In a new series, Masculinity &: I look at Masculinity and men’s relationships with everything from food to fashion, sport to sickness…
Masculinity &: Food
I’ve always thought that men have a strange relationship with food. More so now than ever before.
I knew a lad once, who had a strange habit of boasting about his consumption of food. On reflection it was clearly an indication of fairly significant underlying insecurities but I remember one instance in particular where he told a particularly tedious tale of an incredible number of slices of toast he had once managed to consume. Quite the human feat! Within the boast there was definitely very much an element of wanting to appear “manly” as if the consumption of food – particularly something so blokey as white bread toast (thick slice no doubt) was somehow associated with heightened masculinity.
We mocked him severely but it was a trait in which he wasn’t alone. The consumption of food and the appearance of masculinity seem to be intrinsically linked. Man Vs Food exists as a programme. Cafes advertise “belly buster” full English breakfasts and you can’t move for hipster burger bars that offer obscenely large, unmanageably stacked burgers dripping with cholesterol. Attempting to eat one seems to be a challenge in itself. Rallying against trendy burgers feels like a whole other article, but these days they seem to be trying to out do each other with more and more ridiculous fillings. Competing to see which one can be stacked to the most uneditable height. Undoubtedly an increasing Americanisation of our culture has only added to this phenomenon. A world where everything has to be bigger, bolder and more brash.
So where does masculinity come into it? Does it lie in the old fashioned notions of men having to be strong. Young men are “growing lads” who need to be well fed. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that notion per se. A healthy, balanced diet is of course important but it is this association with volume and manliness that I don’t understand.
Programmes like Man Vs Food peddle the base notion that there is some how a level of accomplishment from stuffing your face. Eating to the point of being uncomfortable. Why?
For me the whole idea is perverse and pathetic. There is a real glutinous angle to all of it. One which I find distasteful and vulgar. We seem to live in a world of uncontrollable want and over consumption, in line with our rampant consumerism and self interest.
And yet what also can’t be ignored within this conversation is that the modern day man is also the one most beset by eating disorders and male anorexia.
Alongside the belly buster breakfasts and big boy breakfasts are “bulkers” and weekend warriors. On the one side protein obsessed numbskulls the other Lance Armstrong wannabes. Where is the balance?
Fitness is a trend which ordinarily you would think should be celebrated but like a lot of things in our society these days it appears to have been taken to the extreme. Young men obsess over the gym and “bulking.” Forget Man Vs Food it is now Man Vs Broccoli as they religiously consume 4 or 5 set meals a day of chicken and veg, washed down with some vile protein shake.
Bigrexia is now a thing. A disorder where men obsess about being “big” to the point of mental illness.
You would think in a world where men are seemingly allowed to be more in touch with their feelings, more open about their emotions and more at home with their appearance we would be living in the age of the healthy, level headed and happy man. But the opposite seems to be true. Male suicide is still the biggest killer of young men and eating disorders at a record high.
What can be done about it? I don’t know. What started as a blog on the ridiculousness of the male obsession with food consumption has underlined a more worrying state of masculinity. My advice would be one of the oldest missives out there – everything in moderation. And be yourself.