Commentary: Exploring the obvious

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An academic researcher is staking out a bold claim, so brace yourself: After extensive study, he concludes that eating steak, burgers and bacon makes men seem more manly, while vegetarians are often perceived as wimpy and less macho, even by women who don’t eat meat themselves.

That’s the astounding findings of one Hank “Captain Obvious” Rothgerber, a professor of social psychology at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky. Rothgerber, who published his research in the journal Men and Masculinity—one of my “must-read” monthlies, by the way—stated that meat-eating was linked with “manhood, power and virility.”

His conclusions about the consumption of red meat are straightforward: “There is a group of manly men who swear off what they call chick food, and they [prefer] a double whopper to declare their manhood,” he told the UK newspaper The Daily Mail.

I believe the technical term for “a group of manly men” is “guys.”

And actually, it’s a Double Whopper®, which as part of a special Burger King Sandwich Meal that checks in at a mere 1,430 calories, about 900 of which come from fat and sugar.

I mean, what’s more manly than packing on the extra poundage that inevitably develops when you’re subsisting on such a virile, powerful meal combo?

The rigors of research

The men questioned in his study said that animal foods “Just taste too good to not eat them,” whereas women were more apologetic about eating meat. “Meat consumption is a symbol of patriarchy resulting from its long-held alliance with manhood, power and virility,” he stated.

For his research, he surveyed 125 undergraduate psychology students for one survey and 89 for the second. All the subjects were white, middle-class college students in their late teens and early 20s.

Overall, he reported that men expressed more favorable attitudes toward eating meat, denied animal suffering, believed that animals were lower in a hierarchy than humans, provided religious and health justifications for consuming animals and believed that it was human destiny to eat meat.

“These are direct, unapologetic strategies that embrace eating meat and justify the practice,” he said.

Look, I know that rigorous academic research is crucial to developing a greater understanding of the social pressures and personal impulses that define group behavior. For example, Rothgerber has published several articles in social psychology journals on the effects of our tendency toward stereotyping on jury decisions, the way minority groups perceive each other and its effects on academic performance.

But has he and/or his learned colleagues spent any time at a backyard barbecue? They could have reached the same conclusions as this study—only with a lot less data collection.

And enjoyed a manly steak or two in the process.

While Prof. Rothgerber admitted that his study was limited, he said he believes the social pressures to “prove one’s manhood” by eating more meat could be even stronger than his data indicated.

No offense to the effort it takes to dream up a study, identify and recruit subjects and collect and analyze the data that result. Nobody earns a Ph.D. without lots and lots of such time-consuming investigations. Usually, however, the goal is to enlighten us, to expand our knowledge of the world we inhabit or provide new insights into the human condition.

I’m not complaining about the good professor’s research, because discussing an association between meat and manliness provides a welcome respite from dealing with media coverage of pink slime and product recalls.

But I must admit: There’s nothing about his study that tells us anything we didn’t already know.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.

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Wyo  |  November, 27, 2012 at 07:00 AM

His research is a hell of a lot better, more interesting and even useable than a whole lot of the BS research that we are forced to pay for. Now IF only the beef checkoff folks could develop an ad campaign based on this........would the increase in consumption by men be more than the decrease in consumption by women......who are afraid of being labeled somewhat masculine? Actually......the real conclusions should not be that beef eating women are less feminine......but that it is important for men to procure the meat for them. Nowdays......just a quick trip to the supermarket should suffice.

Everett WA  |  November, 27, 2012 at 11:23 AM

Maybe I am being a little too harsh on the professor. His conclusions are all good -- except, as you noted, it shows that women are more inclined to view meat-eating as a negative. I believe that's where any checkoff initiatives should be directed.

Ames IA  |  November, 27, 2012 at 11:29 AM

Ha - most of the Team Beef members near me are women! We're not afraid of eating meat. I do think the article was a bit harsh - but it's a truth of research that you HAVE to prove everything and provide significant figures and P-values, to be legitimate. The "duh" moment aside - it is interesting to see where this could lead research and Checkoff funding. Personally I would love for the Checkoff to have more sponsored athletes - male and female - to show that beef is fuel for the finish. (I also wouldn't mind being able to go run more races farther from home... :P )

Oklahoma  |  November, 28, 2012 at 09:13 AM

I agree that the check off could be used in some interesting ways tied in with this information, but there isn't any money. We need to at least double the check off and probably to provide any real money for advertising and research we'd have to do more than double it. Right now all the advertising is towards women about 20-40 who are mothers. It promotes the positives of lean beef in a well rounded diet, but the cash just isn't there to branch out and work different angles. Increase the check off, increase our industry's ability to promote ourselves in interesting ways.

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