Did Men Evolve to Hate Vegetables and Women to Be Vegetarian?

Obligatory disclaimers: Any implied hypothesis in this post is more speculative pondering than a scientific claim. That feels like a major cop-out, but there just isn’t enough non-anecdotal, non-folk knowledge for me to take a confident position on this. Further, keep in mind that we’re talking about groups, not individuals; it’s easy to find individuals well outside the group averages. For further clarification of how I feel about this from a thousand foot view, check out my piece on Darwinian feminism.

Just as there’s truth underlying what makes comedy funny, there’s some truth in stereotypes. Rather than a reflection of truth, stereotypes typically represent a cultural amplification of minor differences. As such, it’s difficult to disentangle what’s real from what’s cultural (yes, I just said culture isn’t real). In the realm of stereotypes, the association between men and meat is pretty strong. From the [debunked] “Man the Hunter” hypothesis to the staple imagery of Dad “manning” the grill, we have no shortage of references from which to draw. Maybe it’s the fire, maybe it’s the meat, but I’ve always embraced the opportunity to run the grill. I’ve also been curious about where cultural indoctrination gives way to instinct in this area. Recently, my attention was directed back to this from a strange direction.

As part of the ongoing paleo debate about the amount of animal products vs. plant products we should consume to achieve optimal health, I turned my attention to vitamin C. The topic is doubly interesting to me because, from a “why evolution is true” standpoint, the genes to synthesize vitamin C singlehandedly refute the notion of an “intelligent” design. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is necessary for certain biological functions, and therefore, most animals have evolved to synthesize it. Humans have the gene coding for vitamin C synthesis, but it has been deactivated. The [almost certainly correct] hypothesis is that it was deactivated during a period of high dietary fruit consumption in distant primate evolution. Since vitamin C was ample in the diet, there was no positive selection pressure for the activated gene. Which brings us to scurvy…

Scurvy

Acute vitamin C deficiency in humans leads to scurvy. I noticed a strangely consistent risk-factor for scurvy while doing preliminary research on the condition. It seems that being a single man is itself a risk factor. It was listed in every result I saw from a basic Google search on the topic so I’m chalking this one up to common knowledge for medical professionals. Not only is being male and single a risk factor, but it’s also referred to colloquially, and in medical literature as “bachelor scurvy” (Connelly, 1982) or “widower scurvy” (Hirschmann, et al. 1999).

One of the hypotheses forwarded to explain why men are more prone to scurvy is that they don’t know how to cook. That seems strange considering that cooking destroys vitamin C. It’s found in high concentrations in a wide range of foods (raw fruit in particular) readily available to any grocery store culture. If a single guy can get to the store to buy hot dogs, he can buy an orange. Thus, I have to emphatically reject the “single guys can’t cook” hypothesis before even considering whether it’s factually accurate to say that “men can’t cook”.

Since vitamin C is ridiculously easy to consume, I’m inclined to view “bachelor scurvy” as a result of voluntary food selection choice. It seems the “single” part is because women opt for an increase in fruit/vegetable consumption rather than a Leave it to Beaver cliche of women in the kitchen. As it turns out, quasi-scientific studies confirm a certain level of disdain for vegetables by men…

Most Vegetarians Are Women

I think it’s safe to say that the go-t0 resource for wisdom related to evolutionary based diets is Vegetarian Times (VT). Thus, I’m happy to report that a study they commissioned in 1992 found that women are more than twice as likely to be vegetarians as men. At that time 68% of vegetarians were women compared to the remaining 32% of men. They went on to speculate that this difference is because women care about health and men don’t. There may be some truth to that, but since the assertion was unsupported, I remain highly skeptical. There are certainly other explanations available.

The premise of the VT article was that the president of the North American Vegetarian Society (a heterosexual female) couldn’t find a suitable vegetarian man to date (understandable, as I have recurring nightmares of this guy and his hat). Tapping into folk wisdom once again, I refer you to Pulp Fiction…

“…my girlfriend is a vegetarian, which pretty-much makes me a vegetarian.” – @ 0:53 below
[cft format=0]

Rather than assuming that only 32% of men are vegetarians, I wonder if it isn’t true that less than 32% of men would be vegetarians if they weren’t influenced by, or trying to impress, vegetarian women.

