ShortList - The Demise of Man Food
An Examination of Male Cuisine, adapted and published in print by Shortlist, 2018 - from my Original Essay.
The Demise Of Man Food
Occasionally, within my standard, late 90’s, semi detached childhood, a hallowed weekend would come around. My mother would disappear onto a “Girl’s only Motown Weekend” at a local holiday camp, and my dad would take sole control of the kitchen, bringing with him the dying craft of male cuisine. For three days we feasted on a conveyor belt of steak, pies, sausages, spice, burgers, other sausages, spice and pretty much any other kind of meat nested in beside potatoes, or baked into a blitz of gravy and saturated crust. And so it goes that, early on, I had been initiated into the cult of “Man Food”.
After all, I was just a hapless pre-teen, ruled exclusively by primal fear and corrupted juvenile lust. I wasn’t to know that little over a decade later us ‘Men’ would be in free-fall, getting shelled off one by one like the pedestaled pheasants we are. I was not to know, back then - chewing cheap steak with my father whilst watching incomprehensible football - that I would be a fossil by the age of 25.
Thankfully, progress has occurred in such a condensed time that I look back on such weekends - such hetero-normative plates - with the same abstracted moral outrage with which I look back on The Yorkie Bar’s “Not For Girls” Slogan, or victorian dancing bears.
I am astounded that at one time we collectively bought into the idea that a Deep Ridge Crinkle Cut Crisp was a dangerous, exclusively male, ‘extreme sport’ of a snack, an idea as pitiful as it is PR spin at its peak.
Add to this the long suffering, colonial bond between blokes and Spice, and suddenly we are looking at a deep rooted horror-show of a male, culinary movement. Butter Chicken boys like me buckling beneath vindaloo machismo, of which there is thankfully little value in 2018, other than as a good album title.
So what ever happened to ’Man Food’? Does it still exist today?
Megan Van Someran, the founder of food futures consultancy brand Canteen, thinks that men are in the middle of a massive sea change in terms of what and how we eat. “Food is becoming more political. From our research we’ve seen that a third of people in the UK use food as a means to express their political and environmental views, and the data is skewed in favour of men.”
It would seem that in the same way men of my past bolstered themselves with skull sized burgers, and dragon shaming curries, the modern man is now turning to the Vegan/Vegetarianism world for their ego hit. Fair enough. It comes with less baggage.
What with gender balance hitting the previously male dominated Health & Fitness industry, the idea that ‘real’ men deal exclusively in real flesh- shreds or steaks - is now as unfashionable as having a chain attached to your jean pocket.
“The plant based offerings are just cooler!” Professes Megan, “They are better looking! Just look at Rebel Kitchen. You feel cooler walking around with it, because it’s saying something. It’s got a story, and a point of view!”
To my mind, maybe this is the only solace against the barrage of marketing; that whether they like it or not, advertisers are shackled parasitically to our own shifting trends and evolving ethics.
For instance, the meat domination of the advertising market is currently in crisis, as indicated by the fact that most fast food outlets are not only offering a Quinoa burger, but also peddling it hard. Though saying this, the madness of recent vegan burger designed to ‘Bleed’ beetroot juice, is indication enough that men are yet to fully grasp the idea that not every meal begins by ritual slaughter.
Perhaps finally, the grotesque sexuality intrinsic to meat marketing is becoming as absurd an idea as that blue liquid they pour on sanitary towels in adverts? As a culture we are no longer as easily fooled, nor as easily herded, or defined en masse, thanks to the machine gun, information age in which we prune.
At its core, the fundamental appeal of ‘Man Food’ is the same as the appeal of our own childhoods; At root, both are beholden only to nostalgia, comfort, and status.
If our attachment to food is also our attachment to our own unbridled youth, then advertisers can infinitely tinker with this bottomless and vulnerable bond. It’s understandable then, that for men, breaking ties with status rich masculine food is as difficult a job as breaking ties with one’s own, indelible past.
As we drift into a strange future, time will continue to starkly reflect our historic, gastronomic transgressions back at us. For now though, I say power to us, flailing men, for managing to snip the seemingly indestructible umbilicus of savage, male history. Thankfully, ‘Man food’ of 2018 is as vague, amorphous and indefinable as ‘Woman Food’ is.
For now, as the data reads, male taste is shifting into the woke world of edible activism, ethics and ‘Good Guy’ responsibility. The question is, what exactly are we over compensating for?
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