked at the bodies of the animals there, they were no longer food,” says Mark Kulsdom, owner of The Dutch Weed Burger, an Amsterdam-based company producing popular fast food products out of seaweed.

Kulsdom first became a vegetarian during his university history studies, when he got particularly interested in the anti-consumerist movement and started going to anti-McDonald’s demonstrations. That was his first encounter with vegetarian men. “And that’s when I made the connection that eating animals was causing pollution all over the world,” he remembers upon learning that McDonald’s is the largest beef purchaser in the world and it contributes to worldwide deforestation. From that point on, he refused to eat meat. And not too long after, he went fully vegan. Today, one of his weed burgers is eaten every five minutes.

Women are twice more likely than men to be vegan or vegetarian in Western societies. They are said to be more environmentally conscious, litter less, recycle more and leave a smaller carbon footprint than men. The question remains: Why the disparity in meat consumption habits between genders? The answer sits hidden in the biological and sociological differences in gendered behaviors. In a 2018 psychology study titled Of Meat and Men: Sex Differences in Implicit and Explicit Attitudes Toward Meat, researchers Hamish J. Love and Danielle Sulikowski conclude that creatine (naturally found in meat) improves "muscular strength, size, physical, and neural performance" and protects against injury—something that men would be innately more drawn to, given their propensity for physical and risk-taking behaviors dating back to pre-agricultural times, when men hunted and women cooked and gathered
They call it 'modern warriorship.' So you fought with your fork and with your money.
Further, while women have remained prone to being more caring and nurturing in the modern world, the male association to meat is still ingrained from learned gender roles of the past. One could even look to Chimpanzees, who lift up the males who eat more meat—who grow larger and stronger because of presumed meat consumption. Given the man's long struggle to attain the ultimate interpretation of masculinity, another study, conducted by the Journal of Consumer Research in 2017, resolves that men could seemingly ignore environmental issues out of fear of being dubbed “unmanly.” Kulsdom, however, is part of the new uprising of men hoping to challenge the idea that a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle—no matter the reason—is feminine.

Jaap Korteweg, for example, just opened a restaurant in the Hague, Netherlands that revolves around his well-earned nickname, the Vegetarian Butcher. His devotion to the meatless trade began when he was young, doing chores on his family’s farm. He was once tasked with transporting cow and pig cadavers into his refrigerator during the swine and mad cow disease outbreaks in 2005. When he witnessed the countless lifeless bodies, hanging in sterile walls and treated only as a way of currency, he dreamed up a future: He wanted to buy his own farm, live with a few cows and tend to them for five years, versus the usual one-to-two years before slaughter. "At least they would have a nice, comfortable life.”

But then he changed his mind. “If I cared for these animals, I couldn’t shoot and then eat them,” he says.
Green food consultants Anneke Ammerlaan and Femke Mosch highlight the considerable differences in the way men and women feel about veganism, simply because the way the two genders think about food is fundamentally different. The common thinking is that men need meat, or at least “something substantial,” in their food while women are more associated with airy, leafy vegetables or sweets.

At the same, following 20 years of observation, the pair believes that women are much more likely to be affected by peer pressure than men. “Someone in the group says 'I want to eat vegetarian or vegan,' the rest of the group says, 'I also want it,'” Mosche says. But that, of course, is due to the various pressures on how women are expected to eat, speak and behave. Men are more skeptical, but once they make up their minds about becoming vegan, they become convinced, even zealous about their decision. “Some men take the decision to eat vegan. And women talk about it. 'Do I do this? Do I do that?' Men just do it. And if you ask why, their whole story comes out,” explains Ammerlaan. 

While women mostly choose to become vegan because of health and environmental concerns, men do it for three very distinctive reasons: For one, there are the ones who have evolved to accept that plant-based proteins can also build muscle mass and believe that plant-based proteins encourage endurance. Next, there are what the Netherlands-based researchers call “beauty vegans,” who eat vegan to achieve clearer skin and better health. And then there’re the few men like Korteweg and Kulsdom: the animal rights activists. “They call it 'modern warriorship.' So you fought with your fork and with your money,” Ammerlaan explains.
Similar to America’s immensely successful Impossible Burgers and Better Meat, Kulsdom and Korteweg sell products that are supposed to imitate meat. Kulsdom uses seaweed to re-create traditional fast-food items, while Korteweg still refers to his products as “meat, without animals.” (He uses soy and grains in his products.) And with that, both men seem to have found a gold mine. It is estimated that by 2025, the meat-substitute market will be worth $7.5 million globally. That growing niche, Korteweg suggests, that interest in imitation meat being at all-time high, could be enough to slowly change the idea that meatless is feminine. “What’s so cool about going to the supermarket and buying a piece of meat to put on the BBQ? Maybe when we were still hunting in the forest with machetes. But now?” Korteweg says.

“Self-discipline is the new elite standard. You eat healthy, you go to the gym. It’s a lifestyle,” explain Ammerlaan and Mosch.

For Kulsdom, who trains in martial arts, the self-discipline required to resist eating animal-based products was connected to something even deeper. “You want to do it in an honorable way," he says. "And that means you don’t eat it. These values—self-control, respect for all living things—there is a lot of honor in that."

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