It is no accident that in Western cultures the vast majority of vegetarians are women – only about 30% are men. One of the key reasons for this is that there is a strong link between the eating of animal flesh and maleness (Potts and Parry, 2010). So entrenched is this connection that men’s consumption of meat is seen as an exemplar of normative masculinity (Sobal, 2005). Indeed it is widely considered to be an essential sustenance for the healthy male body. Red meat in particular is seen as important for men because it consists of muscle (much like the prototypical image of the male body), which provides for strength, energy and virility. Red meat is frequently eaten in a semi-cooked or near raw state with signs of blood thereby symbolising vitality and strength (Potts and Parry, 2010).
Eating red meat in a more or less raw state also enables a power relationship to be formed between the slaughtered animal and the consumer that links to masculine power and domination over nature (Fiddes, 1991). A refusal to consume meat thereby signals the opposite of red-blooded masculinity – femininity. Such gendered notions are often expressed in the media by ‘hunter-gatherer’ metaphors (Gough, 2007). Not surprisingly then, fewer men than women are vegetarian. Vegetarian men typically come under more scrutiny than women and often bear the brunt of ridicule for their choice of food.