Are meat-free diets emasculating?

A new study published in the journal Appetite says yes, but the tide may be starting to turn. Previous research has concluded "inconsistent patterns in the association between vegetarianism and masculinity." So psychologist and researcher Margaret Thomas, from Earlham College in Indiana, conducted a three-part study in order to unravel the reasons why some people stereotype others based on the food they eat.

According to the Vegetarian Resource Group, veganism is a more extreme form of vegetarianism, in which a person abstains from any meat, fish, poultry, or any animal byproducts, including eggs and dairy products. Some people choose veganism because of health reasons, others for environmental and ethical reasons. Thomas argues the reason why a dieter goes vegan is what influences others' perception of them.

In the first phase of her study, Thomas had 131 adults read two versions of a story: The first featured a woman named Jessica and the second featured a man named Jacob. The stories were identical save for the version where one person ate a "varied vegetarian diet" and the other enjoyed a "broad range" of foods, which included meat products. Afterwards, participants were asked to provide feedback on how health-conscious, independent, and masculine or feminine they thought the characters were.

Next, a second group of 133 adults were asked to read the same stories, only this time Jessica and Jacob were both described as eating a vegan diet or a meat-eating diet. In this scenario, participants found the vegan man to be less masculine than the meat-eating man.

In the last stage of the study, 143 adult participants read scenarios in which Jessica and Jacob were both eating vegan diets, but in one instance it was their choice and in the second instance they were forced due to "digestive issues." This indicated that it isn't veganism itself that's emasculating, but instead the reason why men chose to be vegan.

When Thomas analyzed the relatively young group of participants (mean age of 32), she found, on average, they did not associate veganism with lower levels of masculinity, leading her to believe cultures have evolved into acceptance; veganism has sufficiently become a mainstream diet for both men and women.

Diets high in fat are associated with elevated levels of masculinity, according to Thomas. However, with a high prevalence of obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes in the United States, more men and women are looking to adopt healthier diets. As a result, it seems to be more socially acceptable for men to give up meat without having to give up their masculinity, too.

Source: Thomas MA. Are vegans the same as vegetarians? The effect of meatless diets on perceptions of masculinity. Appetite. 2015.