Meat and Masculinity Among Young Chinese, Turkish and Dutch Adults in the Netherlands
If we want to change the culture around meat-eating, we need to recognize that there are many ingrained traditions in play at once. Various aspects of different cultures reinforce the practice of eating meat and, as many studies show, advocating for reduced meat consumption doesn’t have a “one-size fits all” solution. This study looks at the multi-cultural context of the Netherlands, and explores how different cultures in the country perceive meat-eating and masculinity. The research finds a range of diverse factors that affect how much meat a given group eats, from their own cultural traditions, to the influence of more “Western” values.
In many Western countries, some people are consciously transitioning to a diet containing less meat, for reasons ranging from improving health, to concerns over animal welfare and environmental sustainability. However, “one of the potential barriers to this transition, is the alleged link between meat consumption and particular framings of masculinity, which emphasize that ‘real men’ eat meat,” say researchers. Of course, masculinity is not viewed in a single way across all cultures, and the perceptions of different people will be affected by the cultural mix of that country. The researchers of this study, based in the Netherlands, wanted to better understand “the various combinations of gender, ethnic background, and types of acculturation [which] raise important new concerns and questions on the role of gender differences in a potential transition to a less meat-based diet.” They chose to study Chinese Dutch and Turkish Dutch migrants based on demographics (Turkish migrants are the largest minority group in the Netherlands, while Chinese migrants are expected to become the largest in coming years) and theory (“the Eastern cultural background of these migrants is significantly different from the majority culture in the Netherlands in ways that may improve our understanding of the context dependency of the meat–masculinity,” the researchers said).
To complete their study, the researchers conducted a number of face-to-face interviews with both male and female members of each cultural group. They found that “ethnicity is an important factor influencing people’s food choices,” and that “there were significant statistical interactions between the effects of ethnic group and gender, in particular regarding preferred meat portion size, willingness to reduce one’s meat consumption, and BMI category.” As they hypothesized, the Turkish group was the most traditional and showed the strongest meat-masculinity link, with almost no willingness to reduce meat consumption. By contrast, the native Dutch group “displayed the smallest gender differences and the weakest meat–masculinity link.” According to the researchers, this among other findings, confirms that “meat-related gender differences crucially depend on the cultural context.” They also noted that various interesting dynamics arose in their research. The idea of “meat replacement,” for example, was not very familiar to Turkish respondents, as they have a cuisine that “is much richer; it features many vegetarian dishes, such as chickpeas and lentils, and it does not frame meat as a component that could be functionally substituted by a meat replacer.” They also acknowledged that, as immigrants, many respondents wanted to maintain a connection to their traditional cultures and not be seen as assimilated completely.
Concluding their paper, the researchers state that “these findings demonstrate that cultural factors related to gender and ethnic diversity can play harmful but also beneficial roles for achieving the objectives of sustainability, food security and public health in Western countries.” They found that the culturally entrenched “real men eat meat” trope, combined with more accessible and affordable meat can “seriously hamper a transition to a less meat-based diet.” In fact, they say that these two conditions alone are “bound to contribute to the growth of the existing meat-related problems.” However, they do offer some degree of cautious optimism, saying that “recent changes in framings of masculinity, which seem to link masculine identities with practices of self-control, may contribute to more healthy food preferences with respect to meat. This beneficial effect could even be reinforced if non-Western ethnic groups are able to preserve those elements of their food cultures that highlight the status of plant protein as a marker of a healthy and sustainable diet.” For animal advocates, this study is further evidence that the interplay among various cultural factors needs to be taken seriously and incorporated into advocacy in order for efforts to be effective.
The achievement of sustainability and health objectives in Western countries requires a transition to a less meat-based diet. This article investigates whether the alleged link between meat consumption and particular framings of masculinity, which emphasize that ‘real men’ eat meat, may stand in the way of achieving these objectives. From a theoretical perspective, it was assumed that the meat–masculinity link is not invariant but dependent on the cultural context, including ethnicity. In order to examine the link in different contexts, we analyzed whether meat-related gender differences varied across ethnic groups, using samples of young second generation Chinese Dutch, Turkish Dutch and native Dutch adults (aged 18–35) in the Netherlands. The Turkish group was the most traditional; it showed the largest gender differences and the strongest meat–masculinity link. In contrast, the native group showed the smallest gender differences and the weakest meat–masculinity link. The findings suggest that the combination of traditional framings of masculinity and the Western type of food environment where meat is abundant and cheap is bound to seriously hamper a transition to a less meat-based diet. In contrast, less traditional framings of masculinity seem to contribute to more healthy food preferences with respect to meat. It was concluded that cultural factors related to gender and ethnic diversity can play harmful and beneficial roles for achieving sustainability and health objectives.