Meat and Masculinity: why is meat considered ‘manly’?

What is the definition of “manly”? According to Google Dictionary, it’s “having or denoting those good qualities traditionally associated with men, such as courage, strength, and spirit” or “befitting a man”.

This Veganuary (a throwback, we know) we noticed a marked difference between the number of those that identify as males, compared to those that identify as females, taking part. Our Instagram and website insights are fascinating (yet shocking!), with 85% of our followers and over 70% of our visitors respectively listing as female. We can’t claim to have gathered our data from the largest or most diverse sample, but it’s fairly common knowledge – or it will be after you’ve read this post – that plenty of studies have yielded concordant results. So why are females leading the revolution, and why are males so far behind?

Pretty much every reported statistic shows that veganism is on an upward trend, but the gender ratio is the one outlier. It’s hard to know whether these statistics prove that men aren’t keen on veganism or whether women are extra keen, so we decided to investigate. The figures provided by The Vegan Society are great, but they don’t provide any reasoning, so we asked omnivorous or vegetarian men (and women in an attempt to make this study slightly scientific*) the top 3 things that were holding them back. Oh, and then we’ll try our best to break down those arguments with the aim of making veganism as inclusive as possible!

This 2018 study confirmed that there is “a generally more positive disposition toward meat in men than women”, but could not necessarily pin it down to a factor other than the associations with virility and strength. 

We’ll start with our primary research, and then we’ll back it up with a bit of secondary afterwards.


Meat-free breakfast
This is all vegan! Who’d have thought. Just give up meat – society won’t even notice…

One thing that cropped up a lot was feeling put off by the possibility of being a ‘picky eater’ restricting social occasions. One interviewee doesn’t want to be a nuisance or a burden, especially when visiting a friend’s house to eat or choosing a venue to eat out at (not that that’s too much of a problem these days…). 

A lot of points came down to ease too – ease of cooking, ease of shopping, ease of thinking.  There’s a lot of learning to be done when you go vegan: no one’s pretending that reading labels is their favourite pastime! It’s hard to commit to any massive change, and the way you eat is drummed into you from childhood. 

“The issue for me is convenience. Like I genuinely would struggle to find and come up with 7 different meals to make each day of the week so I’ll end up having literally boiled veg every night. Also, and it is laziness, I think obviously vegan is the way but buying substitute milk and other products is expensive and you have to search for those products which is yet another barrier.”

Idea of meat-free meal

We obviously had personal pleasure up there, with bacon and cheese being the top contenders (of course) (but bacon tho). The thing is, it’s not usually the case that vegans give things up because they don’t like them! It sounds a bit dramatic, but let’s call it making a sacrifice. Because not being willing to make the sacrifice is basically what it boils down to, right? We’ll get to it, but this point crops up time and time again no matter who you’re talking to so there’s no easy answer.

“It’s easier to maintain a healthy weight with a higher protein diet – […] – I want to lose all my fat and build muscle so higher protein is the way to do it”

manliness is synonymous of fitness and strength. Therefore, the consumption of meat is considered as being important in the fitness industry. However, all the nutrients important to build muscles are present in the vegan diet.

As ‘defined’ in the introduction, manliness is often synonymous with fitness and strength. Because meat has always been promoted as a primary source of protein (along with dairy and eggs), it can be perceived as weak – or weakness-inducing – to give that up. Veganism can actually be packed with clean, healthy (and cheap!) protein though – check out this article for some more info.

“Veg doesn’t fill you up: meat does”

It’s not just protein that men seemed to be dubious about though – they didn’t feel that a plant-based diet would fill you up on the whole. Hopefully the fact that a lot of vegan protein sources are pulses should help to allay those fears! You don’t just have to eat celery, we promise.

“A small group of vegans (alongside PETA) have given the entire movement a bad name”

Sadly, we can’t hide from the stigma. ‘Angry vegans’ is a phrase thrown around on social media almost as much as ‘angry feminists’. We’re renowned for making people feel guilty about their life choices (whoops), and people don’t like to be made to feel guilty. Of course, as with every group there’s a handful of people that might take it too far, and things can get heated. If you know it’s not all of us, then why not join the fray and help us to outnumber them?

