The sexual politics of meat

eating steakAccording to Carol Adams, the author of The Sexual Politics of Meat, “Meat is a symbol for patriarchal control.” Meat has been historically associated with gender since the age of hunter/gatherer societies in which meat was a valuable economic commodity, and those that controlled its distribution could maintain power. This established a pattern in social relations, which a social theorist would argue establishes a “social structure.” According to Adams, “one’s maleness is reassured by the food one eats.”

However, the social pressure males feel to reinforce their gender identity through meat has some very serious consequences. Females, traditionally considered second-class citizens in the various patriarchal societies throughout history, have been delegated what the particular society in question designates as “second-class food,” which is nearly always vegetarian. Despite the fact that pregnant and nursing mothers actually have a greater need for protein than their male counterparts, the protein needs of men are often prioritized and women starve at a disproportionate rate to men in third world countries today, as a direct result.

Throughout various patriarchal societies, such as Mbaum Kapu, women are restricted from certain meats, such as chicken and goat, and are punished if they choose to consume them. Conversely, foods designated for female consumption, such as eggs in the Nuer culture, are not eaten by males and are considered undesirable and effeminate. These are examples of the direct consequences of the genderization and sexualization of meat and the meanings associated with it.

Examples of the consequences of the genderization of meat also exist in American history. American policies regarding food rationing during wartime reinforce ideas connecting meat to masculinity: The government reserved meat for the masculine ideal, or the soldier/warrior. During World War II, on average, soldiers consumed two and a half times more meat than the average civilian. This policy is based on the superstition that in consuming the muscles of other creatures, the consumer is given strength. This has led to the traditional belief that men require meat for strength and, as a result, the consumption of meat has become a symbol of male dominance and a way to sustain strength, and by extension, social power. In this way, the federal government has reinforced ideas about meat and gender, as well as meat and power, forging meat as a symbol of the patriarchy. Meat has become a tool of gender identity in our society, which has serious consequences for women and animals.