In a sidebar of the same VT article, a referenced study surveyed individuals in the 18-35 age bracket regarding their food cravings. The results showed that 33% of men craved meat or fish in the previous year, compared to only 9% of women. It seems that when thinking about taste and/or satisfaction, men display an almost fourfold increase in a desire for meat when compared to women. So aside from the ideas that men can’t cook and don’t care about health, what evolutionary explanations are available?

Hunter-Gatherer Explanation?

If the bulk of human evolution consisted of hunter-gatherer tribes in which men did most of the hunting (and therefore killing), and women did most of the gathering/foraging, could natural selection have favored mental traits that favored men with less reservations about killing animals? Could this have resulted in males more comfortable with processing, and ultimately in eating, meat? In environments in which hunting and eating animals afforded survival and reproductive advantages, it would make sense for males who psychologically objected to this practice to suffer increased selection pressure. In other words, quasi-moral vegetarian tendencies would be a direct disadvantage to men in hunting societies.

The meat craving study referenced in VT also found that the gap in cravings between men and women decreased from 24% to 16% in populations over the age of 65. While the 36-64 age group is missing from the article, we can make some assumptions about the 65+ group. Perhaps most importantly, this is beyond the reproductive age of nearly all women. Women’s cravings for meat more than double from the lower age bracket to the upper one. Thus, there could be a relevant factor in the consumption of plant matter in relation to fecundity (fertility) and/or diet during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The data in this study is insufficient to clarify this, but it’s an interesting question worthy of further study.

Parting Ponderings

First, I’m interested in any research or insight that may be relevant to this question. I find it unlikely that there isn’t research that I simply missed. If you can point out other information that may shed more light on this, please add it in the comments below.

As I said in the beginning, I can’t commit to a solid hypothesis on this. There seems to be some instinctual inclination toward increased meat collection, preparation, and consumption in men. There’s certainly a significantly larger percentage of women who are vegetarians. I find current explanations of why men would shun consumption of vitamin C containing foods to be absolutely unconvincing. So… what’s the deal?

References
Connelly, T. J., Becker, A. and McDonald, J. W. (1982), Bachelor Scurvy. International Journal of Dermatology, 21: 209–210.
Hirschmann J.V., Raugi G.J. (1999), Adult Scurvy. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 41(6): 895-906.

52 Comments
  1. David Csonka 5 years ago

    One of the main suppositions here is that men did most of the hunting; how much evidence is there really for that theory?

    • Author
      Andrew 5 years ago

      As I mentioned briefly, the "man the hunter" hypothesis has been debunked. However, that's misleading because what was debunked that hunting provided the vast majority of calories for hunter-gatherer tribes. The division of labor between hunting men and "foraging" women seems to be fairly consistent. I put foraging in quotes because it doesn't necessarily mean that women weren't involved in collecting food from animal sources. It's likely that women were also involved in gathering seafood (among other things). I haven't seen any convincing studies indicating women were actively involved in the actual hunting of large game on a regular basis.

      I'm going from memory here, so I'm sure the above could be stated more accurately.

  2. lee 5 years ago

    I think more women are vegetarians due to empathy. Women evolved higher empathy to assist them in child rearing, however this same empathy makes them more susceptible than men to the emotionally fraught offerings of the animal rights movements, empathising with the plights of the animals involved, and in some cases becoming vegetarian as a result.

    I also think that women are more tuned into health issues than men. An early introduction to the diet industry means that women are more likely to be aware of nutritional issues than men and the implications that poor nutrition has. There is more pressure on women to conform to a certain body size, and therefore women are also less likely to take an 'I don't care' attitude to what they eat. Think about how many 24 year old bachelors are on diets or healthy eating plans compared to 24 year old single women. Most women I know will try to eat some fruit or veg in a day, even if they don't like it much – they feel pressure to at least try to be healthy. My partner doesn't care, and if I didn't put veg on his plate and give him a multivitamin every day, he wouldn't bother at all.

  3. pieter d 5 years ago

    Andrew, a relevant hunter-gatherer paper: http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/EP07601616.pdf

    Especially figure 3 is interesting.

