Sexism, Food and Obesity

How To Feed A Man

I can barely contain my excitement…

I stumbled upon this book in Waterstones today and thank goodness I did! I hadn’t realised until now just how lost I’d been. I’d always put my relationship difficulties down to personality and lifestyle differences, but now I know the truth: I simply didn’t know how to cook in order to appease my man. These ferocious alpha males need to be fed and watered or they’ll go elsewhere. I am wasting my time studying for a Master’s degree when I should be in the kitchen or out shopping to ensure the house is well-stocked with beer.

On a serious note, one does have to wonder what the PR team were aiming for here. It’s blatantly a stunt, but are there many women who’d happily buy this “Lifestyle Cookery Book” or “A personal collection of recipes, poetry, philosophy and art” with its not-so-subliminal messages?! I’d like to think not, but this book exists so there must be a market somewhere.

The visual imagery should be enough to put anyone off. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that the front cover has a very strategically placed cake. Message: give a man food and sex and he will stay your man. Just inside the cover is a photo of darling Stasha, dressed in skimpy hot pants and carrying two beers. Message: dress ‘provocatively’ and give your man beer and he will stay your man. But just to tone this down and make it “cutesy”, Stasha is pictured in the kitchen, sporting  a “I ❤ my man” apron – she obviously didn’t want to be too full on with the sexual undertones.

The book is horrifying because it knocks feminism back into the 1950s and perpetuates gender stereotypes along the lines of food. It suggests that there is a way that men eat, and that there is a way that women eat, and as a vehement foodie (and a mild feminist), I abhor reducing enjoyment of food to essentialist constructs: food should unite us, not divide us.

I encounter assumptions of how the sexes tackle their meals on a regular basis, normally because I’ve ordered something that apparently women just never, or just shouldn’t, order. A week or so ago, I ordered bath chaps at a restaurant. Bath chaps refers to pig cheek, and  is served on the bone, with teeth and all, and surrounded by incredible amounts of fat and crispy crackling.

Bath chaps - pig cheek, surrounded by lots of fat and crispy crackling

Bath chaps – pig cheek, surrounded by lots of fat and crispy crackling

The waiter arrived, parading the 1/3 of the pig’s head on a board and blanked me. He turned to my father and with a beaming smile said, “I presume this is for you, sir?” Without waiting for a response, he proceeded to place it in front of my father.

I fixed him with a steely look. “Actually, that would be mine.”

“Oh! I’ll serve it with teeth facing away from you then!” he announced smugly.

Over the past year, I’ve had other incidents.  On a visit to Byron Burger, my male friend was served with the bacon-cheese burger and I was given the “Skinny”, and on a visit to The Breakfast Club, the waitress tried to serve me a veggie breakfast and my boyfriend the “Full Monty”.

Annoying, smug guy aside, I don’t actually blame the other waiters too much for their assumptions. We all have stereotypes and it would be hypocritical to pretend we don’t. But we should be aware of these stereotypes and we should question them.

I don’t believe in one-way sexism: my male friend and boyfriend were just as caught up in the gender assumptions as I was. What was a man doing ordering the diet burger or the veggie option? If we stop to consider that though, why is that odd?

A lot of gender stereotypes towards food stem from gender representations in the media. The ideal woman is frequently portrayed as borderline anorexic, which leads to endless diets and the growth of “healthier options” for women. The message is that women should be concerned about their weight, and, by implication or omission, men shouldn’t worry too much about theirs. This is what society dictates is acceptable, and of course, this is something that we should challenge.

Let’s look at the statistics. Figures from the Department of Health show that men need to watch their weight as much as women. A 2010 study found that 42% of men were overweight compared to 32% of women, although obesity was 26% across both genders. In addition to that, Foresight’s Tackling Obesities: Future Choices 2007 report predicted that if no action was taken, 60% of men, 50% of women and 25% of children in Britain would be obese by 2050. Men definitely seem to be doing worse, although the population as a whole is a cause for concern.

There’s no easy solution, but tackling our attitudes towards food, and associated gender stereotypes, is a logical place to start. I’m highly sceptical of diets that  recommend cutting out fat, or only drinking soup, or eating upside down on one leg whilst wearing a party hat. The fact is that we eat too much, and we eat the wrong things. If we stuck to the basics of a healthy lifestyle – eat three balanced meals a day, with moderate portions and variety, avoid snacking, and do some form of regular exercise – then there wouldn’t be a market for diets. Of course, modern lifestyles make this hard to achieve but, in the end, it comes down to what we prioritise.

