WURZBURG, Germany — We’ve all heard it before: eating plant-based meals is not only healthier for us but also beneficial for the planet. Yet, the age-old perception associates meat-eating with masculinity, making it challenging for some men to embrace veganism or even vegetarianism. So, a new study is asking: do plant-based diets need an image makeover?
Gender stereotypes often label vegan diets as more suitable for women, leaving men out of the picture. The new study probes the potential of marketing to bridge this gap.
“Men might be less inclined to consume vegan food due to the need to perform gender,” says study lead author Alma Scholz, who performed the research at the University of Würzburg and is now studying at Stockholm University, in a media release. “However, with vegan food being framed in a masculine way, men might feel less resistance and become more likely to consume it.”
The deep-rooted cultural ties link meat consumption with qualities like strength and masculinity. Simultaneously, plant-based meals are often considered less fitting for men. This gender-based view on food choice is changing slowly, with recent surveys noting an increased acceptance of vegetarianism among men. However, researchers say the concern about reinforcing their gender identity through consumer choices makes men’s meat consumption still dominant.
“Since gender stereotypes also include food choices, men are more inclined to consume in a gendered way to steer social perception. Otherwise, they might be considered less masculine,” says Scholz.
To test the power of marketing in this domain, researchers altered the presentation and description of vegan dishes with “masculine” words and seeing how men responded. They also gauged the participants’ alignment with traditional masculinity and their general take on veganism.
Scientists found the results intriguing. Women, predictably, leaned more towards veganism. However, while the masculine marketing didn’t particularly boost men’s preference for vegan dishes, it did shift their perception of these dishes from being “feminine” to more neutral. Men less aligned with traditional masculinity showed more responsiveness to this masculine marketing.
“With a short intervention, the perception regarding gender suitability of vegan food was shifted away from femininity and closer toward a neutral position,” says Scholz. “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.”
The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Communication.
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