Why our lazy obsession with 'Man Food' has became so hard to swallow
One writer witnesses the demise of a culture built on mammoth steaks and extra-hot dhansaks
Occasionally, during my standard, late-nineties, semi-detached childhood, a hallowed weekend would come around. My mother would vanish for a “Girl’s Only Motown Weekend” at a local holiday camp, and my dad would take sole control of the kitchen.
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 indoctrinated into the cult of “Man Food”.
I was just a hapless pre-teen. How was I to know, back then - chewing cheap steak with my father whilst watching 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 with the same abstracted moral outrage with which I look back on Yorkie’s “It’s Not For Girls” slogan, or Victorian dancing bears.
Another world. It’s astounding 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. Then there’s the weird link between spice and masculinity. 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 Someren, the founder of food futures consultancy brand Canteen, thinks that men are in the middle of an enormous gastronomic sea change. “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 world of veganism and vegetarianism for their ego hit.
“The idea that ‘real’ men deal exclusively in real flesh has become as unfashionable as having a chain attached to your jean pocket”
“Also, the plant-based offerings just look cooler,” Van Someren says. “They’re better looking. Just look at Rebel Kitchen. You feel cooler walking around with its products, because it’s saying something. It has a story and a point of view.”
The meat domination of the advertising market is currently in crisis, as indicated by the fact that most fast food joints not only offer a quinoa burger, but peddle it. Hard. Byron has even just launched its first range of vegan milkshakes. The idea that ‘real’ men deal exclusively in real flesh has become as unfashionable as having a chain attached to your jean pocket – although brands are still convinced we won’t eat vegan burgers unless they ‘bleed’ beetroot juice, as if all our meals must begin by ritual slaughter.
Perhaps that will be next to go, and the grotesque link between blood and manly food will become as absurd an idea as that blue liquid they pour on sanitary towels in adverts. As a culture, it seems, we’re no longer so easily fooled, nor as easily herded, or defined en masse, thanks to the machine gun DIY information age we live in.
Thankfully, ‘man food’ in 2018 is as vague, amorphous and indefinable a concept as ‘woman food’. It seems we’ve managed to snip the seemingly indestructible umbilicus of the savage caveman stereotype. And even though it will continue to starkly reflect our historic, gastronomic transgressions back at us, male taste is (for now at least) unmistakeably shifting into the woke world of edible activism, ethics and ‘Good Guy’ responsibility.
Illustration by Sac Magique