Healthy diets should be a priority: everyone, male or female, should be paying attention to what they eat. We need a serious attitude change – one that fights the acceptance of junk or processed food, and struggles against the legitimisation of unhealthy produce in the name of modern living. This is one of the reasons why I find Jamie Oliver so inspiring. Through his Better Food Foundation and other projects, he is fighting for change; he is fighting to revolutionise people’s outlook in an inclusive way.

Perhaps this gets to the nub of the matter, and why Stasha’s “How To Feed A Man” is just so nauseating. It reduces cooking to some kind of social strategy. Cooking for friends and family should be fun. Eating  is a time when people should come together, sit down as one unit, and discuss and converse. Our modern lifestyles lead us to forget the importance of dining together. If food isn’t inclusive, if we aren’t united in our attitudes towards healthier food, then there isn’t much hope for the future. We need to work together to stop Foresight’s obesity forecasts from becoming a depressing reality.

_______________________________________________________________________________

I am a girl. I eat sensibly and I exercise. Which means that I can occasionally eat things like this:

400g cajun-spiced ribeye steak, medium-rare

400g cajun-spiced ribeye steak, medium-rare (I have to confess this was due to the gluttony of my family and I really couldn’t finish this!)

Nando's DIVINE Choc-a-lot cake, served with cream

Nando’s DIVINE Choc-a-lot cake, served with cream / my favourite dessert ever

Gourmet Burger Kitchen's Taxidriver: Brioche bun, American cheese, crispy onion ring, cajun relish, dill pickle, salad & smoked chilli mayo

Gourmet Burger Kitchen’s Taxidriver: Brioche bun, American cheese, crispy onion ring, cajun relish, dill pickle, salad & smoked chilli mayo

10 thoughts on “Sexism, Food and Obesity

  1. I never thought of gender studies/feminism from a food perspective, but what you say is completely true (at least, I’ve witnessed similar books and situations before). It’s a shame books like this are still being published. Let’s just hope they’re more “gag books” than books people legitimately read. Thanks for sharing!

    – Jonathan I http://styleoverstress.wordpress.com

  2. Hi Jonathan,

    Thanks for stopping by. To be honest, I hadn’t really thought of food like that either. It just so happened that a series of events made me stop and think about the assumptions in society, and it’s good to know that you’ve witnessed such situations too.

    The book has to be tongue-in-cheek, but if you look at the 5* praise it receives on Amazon.co.uk, it’s a little disheartening ….although the 1* review by a man is worth reading for laughs! 🙂

    Phoebe

    The Amazon reviews:
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/product-reviews/1905794290/ref=cm_cr_dp_synop?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending#RHRJFCKK7ZY3I

  3. I chuckled all the way through this article (in a good way of course), what an appalling book I must say! I’ve not read it, nor do I plan to but if the cover alone is anything to go by I will steer clear of this one. However, like you said, it’s a bit disheartening that of all places, Waterstones are selling these books, so presumeably, there must be a market out there for it. Hm.

    Thank you for a great article, I also read the 1* review on Amazon! Brilliant!

    • Hi Jenny, thanks so much for reading and for the feedback 🙂 I’m really glad you enjoyed the post and that you were as alarmed at me at the existence of a market for such a book!

      Pheebz

      PS: Yeah, that Amazon review was fab!

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  5. This reminds me of an amusing time had in Wales recently.

    It was steak night at the local pub and our party (mostly men) were in the process of ordering how they’d like their steaks cooked. There was the usual hum of well done or medium, or for those ‘braver’ ones, medium-rare. I was last to order and so proudly said blue, as that’s how I like my steak. I was promptly stared at in disbelief by all the men that had ordered. What was a GIRL doing ordering a BLUE steak?! The chef, however, looked as though he wanted to marry me.

    Later, the steaks all arrived and mine was cooked just how I liked it. The chef came out part way through our meal and was only interested in finding out how my steak was, as I was the only one who ‘knew how to order a proper steak’…

    I love blue steak – not only because it tastes amazing, but also because I always get the same reaction when ordering it!

    • Amazing! Go you! I hope you gave the men withering looks 😉 I love the fact that the chef too a proper interest in you as well haha! I can’t do blue steak but I’m now a “brave” medium-rare 😛 I’ve been working my way down from my “well-done” ignorance as a child…

      Let’s go dining together in London sometime soon! And I’m sooo excited for Sunday 😀

  6. Pingback: Review: The Breakfast Club, Spitalfields « Pheebz Eatz

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