This week I’m really pleased to share a guest post by my friend Tom Waterfall, who is studying Nutrition with me. Social media, and Instagram in particular, is very female-dominated when it comes to food and health, so I think it’s so interesting to hear things from a male perspective – something a lot of us don’t even think about most of the time!
Tom, over to you…
Lots of people were really surprised when I decided to stop eating meat, and even more so when I adopted a plant-based diet. Many expect the people who make a decision like this are either young women looking to embrace health, wellness, and sustainability (like Pixie does wonderfully!), or dreadlocked hippies living off-grid (nothing wrong with that by the way!). No one expects a typical “lad” in his mid-20s who enjoys sports, the gym, dinking, and socialising to care enough about animals, the environment, and their health to make such a change. I actually feel that most people, including young men, do care a lot about these issues, but feel that by giving up meat they may put themselves in danger of being judged, mocked, or having a negative impact on their masculinity. From personal experience, I know this was initially a big concern for me, and hearing from others considering going meat-free, this is often the main worry holding them back. This is quite an understandable concern – the vegetarian/vegan social media world is 90% female, with most male health/wellness accounts sticking to posts about fitness and strength rather than colourful, healthy, plant-based food and recipes.
Media in general is strongly targeted towards making meat-eating a masculine activity – remember the Burger King “I am man” ad campaign, or the HP Sauce “makes a sandwich a manwich” advert? It’s no wonder many young men feel intimidated by the thought of quitting meat, even if their conscience and logic tells them otherwise.
Well it’s not all bad news, in fact things are changing at an astonishing rate! Whilst there are still incredibly transparent adverts that play to many men’s insecurities about their masculinity, we are more in control of what media we are exposed to than ever before. With most media now viewed online rather than on television, we are less at the mercy of being influenced by adverts and more in control of what we choose to look at. We have so much information now at our fingertips – it is easy to quickly look up the damaging impact of meat consumption and the realities of systemic, large-scale animal farming. We can now see for ourselves that there is nothing “bootiful” about the way Bernard Matthews turkeys are farmed and slaughtered, and that the “Laughing Cows” are actually far more likely to be crying.
Not only are the changes in media and information accessibility changing the male perspective of vegetarianism/veganism, but modern society is now much more accepting of it too. Our society is evolving, and the modern view of “what makes a man” is no longer the typical, old-fashioned way of thinking. Most people now view qualities such as critical thinking, passion, compassion, and moral standing as true measures of what makes a real man, rather than basing masculinity on something so trivial as eating a hamburger.
I feel incredibly fortunate – I think now is the easiest time in history for a typical “lad” to be vegetarian or vegan, and to find that society will not only accept, but admire your decision. In fact, I’ve lost count of how many friends and family members have announced proudly that they’re giving up meat. With each person making this decision, it in turn makes it easier and more acceptable for others (who may have been contemplating the idea) to follow suit. With more vegetarians than ever before (one in eight in Britain), and this number ever increasing, I am sure the decision will continue to become even easier in the future too, for young men, and for everyone.
Tom Waterfall is studying for an MSc in Clinical and Public Health Nutrition at University College London (UCL). He is a keen fitness/lifestyle blogger and gives brilliant tips, inspiration, and ideas to help encourage more people to give up eating meat for health, the animals, and the planet. Follow him on Twitter (@tjwaterfall) and Instagram (@tj_waterfall).