    Cheers

    • Author
      Andrew 5 years ago

      Thanks. That's definitely on point.

      I specifically searched that journal and couldn't find anything. :) The fun of research is guessing how authors word things!

  4. Aaron 5 years ago

    I tend to think women are more prone to be vegetarians because they would get second picks at the meat the male killed. Maybe they had to fill up on veggies and fruit because of this? Kind of like when a female lion goes out and kills a zebra, the males gets to eat first even though the lioness killed it. Nature is fascinating.

    • David Csonka 5 years ago

      Methinks that a tribe would want women who are pregnant or expecting to get first pick at meat sources.

    • Author
      Andrew 5 years ago

      The reproductive advantage of hunters that's been observed in modern hunter-gatherers seems to be derived from "Zahavian signaling", aka "The Handicap Principle". Basically, hunters demonstrate superior reproductive fitness by being successful hunters. This fitness cue is communicated to women who use it as a determining metric in sexual selection.

      That's kind of abstract in reference to Aaron's comment, but it basically speaks to David's point. Put another way, the best hunters tend to end up consuming less than their share as a demonstration that they're so fit that they can thrive despite being calorically handicapped.

      I'm not sure this is the study I'm thinking of, but it's a start: Hunting Ability and Reproductive Success among Male Ache Foragers

  5. bubba29 5 years ago

    i replied to a post nikoley did on the 30 bananas a day peoiple. he posted a fruititarian retreat video. the women looked hot and the men looked like prison camp residents. your post raises the same question i had. here is what i said "in hunter gather civilizations, the women were typically the gatherers. did you notice how the women looked pretty healthy while the men looked like skinny unhealthy women? makes you wonder if women, because they gathered, were more adapted to eat that type of food."

  6. Don Matesz 5 years ago

    Andrew,

    I have mused along these lines myself. The paradox is that while women often express a reduced attraction to meat and greater attraction to vegetables, women during menstruating years actually need red meat 'more' than men due to their great lifetime loss of blood nutrients in menses. Thus women who get encouraged to eat meat by men tend to have better health than women who follow their vegetarian inclinations.

    Looking from the other side, like the fact about single men being more prone to scurvy than married men, there are many other indicators that married men are healthier than single men. Married men have overall lower mortality from all causes, and longer average lifespans, than single men.

    I have come to this idea: Although we appear to be separate, men and women are co-evolved to be interdependent. Women who link with men get more meat and consequently have less anemia, better brain function, and healthier offspring; and men who link with women get more vegetables, better emotional functions, and longer lives. Rather than see the sexes as separate, they are as interdependent as the heart and liver in an individual.

    • Author
      Andrew 5 years ago

      I wonder too if perhaps I partially (and accidentally) answered the question, but was looking at it from the wrong direction. Namely, perhaps men also prefer cooked foods more than women do, and this in turn leads to consumption of lower levels of bioavailable vitamin C. That's total speculation as I'm not aware of a "man the pyromaniac" hypothesis.

      How does your "co-evolved" reconciliation differ from the heavily criticized evolutionary mechanism of "group selection"?

      Another constant concept in paleo conversations is whether long life is relevant. It seems that evolution tends to favor shorter lifespans rather than longer. Of course, this is relative to reproductive age. So… I wonder whether the shorter lifespan of pair-bonded men has any significant reproductive advantage. It could very well be true, and also exert little to no adaptive pressure.

      • Don Matesz 5 years ago

        "So… I wonder whether the shorter lifespan of pair-bonded men has any significant reproductive advantage. It could very well be true, and also exert little to no adaptive pressure."

        Did you mean longer lifespan? I think along the lines of the grandmother hypothesis…most likely long-lived men leave more total offspring with the best survival skills by passing along accumulated wisdom. Accords with the observed importance of elders in H-G societies.

        I'm thinking that evolution favored individuals who forged bonds with opposite sex. Not selecting for groups, but for individuals who pair-bonded.

