Food is about nutrition and health as much as it is about communication. The food choices we make relate to our identity, our interactions, and our culture. While research on food and health is abundant, research into food as a process of communication remains scarce. Charlotte De Backer fills this niche with her research (https://www.uantwerpen.be/en/projects/food-media-society/). At current De Backer and colleagues mainly look at how to effectively communicate about food (cSBO InFlOOD, FWO project, VLAIO- Meat The Challenge). The focus of the running projects is on how communication influences food consumption behavior. The goal of this Meat, Men & Masculinities proposal is to also study how food choices influence communication.
The starting point of this proposal is the widespread cultural belief that "real men eat meat", and the growing resistance towards this idea. Together with Gaëlle Ouvrein, De Backer is currently conducting pilot studies that show that meat eaters and vegetarians/vegans stereotype each other and react to bashing comments in ways that ache towards polarization, especially among male populations. Ouvrein, an international expert in (celebrity) bashing behavior is therefore co-supervisor of this proposal.
Departing from the socio-ecological model, this Meat, Men & Masculinities project will study how choices to eat or not to eat meat interact with communication processes at the level of (1) the individual, (2) interpersonal interactions and (3) culture. First, at the level of the individual, it is well known that, compared to women, men have stronger pro-meat attitudes that manifest at both explicit rational- and implicit, unconscious levels. We have recently shown, however, that not all men are alike, and that differences in masculine identities predict differences in men's explicit attitudes towards meat consumption. The question that will be addressed in this proposal is if similar differences in masculinities can also predict differences in attitudes and motives at unconscious, implicit levels. Implicit attitudes and motives are less prone to cultural change, but if these can be changed, they offer a more powerful and sustainable end goal for interventions. Second, at the level of culture, mass media messages about food increase in number every day. Research has shown that mass media reinforce beliefs like "real men eat meat", but these studies are outdated and scant attention has been paid to online media messages about Meat, Men & Masculinities. We thus aim to study if and how current print- and online media frame factual information about Meat, Men & Masculinities. To narrow down online media, we will focus on Instagram and Twitter, known for their abundant, and often outspoken messages about food. Third, focusing on the interpersonal level, it is known that meat is a moralizing topic, and there are assumptions that meat polarizes people into those who do and do not eat meat. We plan to empirically investigate if this is the case, and how this in the end also relates to communication at the individual and cultural level.
For all this, we plan to adopt a holistic multimethod approach. Quantitative and qualitative content analyses will be used to study media messages about Meat, Men & Masculinities. Self-report (online) surveys will be combined with psychophysiological measures to investigate how men self-identify in relation to meat, react to (social) media messages about meat, and interact with meat eaters and vegetarians/vegans.
In the end the outcomes of this project will lead to a profound understanding of how a seemingly simple choice to "eat or not to eat meat" operates as an important message at the level of personal, interpersonal and cultural communication. This knowledge will have the potential to impact communication strategies of health professionals and marketeers that urgently look for solutions to convince avid (most often male) meat eaters to reduce their meat intake.