Testosterone levels were mentioned, so we can’t ignore the stigma around soy oestrogen as well. Everyone gets the fear about hormones, especially when the lab coats come out, but they’re not as much of a threat as they seem. There are so many factors at play here, but people focus on a handful of nutrients required for the manufacture of testosterone; vitamin A, vitamin D, zinc, magnesium and fats. If you’re lacking these in your diet, then hypothetically testosterone levels drop. Most scientific studies have found that the effect is minimal, and there are plenty of ways to get all the necessary nutrients in – even if you don’t want to supplement. 

All kinds of rumours have also circulated about the link between ‘man boobs’ and oestrogen found in plants (phyto-oestrogen). Here’s a link to an article that should help you to separate the fact from the fiction.

Why not eat meat?

For some it’s pretty wild to imagine not having thoughts to oppose that, but as soon as you broaden your horizons it’s a widespread reality. Where food comes from isn’t a staple of the curriculum, and self-education varies hugely in accessibility. Growing up with that knowledge or having the resources to hand to teach yourself is a privilege, so if you’re privileged enough to learn yourself then you’re privileged enough to teach others.

There was also a rogue last-minute survey entry from an African lion, who took a break from chasing a gazelle to let us know that it’s “very normal for things at the top of the food chain” to eat meat. So that’s that on that.

The nutrition of the lion is based on the consumption of meat


The reasoning behind omnivorous females not going vegetarian or vegan (or vegetarians not going vegan) is potentially more varied. There were repeats of some of the points above of course, with the personal pleasure predicament being the most common. Read on for the differences though!

Some, occasionally due to a self-declared “lack of creativity in the kitchen”, again felt that veganism would be too limiting when it came to recipes. Not only that, the kitchen was frequently associated with spending time as a couple or family so having to cook separate meals would be a real spanner in the works. It’s either the whole household, or nothing. That’s understandable – it can feel like a bit of a rift would be created at the dinner table, but that doesn’t have to be the case! There are plenty of meals that can be cooked as one until the last minute when you split and add a veg or non-veg protein etc., but I’d be willing to bet that as soon as they see you making tasty vegan food they’ll come sidling over for a try…

I don’t doubt that a lot of people are concerned about nutrition to some extent, but it came up more with the women we interviewed. People who were already concerned about their nutrition felt it would be a massive undertaking to relearn how to eat well on a plant-based diet, and others felt that substitutes were a problem. Substitutes can contain more additives such as flavourings and preservatives than you’re used to seeing on an ingredient list, but meats are no angels! You’d be surprised how much additives are put into processed meats and dairy products – they even manage to pump them into the air that surrounds them inside the packaging. That being said, you don’t have to eat meat or dairy substitutes to eat satisfactorily (and cleanly) as a vegan. You can steer clear and stick to the naturally plant-based sections of the food pyramid, or you can even make your own!

Fitness and physique crop up again, with protein sources highlighted. Some alternatives to whey protein are apparently just gross (*cough* hemp *cough*), and soya protein apparently caused bloating and… uh… gas. Bloating actually came up a few times as it can be worse for people who have periods (and even worse still for people with polycystic ovary syndrome). It can be caused by a whole host of different things and it varies from person to person (lactose is often the worst culprit!), but legumes like chickpeas, beans and lentils might also get the gasworks going. Better out than in, that’s what we say.

Iron levels can also be off putting, because the recommended daily intake is a lot higher for people with a uterus (14mg per day). Meat is a source of heme iron because it’s from animals (like us), whereas plants only provide non-heme iron. This means it might be harder to hit the target, but you’d still have to be eating lots of rich red meat daily as an omnivore to get there! You can get loads of non-heme iron in with cheap and easy plant-based staples, but vegan iron supplements are readily available too. Read more here.

Hormones and vitamins/minerals can also be a concern for women; especially when it comes to bloating and if they’re around the age that overall skin health and acne is at its peak. This, like bloating, is completely dependent on the person. You might have acne already and a vegan diet clears it, or you might find that a vegan diet might cause a breakout on your already clear skin. There are loads of different factors at play, so you can have a read through this article if you’re concerned. You can also refer to the same myth breakdown on phytoestrogens that we recommended earlier here. Overall though, it could be a positive game-changer for your health and the effects are only temporary, so we think it’s worth giving it a chance!

“I make up for it in other ways – […] – what’s the point if I think about my purchasing choices carefully?”

