Meat and Masculinity: How Does ‘Manly’ Marketing Change Men’s Perception Towards Veganism?
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Eating meat has often been linked to the idea of masculinity – to see if these perceptions are changing, researchers conducted an experiment to find out whether masculine framing in marketing would influence how men perceive vegan food.
Despite there being an equal split in the total population, in Germany – Europe’s leading plant-based food market – only 19% of vegans are men. Multiple studies have explored how masculinity can be linked to meat-eating, and the way veganism is often associated with femininity.
Using this precedent, a new study published in the Frontiers journal examined the effects of framing veganism through a masculine lens on men’s attitude towards vegan food and explored whether sticking to traditional masculinity forms could increase the impact of such framing.
“Men might be less inclined to consume vegan food due to the need to perform gender,” said lead author Alma Scholz. “However, with vegan food being framed in a masculine way, men might feel less resistance and become more likely to consume it.”
Hearty Western salads vs luscious nature salads
The study surveyed 593 participants, but the hypothesis was only tested on 382 omnivores, who were randomly given descriptions of vegan food in either a masculine or non-masculine way. They were asked to rate the suitability of plant-based food for women or men from one to seven – one being more likely suited to women, and seven being for men (a score of four meant it wasn’t particularly suitable for either).
No photos were presented, and the font and colours were kept constant and neutral. The researchers used either conventional or masculine attributes to frame a dish. The former includes words like ‘special touch’, ‘colourful’, ‘creative’ and ‘delicious’, and the ‘manlier’ terms included ‘beast’, ‘meaty’, ‘protein-rich’ and ‘filling’.
A total of four dishes were used: the salad, spaghetti carbonara, a burger, and goulash – they were selected because they can already have gender connotations. The researchers assumed that the salad and partly the spaghetti have a more feminine association, while the other tend to have a more masculine connotation.
“The gender association of the dishes was manipulated by altering the ingredients, the verbal descriptions, and the names of the dishes,” the study explained. For example, masculine dishes contained ‘gravy’, while feminine dishes had a ‘red wine sauce’. In the former instance, the dish was named ‘Western Salad’ and described as ‘hearty’, while the latter saw the same dish being called ‘Nature Salad’ and described as ‘luscious’.
When the burger was described to the respondents using the conventional terms, the rating was 3.68 –but this rose to 3.96 when using masculine words. There were similar results with the rest, as masculine framing meant that the dishes were considered less feminine and more neutral (all dishes were still under the rating of 4).
So masculine framing didn’t cause men to express too much of a greater desire to eat vegan food, nor did it improve their overall attitude towards veganism. “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,” explained Scholz.
New forms of masculinity
In addition, the study also found a result contrary to the researchers’ expectations. The masculine framing had a positive effect on those who identify with new forms of masculinity – described as “challenging traditional male norms” and “associated with values such as authenticity, emotional expressivity, and holistic self-awareness”. The more that men prescribe to these new waves of masculinity, the more it’s likely that their attitude towards veganism is positive.
This indicates that a wider, more diverse sample may show different results. The researchers called for further exploration of masculine framing “to improve men’s perception of vegan food and the vegan concept”, albeit with stronger stimuli and longer interventions.
“Our findings suggest that the potency of a short-term intervention might not be sufficient to counterbalance the prevailing feminine connotations associated with veganism,” the study stated. “Despite the modest impact on gender appropriateness ratings for men, it is imperative to acknowledge the gender-neutral response exhibited by women, indicating that the intervention did not negatively affect their perception.”
Scholz explained: “With a short intervention, the perception regarding gender suitability of vegan food was shifted away from femininity and closer toward a neutral position. 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.”