Meat-eating and masculinity remain inextricably linked in the Australian psyche, a new survey of 1,000 Australian adults has revealed, which could be making it difficult for men to feel comfortable exploring a healthier and more climate-friendly diet, experts warn.
The survey revealed that 47% of female and male respondents still viewed eating meat as a masculine undertaking, as opposed to gender neutral or feminine.
Conducted in March 2021, the survey was commissioned by Australian-founded not-for-profit No Meat May, an organisation that challenges people across the globe to eliminate meat from their diets for 31 days for the month of May for health, environmental and social reasons.
“What was perhaps most shocking, was that 73% of male respondents said they’d rather reduce their life expectancy by up to 10 years than give up eating meat, with three quarters of men not convinced of the health benefits of a meat-free diet, despite the mounting evidence to the contrary,” No Meat May co-founder, Ryan Alexander said of the results.
Indeed there is a growing body of evidence that shows eating plant based foods offers a range of health benefits. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, higher adherence to a plant-based diet lowered heart disease and reduced the risk of all-cause mortality by 25%. Other conditions which have been found to be prevented and better managed by a plant-based diet include strokes, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancers. Research also suggests that people who eat primarily plant based diets tend to have a lower body mass index and lower rates of obesity than those who eat meat.
The traditional meat-is-masculine image has also been the subject of many articles and films, most notably in the popular Netflix documentary by James Cameron, The Game Changers, which attempts to tackle the myth that men need to eat meat to be physically strong, powerful, sexually attractive and ‘manly’. Clever marketing has shaped the impression that ‘real men’ eat meat – a perception that can have detrimental effects on human and planetary health.
“Significant research over many years has shown that eating meat and other animal products increases the risk of developing certain cancers, heart disease, obesity and having a reduced life expectancy, not to mention being one of the biggest contributors to global warming and the destruction of our environment. Yet our survey alarmingly shows that Australian men are either not aware of any of these facts, don’t believe them, or simply don’t care,” he said.
The global campaign expects more than 60,000 people to participate this year, but given 90% of past No Meat May participants have been women, the not-for-profit is targeting men and those who identify with masculine qualities to reduce the gender disparity in adopting a meat-free or reduced meat diet.
“Up until 2013, I was a heavy meat eater and as an Australian man I grew up with the same media and community messages that real men clogged their arteries with meaty saturated fat and should enjoy nothing more than guzzling a baby animal leg down at meal-time,” said Alexander.
“Australian men are still being fed a lie that meat eating makes them more masculine, when in reality, what’s more masculine than protecting the planet, sparing innocent lives and ensuring you live a long and healthy life for the people you love?”
The No Meat May survey also found that men were less likely to give up eating meat or animal products for every benefit listed in the survey such as living longer, helping the environment or reducing cancer risks when compared to women. The survey also showed that while 81% of men consider themselves as ‘someone who cares about the environment’, 79% of this group said they would not give up meat to reduce their impact on the environment.
“We reckon it’s time to step up and reject outdated and damaging gender stereotypes around food. It’s never been easier to give up meat, whether you’re giving up for a month, or looking to make a long-term change, No Meat May is here to provide that safe stepping-stone, evidence-based information and a tonne of food inspiration to help you along the way.”
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, animal agriculture accounts for 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gases each year – roughly equal to the emissions caused by trains, planes, cars, and ships. Livestock also takes up 83% of farmland and generates almost 60% of food emissions.
Scientists agree that reducing meat consumption is one of the most impactful things an individual can do to reduce their environmental footprint and mitigate climate change. In David Attenborough’s new film, A Life On This Planet, the world’s most recognisable environmentalist suggests that adopting a “mostly plant-based diet” will improve biodiversity, save wildlife and restore the planet.
Despite the No Meat May survey results, one in three Australians are also actively seeking to limit their meat consumption and transition to plant-based or flexitarian diets, with major Australian retailers Coles and Woolworths doubling the number of plant-based meat products on their supermarket shelves to meet customer demand. In fact, plant-based meats and animal byproduct substitutes is the fastest growing food category estimated to be worth $6 billion by 2030 in Australia alone and $85 billion globally.
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Cover image by cottonbro.