  7. PKA 5 years ago

    The empathy and health concern argument has more merit than evolutionary adaptation, in my admittedly only observationally based opinion. The vegetarians I know don't want to hurt animals and are disgusted by animal fats. But the only reason they are disgusted is because of social conditioning– the recent fear of animal fat and the perception that if a female were to indulge in fat, it means that she is a glutton. If a woman is overweight, the judgment she receives or her fear of judgment greatly influences not eating meat/fat, because she doesn't want anyone watching her to think, "That woman shouldn't be eating that." This is particularly evident in that a non-vegetarian woman typically doesn't get guilted for eating a chicken breast, but feels like she shouldn't eat steak.

    If we didn't begin or currently have the "fat makes you fat," then I suspect that there wouldn't be so many women trying to eat less meat, or claiming that they should.

    • Author
      Andrew 5 years ago

      It seems that empathy is likely also an evolutionary adaptation (‘The Compassionate Instinct‘), but that doesn’t alter your point.

      The Vegetarian Times article quoted above mentions that “health” is the most reported reason for adopting a vegetarian diet, but they don’t mention any numbers comparing the other reasons. It’s safe to say that a significant number of vegetarians are “moral” vegetarians.

      I get the body image motivation and the anti-dietary fat propaganda to some extent, but body image isn’t the only health marker. In other words, even if men care less about body image, I’m not convinced that they’re less concerned with their health.

      Implicit in the conventional wisdom linking fat to animal products and unhealthiness is that men would also have to be more resistant to this message than women for it to only “sink in” with women. This would have to be explained as well. Do men instinctively reject the message? Do women care more? I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem like an easy question to answer.

      Perhaps the women surveyed meant body image when they responded that health was the important factor in being vegetarian, but there’s not enough data here to disentangle the factors.

      • PKA 5 years ago

        My apologies, my format wasn't very clear. Empathy is an evolutionary trait, I should have defined what I meant by evolutionary adaption in that context to be something that is physiological, if only because until the fat/cholesterol craze went down, I can't recall hearing or reading any instances where women in societies would avoid meat on purpose should it be available to them. I'd be very interested in reading any sources that say I am wrong in this case!

        "Implicit in the conventional wisdom linking fat to animal products and unhealthiness is that men would also have to be more resistant to this message than women for it to only "sink in" with women. This would have to be explained as well. Do men instinctively reject the message? Do women care more? I don't know, but it doesn't seem like an easy question to answer. "

        As a woman, I can't pretend to try to get inside the head of a man with any real authority. You might have to do that for me! But, off the top of my head, in addition to fat being associated with meat in conventional wisdom, it's also associated with protein. And incorrectly, a lot of articles directed towards women say that "women/people eat too much protein", that "we don't need as much as people say we do," etc. But conventional wisdom doesn't contradict the fact that protein is necessary to build muscles. Few women want to have bigger muscles, but I'd wager most men wouldn't mind. So perhaps for men "you want to build muscle, don't you?!" outweighs the "but fat makes you fat!" messages that are tied to meat consumption.

        Finally, generally speaking, it's my understanding that statistically (please correct me if I'm wrong), there are more obese women than men, and that women are hormonally predisposed to carry more fat than men. So it could be that there are simply more fat women TO care, versus caring more.

        So perhaps yes to your two questions? But like you said, exceptionally difficult to separate all the variables. I agree that for women/conventional wisdom, "health" is often synonymous with "thin." And we here know that's not always true.

    • sibyl 4 years ago

      All of the women I know who are vegetarians are motivated in part, if not in whole, by the belief that they will be 'healthier' aka THINNER as vegetarians, rather than a dislike for meat. In my limited observations, it's one part body image/ social pressures, and the other part is empathy for cute lil' animals.

  8. Victoria 5 years ago

    As someone mentioned above, I think it is most likely to do with empathy, which is, indeed, an evolved trait. I think, however, that it is a recent bastardization of a useful trait. Someone suggested that it is adaptive because men would only bring the scraps of a hunt home, but as Andrew pointed out, the 'spoils of hunting' were most likely used to improve one's reproductive fitness by impressing mates. A hunter that brings home meat is better able to provide for their mate(s?) and offspring. Additionally, this is entirely speculative, but I could imagine that in cultures where men do much of the hunting, women do most of the cooking… Hunting, the old fashioned way, is very labor intensive, and then to have to bring the carcass back is even more work… I'd assume it's most likely that women did most of the actual butchering of the meat, again suggesting that vegetarianism, and the apparent disgust some women have for meat, is a modern development.

