Despite being in the 21st century and acknowledging that gender is a social construct, gendered food (or foods associated with a specific gender) exists, despite gender and food being completely unrelated entities. 

Many of my ideas in this piece are inspired by excerpts that we discussed in my food ethics class from The Sexual Politics of Meat by Carol Adams.

Gender in Today's Society

To give a bit of background on this topic: gender associations are created in social interaction. These interactions contribute to the process of "behaving" according to a specific gender as gender performances are policed by others. The gender binary, reinforced by this policing, is a type of gender system that separates people into two genders: men and women.

The binary is a predominantly Western ideology, but has influenced societal understandings of gender worldwide. Gender can be fluid and lies on a spectrum; people can identify as one gender or another, both, or neither. Although in the 21st century there is more of an open understanding of the fluidity of gender, society still primarily perceives people using the binary, and many stereotypes are based on the binary.

As people are becoming more accepting in a changing society, gender is still applied to completely unrelated aspects of life such as advertising and food. I will be discussing (in brief) masculinity and femininity stereotypes associated with gender and food, as well as their impact on consumers.

Masculinity and Meat

In an excerpt from her piece, The Sexual Politics of Meat, Carol Adams discusses the mythology that "meat is a masculine food and meat-eating, a male activity, permeates classes" (Adams). Within this piece, in a more general sense, Adams explores themes of the association of meat with power. 

Concepts of men consuming meat root back to hunting, when men were viewed as the providers for a family and were the ones physically killing their food. Over time these typical gender roles were perpetrated by stereotypes, as men are seen to need to eat meat products. Although the male body does not need more protein than its female counterpart, it is a common misconception that men need to consume meat.

Later in the excerpt, Adams referenced ideas by anthropologist, Mary Douglas, who explored the order in which a meal is consumed. In her piece Deciphering a Meal, Douglas suggests that the order in which we serve foods, and the food we insist on being present in a meal, reflects a taxonomy of classifications and reinforces our larger culture.

A meal starts off with an appetizer, usually something lighter like a salad. All of the smaller courses in a meal lead up to the main event: the entree of meat.

These associations between meat and masculinity enforce cultural practices and male stereotypes as well as exacerbate male dominance.

Femininity and Vegetables

In contrast to her description of men in association with meat and power, Adams discusses the secondary features and femininity of vegetables and other non-meat foods.

Adams references twentieth-century cookbooks that served British working-class families that did not serve meat "'For the man only' appears continually in the menus of families when referring to meat" (Adams). In these examples, the provider of the house (aka the man) was able to eat meat products. The consumption of meat is like a reward. 

In contrast, Adams describes the various types "secondary" language that are commonly associated with vegetables. Just as women are often viewed as secondary to men (although obviously not accurate), Adams describes them to be analogous to vegetables "Just as it is thought that a woman can't make it on her own, we think that vegetables can't make a meal on their own, despite the fact that meat is only second-hand vegetables, and vegetables provide, on average, more than twice the vitamins and minerals of meat" (Adams). 

Later in the excerpt, the author mentions the lexicological meaning of vegetable. To vegetate is to lead a passive existence, just as to be feminine is to lead a passive existence. Simply due to this association, women are associated with the "lesser" part of a meal.

Lastly, the order of a meal leaves vegetables as an afterthought. As the setup of courses in a multi-course meal is a lead up to the entree (usually composed of a meat dish), the vegetables lay on the side or to start. These components are seen as "refreshing" or "light" (for example, in the sense of a salad). They aren't "rich" or "hearty", like those of meat. 

With concepts rooted in misogyny, women and vegetables are viewed as equals and as inferior to their male counterparts.

Impact of Gendered Food

The relationship between gender and food is rooted in outdated stereotypes and are not necessarily applicable to modern-life. In this day-in-age, gender norms and stereotypes are being dismantled in a variety of fields and food should also be one of them. 

Many men choose not to become vegetarians or avoid eating a plant-based diet due to the association that meat products have with masculinity. Offensive slang such as "soy-boy" is used to describe men who are lacking masculine characteristics.

By dismantling these stereotypes and associations between food and gender, consumers would be able to freely enjoy whichever foods they would like to, regardless of gender. Food is food. In the end, it is important to recognize these patterns and associations and make adjustments to the stereotypes associated with it.