David Sax/New York Magazine:
There’s an incredible disconnect between the way real men eat, and the way “real men” are supposed to eat. … If it doesn’t contain the chance of diabetes, apparently “real men” won’t eat it.
According to Katherine Parkin, an associate professor of history at Monmouth University, and author of the book the sexual segregation of food marketing took shape in the 1950s, under the pioneering psychologist Ernest Dichter, who applied the theories he’d learned under Sigmund Freud to shape the new field of motivational research.“Dichter believed that by convincing Americans of a food’s sex and its resultant gendered identity, as well as its sensuality, advertisers could suggest their foods to meet consumers’ need to fulfill their gender roles,” Parkin wrote in a research paper. “Dichter believed that many people categorized the sex of foods. However, his own subscription to a gendered taxonomy of food is evident in his assessment of the findings. For example, Dichter posited, “Perhaps the most typically feminine food is cake … The wedding cake [is] … the symbol of the feminine organ. The act of cutting the first slice by the bride and bridegroom together clearly stands as a symbol of defloration.”
This kind of overly sexualized couch philosophy may sound like demented bullshit (“Happy Birthday! Eat a vagina!”), but the ad world ate it up. Though they overwhelmingly aimed food ads toward women, who were (and remain) the primary food purchasers for households, increasingly foods became targeted by sex. If it was meaty, macho, or phallic (Dichter basically felt the Oscar Meyer wiener song was a penile love poem), it was manly enough to be sold to men.
“The manly foods — for example, a 4,000-calorie manly frozen dinner — all play on a notion that these foods will make you a man and ensure your virility,” saysParkin.
It’s actually worse than that. Manly food ads present a cleverly crafted challenge to our manhood: Are you man enough to eat this shit?
And shit it is. Manly food, as opposed to equally patronizing “lady food” (diet sodas, low-calorie cereals, herbal teas), are pretty much universally unhealthy. Huge quantities of processed, salty meats, wrapped in refined carbohydrates, saturated in chemical cheese goos, and fortified with colored sugar water.
Cox concludes with the important point that you should eat what you want, not what you think is manly. Eating junk food is fine every now and then. “If, once in a while, you find yourself hankering for Manwich and a bottle of Bud — or a chard fritatta and a glass of rosé — well, bon appétit.”