    Empathy allows us to sympathize with the pain of others, and when it comes to rearing children, this helps keep kids alive. Perhaps being a vegetarian is a female's 'peacock tail'… a show that you are fit enough to bear the burden of missing out on such a nutrient rich source as meat. Additionally, you are so empathetic you will be a great mother?

    • Author
      Andrew 5 years ago

      The empathy and vegetarianism thing seems to be fairly well agreed upon in the comments. I still don't see an explanation of why men would instinctively shun fruit/vegetables. The discussion of why single men are more prone to scurvy seems to reinforce the instinct. Any thoughts on that side of the coin?

      • Victoria 5 years ago

        Maybe this, too, has to do more with women's requirements than men's disdain. During pregnancy and lactation women have a higher demand for vitamins and minerals- things like folic acid and Vitamin A are what really jump to mind. These are high in offal, but there's only a limited amount of liver and kidney in a carcass, and they're also more prone to spoilage than muscle tissue (I wonder if things were/are field dressed in HG cultures, and if some things (liver/heart/brains) were eaten fresh on site instead of taking back.) Perhaps women are keen to eat more fruits and vegetables because their requirements for the vitamins are higher- perhaps it was also advantageous for men to dislike them so the women got more, producing healthier offspring.

        Actually- maybe there's something in the field-dressing argument. There's negligible Vitamin C in muscle tissue, but significant quantities in some offal- especially raw. This is all highly hypothetical, but if men hunted, field dressed, ate the vitamin rich, but highly prone to spoilage offal, and then brought the carcass home, women would need to get their vitamins from another, vegetative, source. Highly speculative, but fun!

      • Don Matesz 5 years ago

        Are you sure this is "instinct" or might it be cultural. Do we have evidence that the same occurs in all cultures, e.g. including those in which the diet is largely vegetables and fruits, such as Kitavans, or perhaps Chinese?

        • Author
          Andrew 5 years ago

          It's all cultural to some degree. The question is whether the cultural influence effects behavior in men and women to the same degree. It seems to me that there's a difference in the way cultural influence in this domain imprints on men's and women's minds, as evidenced by known behavioral differences. But… without better data, it's hard to look at our own culture, let alone compare it to others.

  9. Chase Night 5 years ago

    I love this article. My gf went veg this summer. I know she wishes I would too, but I can't. I hate the very texture of veggies and fruits. If they don't gag me in my mouth, they gag me when they hit my stomach. It's like I have the digestive tract of a dog that involuntarily rejects all plant matter besides potatoes. Thus, I live on meat, complemented with cheese and bread. Not very healthy I'm told, yet every time I have a blood panel taken it turns out I'm in perfect health. I've never thought about it too hard, but I keep hearing about Paleo and it's making me think about why I am the way I am.

    • Author
      Andrew 5 years ago

      Hunter-gatherer bands that live on low levels of plant matter (e.g. Inuit) are able to do so in part because they eat all parts of the animals. As Victoria mentioned, essential vitamins and minerals (including vitamin C) are found in higher concentrations in parts of animals that modern humans tend to not eat. Heart, liver, brains, et cetera have completely different chemical makeups than muscle tissue (meat). It makes some sense that a taste for "animals" would have been enough for individuals to get most nutrients across evolutionary time, but also end up falling short in some areas thanks to our grocery store culture.

  10. Emily 5 years ago

    I have a hard time wrapping my brain around this one. Empathy? Really? I think women are more likely to be vegetarian because they *think* it will make them skinny. I feel the social construct must overwhelm the biological one. But it's just a feeling.

    • Author
      Andrew 5 years ago

      Oh! This comment is totally going in your file. :)

    • Jorge 5 years ago

      I was thinking exactly the same thing.
      Re: vegan women being hot. Wait until they are over 40…

    • Jamie 5 years ago

      I'm with Emily on this one. As a nutritionist working one on one with people, I am yet to meet a woman who is vegetarian out of empathy, feeling at one with the planet, or because it 'feels' instinctively right, at any more than a superficial level. When pushed, vegetarianism is largely about eliminating the easiest thing they think they can eliminate to achieve a perceived body image. Meat is, after all, full of fat. And as we all know, fat makes you fat. So if one eliminates meat, one can get skinny with the added bonus that it is the world's healthiest diet and helps to save the planet at the same time.

