In recent years the link between meat consumption and the environmental crisis has become increasingly concerning, with the Committee on Climate Change estimating that the UK’s meat consumption would have to be cut by a fifth to meet the UK’s climate targets. For a multitude of reasons, vegetarianism and veganism has seen a spike in popularity in the last decade, particularly in women (an estimated 64% of vegans in the UK are women) –  but why is there such a gendered skew? 

The politics of food  

Well of course, there’s many reasons why people choose not to eat animal products, whether they’re religious, ethical or environmental. However, one underlying influence that can be overlooked is the role the mainstream media has in affecting our food choices. 
It’s easy to dismiss this as an insignificant link, but when food plays such a huge part of our everyday lives (and evidently has a big impact on our climate) it’s important to look at the nuances of our eating habits and the subconscious gendering of specific foods. Food is an inherently political commodity –  whether it’s a lack of resource sharing or the powerful influence of the food industry on what we put into our bodies They often push a ‘more, more, more’ attitude that isn’t always the best for our nutrition.  However, it’s important to note that often the food that is promoted via mainstream media, like fast-food options, is cheap, quick and accessible which is the best option for many people.  

We are what we eat 

There are lots of perspectives on why more women are vegetarian or vegan than men, including women feeling more connected and empathetic with animals and nature or these diets being linked to healthy eating. There are also some strands of feminists who believe that all should be vegan because of the inherent connection between women and animals.   But what about the media’s influence? Mainstream media is an extremely influential factor in our lives and the idea that the media presents a gendered bias isn’t novel. There are sadly countless examples that show the mass media promoting unattainable, unrealistic body types for all genders. One element of this is the media representing types of as food as masculine or feminine, for example meat is perceived as manly and vegetables shown as ‘rabbit food’ for women. Some examples include: 
  • A Burger King advert, for example, describes vegetables as ‘chick food’ and shows that ‘real men’ eat burgers.
  • American fast food chain Carl’s Junior shows a female film character holding a burger and transforming into a man before eating it, with the phrase ‘MAN UP FOR 2X THE BACON’ appearing on the screen.  
The existence of such a discourse which promotes and intertwines meat eating and masculinity has negative social, health and environmental effects. From vegetarian/vegan men being described as ‘Soy Boys’ (a term which Urban Dictionary describes as men who lack “necessary masculine qualities”) to the environmental damage caused by the meat industry (the majority of deforestation is linked to food production). The mass food manufacturing industry, and particularly meat production, is extremely powerful and continues to dominate the food market, mostly in an unethical and unsustainable way.   

Sustainable food consumption 

The gendered food discourse that tells men that in order to be manly they have to eat meat, has damaging consequences for our planet and is harmful for those producing the food and for those communities living in the areas where our food is produced. There are varied estimations but over a billion people depend on forests to survive, and with increasing rates of deforestation the numbers of communities being displaced is rising at an alarming pace.  The majority of these people are Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) communities so there is also a racial justice element to this industrialised deforestation.
This is something that the UK Government has to tackle in the upcoming Environment Bill which is currently passing through Parliament. The recent announcement that legislation will be introduced to clamp down on illegal deforestation and protect rainforests is promising. However, greater steps are needed to extend the law to all deforested land, not just that done illegally.  
The coming months will be crucial for the future state of our planet, with the Environment Bill and key nature and climate summits like the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Climate Change Conference.  
Whilst it often seems like the climate crisis is out of our own hands, there are steps we can take as individuals to have our own impact. Wen works alongside the Tower Hamlets community to support a fairer, healthier and more sustainable food system. Such ways of eating are good for our bodies, the planet and the lives of people around the world. Conscious and healthy food consumption is something we want to make accessible to everyone and Wen posts top tips for growing your own food, from collecting seeds, bee friendly plants and how to keep your growing food free from pests.  
Take a look at Wen’s plant based recipes.

Alice Russell

Alice is currently an Account Executive at Seahorse Environmental, specialising in supporting work that promotes and protects the environment. She previously completed a masters in International Relations from the University of Birmingham where her interest in the relationship between gender and the environment developed.

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