It’s easy to be under the illusion that buying from local farmers, choosing organic, or going to smaller (super)markets means that there’s no suffering. The reality is that we’re lulled into a false sense of security by biased media (just Google how many ‘scientific studies’ promoting dairy are funded by the dairy industry…) and all meat is murder. There’s no way to go about killing an animal that leaves them with a smile on their face. There’s also no way to raise an animal for killing that doesn’t have a detrimental effect on the planet.

consumption of meat in excess has a detrimental effect on the planet

So it seems that women may have been more educated on the issues that surround eating meat and dairy products, as well as other factors involved in societal issues like climate change, but in spite of that stuck to their omnivorous guns. This might be because of the “drop in the ocean” effect. They feel that there’s no point in committing because they’re just one person, and that’s not enough to make a difference. Rest assured, your power as an individual is massive! You can calculate exactly how much your effort is worth here, but don’t forget that the more people who go vegan, the more people there are who hear about it, the more accepted it becomes, and the more people who go vegan. An endless cycle of REVOLUTION.

Oh, and please don’t be concerned about food waste! If you stop eating meat, it’s not going to go in the bin (any more than supermarkets would chuck anyway). It’s all about supply and demand, and some supermarkets have already reduced the amount they provide (or got rid of the butcher counter altogether) due to reduced demand. The entire population isn’t giving up meat overnight. The supermarkets will survive. 

As usual we asked you lovely lot your thoughts too, and as usual you made some excellent points!

Vegan men are as manly as meat eaters

We love this, too:

Description of the ideal man

Some surveys have suggested that the most frequent reason for cutting down meat consumption is for one’s health, but health goes hand-in-hand with physique and therefore with how we look. This leads us to consider whether the pressure of society beating down upon everyone and encouraging them to conform to a certain body shape is affecting their diet. Everywhere you look, we are pushed towards cutting (women) or bulking (men). Men are therefore more likely to want to pile protein on their plates, whereas women are more likely to scrimp on anything fatty. Meat is both of these things, so sadly it makes sense.

So what else is different about women? Is it that they’re more accepting of their peers having dietary requirements? Is it something to do with separating families going against their motherly nature? In this study, they found that females had higher empathy levels than men, and that this was down to both cultural and evolutionary/developmental factors.

But if women are citing many of the same reasons for not going vegan as men, then the answer must lie closer to the abundance of appeal of meat rather than the lack of appeal of veganism.

It must go as far back as prehistoric times: what better way to grab the attention of your crush than by dragging a mammoth back to the cave? In hunter-gatherer times the hunting was the male role, and females might have been allowed to gather if they weren’t too busy looking after the children. This translated over time into the male being the ‘provider’ for the family – but it’s time for the meat to be dropped now that we’re not going out and slaughtering it ourselves! Sadly meat is still associated with displays of physical aggression and dominance, and that must be ‘evolutioned’ into our psychology.

vegan barbecue

This manifests massively in barbecue culture. Why do men have to stand and poke the incinerated meat with a beer in hand? Has anyone told you that you can barbecue vegetables without a side of salmonella? Everyone knows you didn’t scamper off into the woods and throw a spear at a wild boar! Petition for American movies to give up on that trope STAT.

THE TAKEAWAYS (not the curry kind)

Men: it’s time to destroy these patriarchal norms that feed into toxic masculinity, and we’re behind you every step of the way. Remember – feminism is about fighting toxic masculinity as well as misogyny. You can be strong in so many different ways and one of those is by standing up for what you believe in and what’s morally right. 

Educate yourself, educate others, start having these conversations within your circles, and start questioning the norm.

If you don’t know where to start, here are some great resources that we’ve referred to in this blog:

Women: you can also remember that feminism is about fighting toxic masculinity as well as misogyny. Obviously there’s a huge lack of individual education so spreading the word is key, but there are steps to be taken on a societal level too. 

Educate yourself, educate others, start having these conversations within your circles, and start questioning the norm.

If you’re a newbie or find a few of the points above relatable, here is a link to an article via VegNews that helps to reassure women at different stages in their lives on the health aspect of a vegan lifestyle. It covers the need for more iron and calcium, especially in older women, as well as the benefit of folic acid/vitamin D before, during and after pregnancy.

We would LOVE to hear your thoughts on this – especially if you have any ideas on how to create a more level playing field – so please leave your comments below!

Stay safe, stay healthy, and go vegan

*disclaimer: we get a gold star for trying our best to diversify, but I don’t have enough friends to ask the biggest sample size. So maybe don’t reference this in your university dissertation…