      • Author
        Andrew 5 years ago

        Y'all forced Andrew to do research and [apparently] prove you wrong. Oh noes! :)

        But first, I'd say that being a nutritionist hurts your argument because your exposure is certainly influenced by a strong selection bias toward health motivations. Indeed, the study shows that ethical reasons outpaced health reasons almost 2:1.

        "[Two] distinct initial motivations for vegetarianism have been identified: personal health and animal welfare. [A] poll of members of the VegForum concerning initial motivations indicated that out of 67 respondents, 45% had originally become vegetarian for ethical reasons, 27% for health reasons, 1% for environment reasons, and the remainder for reasons including aesthetics (look, taste or smell of meat) and religion."

        Based on this study… the curiosity posed in my original post is even more prescient than I had guessed.

        On another note… is this line from the abstract a suggestion of vegetarian confirmation bias, or what? "The data indicate that vegetarians may follow a trajectory, in which initial motivations are augmented over time by other reasons for sustaining or further restricting their diet."

        Oh wait… maybe it does!!! "However, an initial health or ethical motivation may often be a starting point for a conceptual generalisation. Michael, a health vegetarian, subsequently adopted a wide range of environmentalist behaviours that had distanced him from his friends. Tom, on the other hand, began his
        trajectory as an ethical vegetarian but subsequently added health and the environment to his list of reasons. These subsequent commitments may be cognitive or affective strategies to bolster an initial decision, or may be a consequence of research or discussions with other vegetarians."

        Reference
        Health, ethics and environment: A qualitative study of vegetarian motivations. Appetite. Volume 50, Issues 2-3 (2008). Pages 422-429

        • Jamie 5 years ago

          So how do we know that online contributors to forums such as 'VegForum' do not self-select individuals who are more likely to have an ethical bent? And I would also add that saying you are vegetarian to be skinny sounds a little bit too up yourself for most peoples liking and only those who are actually in fact up themselves (or those born in the astrological sign of Leo – see 'up one's self'), would actually be forthcoming in admiting that. The rest are perhaps more likely to hide behind 'ethics/environment' as their stated strategy even though these reasons might in actual fact be secondary to a rather more self-centred primary motivation. Surveys of people won't pick this up.

          • Author
            Andrew 5 years ago

            The survey in VegForum was not conducted by these researchers. This researchers responsible for this paper conducted their own qualitative interviews with individuals with the express intent of controlling for the problems you mention. The authors state that the VegForum survey independently and quantitatively supported what their own research found qualitatively.

        • Emily 4 years ago

          Still not sure I buy it. However, I have been thinking about women and kids and carbs. My kids love starchy carbs above all else, though awfully fond of meat as well. During pregnancy, carb cravings were king, and I remember a thread in MDA where the guys were talking about how their girlfriends didn't like to go low carb, and one guy said, "what is it with women and carbs?" Hardly a scientific sampling, but useful for thinking.

          But all told, even before all of this new nutrition bent I knew I could never be a vegetarian, because I love meat. It is yummity delicious. It is hard for me to empathize with those who don't like meat, because at a fundamental level, I just don't get it. I can imagine myself there, but not without another part of the brain going, "but meat is yummity delicious!"

  11. Cheryl 5 years ago

    I think it has less to do with hating or liking one over the other and more to do with what foods each gender had more access to. I'm certain that women hunted, however, I'd be willing to bet these were women who weren't pregnant and had no young children to care for. The majority of the women would either be too young to hunt, too old, pregnant, or caring for small children and therefore they would be relegated to the tasks of gathering. It could be that a woman's diet consisted of more fruits, vegetables, and tubers simply because women had those food stuffs readily available. We often develop a taste for foods that are easily accessible and, as a result, eat them more often. As for the men, as mentioned earlier, they most likely ate the offal on-site since it would spoil and because these were the parts highest in nutrients, these are what men evolved eating and enjoying. So I vote that, yes, this hypothesis is possible by reason of job distribution.

