The Problem with Gendering Food

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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?

—Paula Forbes

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6 Comments

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  1. PR

    Agreed. And in addition to all that, the words don't even make sense. If a carnivore is a person that eats meat (from the Latin "carne" for flesh) and an herbivore is a person that eats plants, wouldn't that make a femivore someone who eats females? Freaky.

    • Soleil

      When I first heard the term, I thought "femivore" meant lesbians or bisexual women who only ate sustainable pussy. Heehee.

  2. Ash

    I find it specially funny how some men had to change the word vegan in order to not feel emasculated by what they eat.

  3. I genuinely heard a feminist on the radio railing against sexism in history, making the comment "Why is it called history? It's time we make way for HERstorians." There is still a gender gap, but these kind of ignorant statements are not the way to close it and surely gendered neologisms only widen the divide!

  4. Jonathan B. Horen

    "Hegan" reads like someone trying to turn Arnold Stang into Arnold Schwarzenegger.

  5. Adam

    Brava, Ms. Forbes. There are plenty of things we can gender in the world that contain some meaning. Food need not be one of them. Unless you are a botanist and are sexing plants, you should probably avoid discussing food and gender in the same breath.

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