Guy Food/Girl Food

Mike Cook

Dr. Pepper 10 is idiotic. (In case you don't know, it's a soda aimed at men, marketed with the slogan "it's not for women") Nonetheless, it has inspired some interesting thoughts. The idea of a men-only soda seems ludicrous, but the concept of gender appropriate food does not. It's quite common to think of men eating a certain kind of food while women eat a different kind.

Whether our food stereotypes have been foisted upon us or not, we've certainly accepted them. A McGill University survey of 277 people from 2005 said that for comfort food, women turn to sugary options like cake and ice cream, while guys are more likely to turn to soups, pastas, and steaks.

The general perception is that meat is guy food, while sweets, fruits, and vegetables are girl food. This reminds me of the The Pioneer Woman's blog. Amongst her many recipes are some she's selected as cowboy food and others as cowgirl food. While the cowgirl food is still hearty fare, the cowboy food is almost outrageously meat-centric. I'm not sure I can complain about stereotypes, though, since every one of her cowboy recipes made my mouth water.

In my family, at least, the stereotypes are reinforced by the method of cooking. My dad is master of the grill, where meat is king, while my mother runs the oven. The stove top is neutral territory.

The question is whether all this is Madison Avenue's idea of how food works. Is there any biological support for our different tastes?

In short, a pinch. Women are apparently genetically predisposed to prefer sweet tastes, according to Marcia Pelchat, who works at the Monell Chemical Senses Center. She's quoted in Riddi Shah's Salon article, which also notes that our evolutionary history might have had something to do with our tastes. Men hunted, and the muscular requirements to do so demanded lots of protein. According to modern dietary guidelines, males require a slightly greater number of calories than women (in general, on average). That explains the desire for fatty meat, gravy fries, and nachos, but not why women like sweets more. Few things are as calorie dense as sweets. Besides, women also have good evolutionary reasons for desiring calorie-dense foods. The higher body fat required for healthy pregnancies may naturally create a desire for foods with high calories.

So there's a bit of biological difference between us, but it's pretty clear it doesn't excuse us from "snacking" on a whole plate of wings or half a pie, and it certainly doesn't explain our current food stereotypes. Most of these stereotypes are specific to the United States, after all. Shah's Salon piece goes into this, explaining how other parts of the world have different stereotypes. She quotes Brian Wansink, who believes that we've gendered our food so much here because it's so commercial. "The reason we can view food as a commercial product is because we’ve never had a major starvation or a food shortage. We’ve always had an abundance of food."

Whatever the reason, we don't seem to gain much by giving our food genders. Just as it's moronic to market a soda as being made for one sex and not the other, it's stupid to add guilt to the task of eating. Men should never avoid a salad because they'll feel "wimpy" eating it, just as women shouldn't turn down a great piece of steak. Advertisers are sure to keep hammering away at food stereotypes in order to sell products. Hopefully it won't work on you. For those that truly enjoy food for what it is, let's work towards having less concern with what gender a food is and more focus on what's important: how it tastes.

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