    • Cheryl 5 years ago

      For the record…I hate vegetables.

  12. Author
    Andrew 5 years ago

    This article out today kind of applies to everything, but I first thought of it in relation to the "my girlfriend is a vegetarian" thing…

    Part of Brain That Suppresses Instinct Identified

  13. Phocion Timon 5 years ago

    I've always held the opinion that females, back in the hunter/gatherer days, had more of an opportunity for plant-eating than the males. Generally speaking, as the females were "gathering," they would be nibbling/snacking on the vegetation while the males were chasing game and carrying more substantial fare such as meat to sustain the high energy output of hunting and killing an animal 20 times their size. If this was indeed the case, and evolution added a gene to females to prefer vegetation more than males, this would explain the disparity between men and women for eating leaves and twigs.

    • Victoria 5 years ago

      To me, this, and Aaron's comment above, are very Lamarckian… Women ate more plants, so their daughters ate more plants? OK, but only if we agree this is purely cultural (as some have suggested). It appears to be a well conserved cultural bias if that is the case.

      When I first read this post I kept trying to think of a visual argument. The majority of color blindness is sex-linked, with men being more than 10 times more likely to have a problem than women… I don't know enough about population genetics to make an argument about whether color blindness has been selected against, but given the apparent prevalence, I would guess it hasn't. I don't think I can use color blindness to make an argument for why men dislike fruits and veggies, but it would perhaps reinforce the idea that men got their vitamins from sources other than ripe fruit, which are hard to identify with color blindness. Maybe I'm reaching… I really was looking for visual reasoning to start, though I'm standing by my field-dressing argument (I have so far failed to find information on HG cultures and field-dressing).

  14. Author
    Andrew 5 years ago
  15. Charles Frith 5 years ago

    I just wonder if natural selection is helping out with encouraging us to eat vegetables? Though the Vitamin C point is a lot harder to dismiss. Great post.

  16. Victoria 5 years ago

    I was sent a paper on early neolithic diet, and it made me come back to this post. They looked at biochemical markers to reconstruct the composition of early (6th millenium BC) farmers diets. They found no clear indication of dietary difference between sexes. If you have access to the paper, it's worth looking at just for figure 5 where they show the Nitrogen (ie protein) values for men and women (overlapping), and the two outliers (one for each gender).

    The outliers?
    "The mentioned outlier is grave 19.1, an elderly male individual (50–65 years), who shows the highest adult δ15N values of 11.7‰ in this study, representing much higher quantities of animal protein in his average diet (Fig. 3)."

    "there is one female individual (feature 158) with the lowest δ15N values in the present study of 6.3‰ that could be classified as a vegan. Her δ13C and δ15N values fall in the range of those of the domestic and wild fauna from Karsdorf (animal mean 7.3 ± 0.9‰ 1σ), indicating she might have lived on the similar ‘herbivore’ diet . "

    Of course, unless you want to get in your time machine and go back and ask her why she was a vegan, this may not be helpful.

    Early Neolithic diet and animal husbandry: stable isotope evidence from three Linearbandkeramik (LBK) sites in Central Germany. Oelze et al. Journal of Archaeological Science Volume 38, Issue 2, February 2011, Pages 270-279

  17. Jexxx 4 years ago

    Regarding male "instinct"/bent for killing and eating animals more than female: hmmmm, what does this tell us about psychopathic child 'early onset of I am a serial killer in the making 'warning signs' i.e. bent for killing animals and playing with/eating them? Are a disproportionate number of 'young serial killers in the making' male, exhibiting such signs? How would such findings correlate with Freud's Oedipal Complex (as a side note)?

  18. Calvin 4 years ago

    What about the role of insects? This article http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1525/aa.198… (sorry, couldn't find a free full text, but the abstract mentions this) says that "[insects] provided up to 12% of the crude protein derived from animal foods in men's diets and 26% in women's diets during one season of the year." This is in reference to Amazonian Indians, and of course diet varies considerably from place to place, but isn't it possible that if more women were doing the gathering than men, they would also be eating more insects, and thus getting supplementary protein without killing cute animals? Just a thought!

