Imagine a dry, dusty day in a ghost town on the frontier. A weathered, grizzly cowboy kicks open the swinging doors to the town saloon. He wipes the sweat from his Burt Reynolds moustache with a hairy forearm and lumbers over to the bar counter. A few scattered men sitting around dusty tables lower the brims of their hats and recede into the smoky darkness. The barkeep’s voice quivers as he asks, “What’ll it be today?”

The cowboy leans in, and growls: “Give me a goddamn spritzer.”

You might laugh, but if you were stuck in the fucking desert, you might actually prefer a crisp wine cooler to a shot of whiskey. It’s not about what you want to eat; it’s about who you are. Cowboys eat steaks, not salads. Bros drink beers, not Breezers. When it comes down to it, men eat “manly things,” and when we don’t, people notice. If I come back to the table with a plate of tofu when I could have picked Alice’s Savory Herb Meatballs (known by Carl Chauvin ’12 as “the savoriest meatballs in the world”), I have to defend my choice to even my closest friends.

“Why in the world didn’t you go for the meatballs, you idiot? They’re the savoriest!” I don’t really have a legitimate excuse: I’m not a vegetarian, I don’t eat Kosher, I have nothing against ball-shaped meats and I have no beef with Alice. In fact, I like meatballs. But sometimes I’d rather eat something light and healthy. Still, there’s something weird about the guy who takes the tofu over the meatball. There’s something off with the cowboy who takes the salad over the steak. Food is a victim of the same gender norms that plague our choice of clothing, hairstyle and dog breed.

How did we come to expect men to eat one thing and women to eat another? I have theories.

  1. The Sciencey Theory: Men and women have different body types and different metabolisms, so generally, he needs more calories than she does. But steak calories are more manly than seitan calories. Next theory.
  2. The Badgering Mother Theory: We just can’t escape that nagging voice of our mother telling us to eat more because we are growing young men or eat less because we’ll never find husbands with thighs like those.
  3. The “You-Are-What-You-Eat” Theory: To be a real manly man, you need to eat foods that your caveman predecessor would have hunted: huge hunks of freshly slaughtered bison meat, washed down with a dark, heavy brew. To be a true womanly woman, you need to show your feminine finesse: boiled quinoa, blanched asparagus, and some cucumber slices floating in a glass of ice water.

People sometimes engage in casual teasing when it comes to gender expectations. I do it too, and it usually seems harmless. Hell, I know many capable female drivers, yet I still make the odd “women can’t drive” joke every now and then. But maybe having that sentiment in the air, even just now and then, makes it present nonetheless.

Any educated person will tell you that obesity is a huge problem. So maybe it’s time we stop cracking wise at the dude eating the Boca Burger. The joke’s pretty old anyway.