The Problem with Gendering Food
Two recent trend pieces have attempted to coin new terms related to food and those who consume it: The Boston Globe's "hegan," or male vegans, and The New York Times' "femivore," or female urban homesteader. Both articles were irritating in the way that trend pieces usually are; the trends themselves are dubious at best and generally a hallmark of lazy journalism. Beyond that, though, pieces like this can be severely damaging.
If we look at the cultural connotations associated with food, it is already bizarrely gendered in ways that have been examined elsewhere more thoroughly than the scope of this essay allows. Suffice to say food is feminine in the home, and masculine when it becomes professional. There are volumes written on this topic; Charlotte Druckman's recent essay in Gastronomica, "Why Are There No Great Female Chefs?" (warning: PDF), comes to mind. What essays like Druckman's seek to do is provide evidence as to why this gender divide exists, and possibly find paths to close the gap.
The Globe and Times articles are doing the opposite: they are artificially gendering aspects of food culture that don't naturally align themselves according to traditional views of what is male and female. The greatest potential food has is to be a unifying force: everyone has to eat, and food is one of the best ways to experience other cultures. By creating artificial subgroups, The Globe's Kathleen Price and The Times' Peggy Orenstein are actively preventing this process from happening.
Trends are trends; people will eat cupcakes one week and bacon the next, and newspapers will write about it. It's not that men who are vegan or women who raise chickens are inherently bad, it's when we group them and exclude others from these practices that it becomes dangerous. It's self-defeating in terms of progress and self-serving for the papers. Why are we doing this to ourselves?