Since coming to college, I have made the decision to become a vegetarian. After doing weeks of research and talking to others who had made the same decision, I had learned enough about vegetarian nutrition to talk about it with the best of them. I quickly learned, however, that if I wanted to talk about what I had learned or the decisions I was making about my eating choices, I would have to be careful of whom I spoke to. In the three years since I have become a vegetarian, I have yet to have a productive conversation with a male about eating habits.
You, like many others, may be thinking that it serves me right to get flack for spouting my mouth off about vegetarianism. One of the most common arguments I’ve heard is that people who don’t eat meat are too vocal about it, making everyone else either bored or uncomfortable. However, I make it a point not to discuss the issue with anyone unless they bring it up. Whenever a male friend of mine notices the lack of meat on my plate, they frequently choose to address the subject. And boy, do they have a lot to say.
When a friend of mine discovers that I don’t eat meat, they will immediately bring up the protein issue: a myth, and one that I am happy to talk about. Most girls usually take an interest and continue the discussion, or are satisfied and drop it. Every guy I have talked to, however, has taken my response as a personal affront to his masculinity and begins to insult my eating choices.
The first insult comes in the form of an insult, the most common one being that the vegetables I eat are “rabbit food.” Next, I’ll be treated to “Why Men are Allergic to Vegetables,” followed by an ultimate dismissal of my choice by somehow telling me that I’m too soft for caring about animals, also dismissing any health benefits I may have outlined. By the time the conversation is finished, I have been insulted and dismissed, all over something that was not my choice to discuss in the first place.
What I don’t understand is: why are vegetables a female-coded food group?And for that matter, why is meat so male-coded? The amount of protein that men need is only slightly more than the amount that women do, yet we accept that a “meat and potatoes” meal is more fit for a man than a plate of “rabbit food.” Though I would never propose that everyone go vegetarian, the male attitudes that I have heard about vegetables are alarmingly unhealthy to say the least.
So why are vegetables so threatening to men? Take a look at the advertisements for meat and for vegetables. The ads for meat either feature bold, concise statements (think of the “Go Meat!” campaign of Hillshire Farms) or feature women seductively eating it, or worse, meat looking like women’s body parts. As offensive and stereotypical as they are, these ads tell men that meat makes them who they want to be, or will give them who they should want to have. Ads for vegetables, however, feature children or women, often laughing and noticeably thin (think of the internet compilation “Women Laughing Alone with Salad“). From this, we gather: meat makes you strong and brings you sex, vegetables make you healthy but thin. No wonder the men in our society, who are conditioned to value muscle power and sexual appeal as the ultimate signs of masculinity, reject vegetables for meat.
Though I understand that the growing obesity problem makes the “thin” promise of vegetables sound alluring, we need to change our attitudes about vegetables to show that they are also substantial and hearty. The eradication of vegetables from our collective diet is a dangerous path, but one that we are certainly on. I hope that we can learn to at least love veggies in addition to the meat we adore, because vegetarian or not, we need them to live.