A new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests that decades of marketing have left many men unwilling to make the switch to a vegetarian diet because it is not perceived as “macho” enough. It is well known that the meat industry is one of the primary contributors to global emissions and many studies, such as one from the Woods Hole Research Center, have called for a 50 percent reduction in meat consumption. But could it really be that one major obstacle stands in the way of widespread adoption of a more environmentally conscientious diet — the male ego?
For years, there has been the stereotype that a real man is one who likes his beer cold and his steak bloody. And so the report’s authors, who include Paul Rozin (University of Pennsylvania), Julia M. Hormes (Louisiana State University), Myles S. Faith (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) and Brian Wansink (Cornell University) state that they conducted the study to “examine whether people in Western cultures have a metaphoric link between meat and men.”
The result was that yes, we indeed do. Over a number of experiments that looked at metaphors and certain foods, like meat and milk, the authors found that people rated meat as more masculine than vegetables. They also found that meat generated more masculine words when people discussed it, and that people viewed male meat eaters as being more masculine than non-meat eaters.
The study took place in the US and the UK, but the team also discovered that all around the world in 23 language, meat was related to the male gender.
“To the strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, All-American male, red meat is a strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, All-American food,” the authors write. “Soy is not. To eat it, they would have to give up a food they saw as strong and powerful like themselves for a food they saw as weak and wimpy.”
“In marketing, understanding the metaphor a consumer might have for a brand could move the art of positioning toward more of a science,” the authors conclude.
Looks like the vegetarian market is going to have to dramatically change their marketing strategy — perhaps they could promote the fact that the 7ft 1, 347lb, WWE wrestler and weightlifter, The Great Khali, is a vegetarian. Try telling him he’s not macho.