Red or white?

When it comes to meat, men and women have different tastes

Men like to sink their teeth into a good rare steak, while women prefer well-done white meat or vegetarian food. What sounds like a simple prejudice concerning gender-specific differences is now supported by a Norwegian study.



Scientists from the Norwegian Food Research Institute Matforsk-Insitute, Oslo, served five different sorts of meat to 206 young visitors at a local fair without telling them which sorts they were eating. The participants in this consumer test were first asked to evaluate the meat samples for overall liking. Then they were questioned concerning their attitudes towards eating meat. Significant differences between the genders showed up in both parts of the study.

Whereas men gave essentially high liking scores for all of the various sorts of meat, women clearly preferred the samples of chicken and pork to red meat such as ostrich, lamb and beef. Compared with males, females agreed more with such statements as "I don't eat steak if I can see blood in it" and "I prefer eating vegetables rather than meat". Men, however, tended to concur with such comments as "Nothing satisfies my appetite better than a steak", "In my opinion the steak should have a red core", "The redder the meat the better it tastes", and "I enjoy the smell of red meat". While most female subjects wanted to reduce their consumption of processed meats such as hamburgers and sausages men said that they would like to eat meat more often - especially beef. After a meat dish women feel "slack", whereas meat makes men feel "fit" and "comfortable".

Consumer judgements were influenced more by the colour of the meat than by its odour, flavour or texture. The redder it was the more polarised opinions became. The authors of the study speculate that "Associations of the red colour with blood and living animals may evoke more negative emotional reactions in people who are more reluctant towards eating meat. Additionally, some profound psychological processes of identity-building may also play a role with young consumers." According to this hypotheses young men tend to reinforce their sense of masculinity by eating meat, because red and bloody meat is a symbol of power and masculine values. In contrast, adolescent women may want to depart from the social norms and values in order to assert their own identity by explicitly renouncing traditional customs, say the researchers. Elin Kubborød and her co-workers suggest that "to the same extent that male identity is confirmed by what the man chooses to eat, a woman defines herself by what she does not eat".

At this point, the Norwegian research group cannot answer the question as to whether these behavioural differences are going to have a long-term negative effect on the consumption of red meat. Nevertheless they think that it is very probable that young women will indeed adjust their consumer habits towards more vegetables and white meats once they move away from home.



Marit Rodbotten


Norwegian Food Research Institute



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