  19. @tallbonez 4 years ago

    A vegetarian diet would have been impossible before an agricultural society, which in evolutionary terms happened "yesterday." Eating meat has allowed us to evolve our (calorie hungry) intelligent brains, which is also why the next two smartest animals on this planet are also predators. It's a simple evolutionary economics. Primitive people who didn't want to eat meat would have meager muscle mass (they would look rather sickly), and would not have been able to adapt to changing conditions as well and would be passed over in mating. It's evolutionary economics, in the primitive world of starvation, it would take one super forager to be able to cover caloric and nutritional requirements to be viewed as an attractive mate (sorry vegans, but most can't even do this today with out processed commodity foods)

  20. @sourcEATarian 4 years ago

    Purely experiential theory here–but as a mother, I have noticed that I will opt to feed my children any "choice" or limited food, and then eat any remainder myself. This particularly applies to calorically dense foods and younger children. However times when I have been pregnant, lactating, or menstruating, I show no such generosity to my offspring (nursling excepted). Observationally, I have noticed other mothers doing the same, but I have not seen this trait in fathers; in fact, I have seen the opposite. (Picture above lion growling over meat and swatting away cub.) Women seem more inclined to sacrifice our own nutritional needs to protect our children (which interestingly enough women do while pregnant and breastfeeding), which may be a contributing factor in our ability to sustain ourselves better than men on plants and other less preferable foods. The empathy argument, I believe, would apply more to one's own (hungry) children that to a food source.

  21. DAvidF 4 years ago

    “The [almost certainly correct] hypothesis is that it was deactivated during a period of high dietary fruit consumption in distant primate evolution”
    -and if we ignore the fact that raw meat and fat ( and particularly raw liver) contain significant quantities of vitamin C (liver as much as the equivalent weight of ‘neolithic; orange juice). Fruit in paleolithic times bore little resemblance to our highly sugared modern supermarket fare, and was seasonal. No need to postulate ‘high dietary fruit consumption’, since the availability of fruits in ‘distant primate evolution’ did not depend on Wal-mart.

  22. TinaNelson56 3 years ago

    My dad thinks all veg*n men are fags which is very cruel of him I know. I
    find some men are lykee my dad but Im sure theres a few guys out there
    that care. I hate my dad so much hes sexist,racist and just plain cruel.
    I hope theres not many men like him out there. My thoughts are its just
    not manly enough for some guys. Thats all. Its sad because me and my
    friend would love to find some vegeterian guys but theres none in our
    school so thats that. The guys think we’re weird because of our beliefs
    but whatever.

  23. George Henderson 3 years ago

    Studies of ALA metabolism in healthy young men indicate that approximately 8% of dietary ALA is converted to EPA and 0-4% is converted to DHA (7). In healthy young women, approximately 21% of dietary ALA is converted to EPA and 9% is converted to DHA (8).
    The better conversion efficiency of young women compared to men appears to be related to the effects of estrogen (6, 9).
    http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/othernuts/omega3fa/

  24. Ben Holmberg 2 years ago

    Thank you for writing this article! It is, first of all, merely stating the obvious which is actually a breath of fresh air. Other articles I've read state that more women are vegetarian are more compassionate which clearly sounds like a load of tripe. I have often suspected that for a lot of women, for them to completely forego meat in their diet would is about as difficult as it would be for me to completely give up fruit from my diet, which is to say a small sacrifice but not much.

    peer pressure complete BS. more men would easily become vegetarians but too ashamed to admit it? By that rationale, I would rarely eat meat except when I am around other people just so that I can impress them by being manly.

    Furthermore, even among non-vegetarians, look at the difference in dietary preferences between women and men. Speaking in generalizations, I have usually only heard women say that something has too much meat on it or that meat is too greasy. I have only heard women that have become vegetarians because they think meat is gross. Men that become vegetarians usually also do so completely as a moral choice. Then when you cite the evolutionary history of man's development, it simply drives the point home. Of course men were the ones that craved real meat so badly that they risked life and limb to kill and hunt for meat. Meanwhile, the women were willing to eat it too since it was already there for them on their plates.

  25. Brian MacNamara 1 year ago

    Interesting read. Have you ever seen a female butcher … ?

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