Real mean eat meat.
At least that’s the stereotype that has been passed down since our days as hunter-gatherers — when men (the hunters) would go off to kill wild animals, while women (the gatherers) would hang around collecting fruits, nuts, and berries.
“Meat seems associated with strength and power, two features generally attributed to males,” write the authors of a 2012 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research that examined why male consumers avoid vegetarian options.
In another study, published in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity, researchers linked eating meat with “manhood, power, and virility” and found that men were more likely than women to “endorse pro-meat attitudes” and believed it was “human destiny to eat meat.”
But times are changing.
A growing number of male business executives and political leaders, including former President Bill Clinton and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, are breaking gender expectations and embracing the vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.
It’s a trend — first pinpointed in a 2010 Businessweek article titled “The Rise of the Power Vegans” — that parallels mounting public awareness about the damaging effects of meat consumption on health and the environment. Conversely, “chick foods” like kale and soy products are growing in popularity.
In the United States, vegetarians are still rare: Only 5% of American adults say they are vegetarian, according to a 2012 Gallup study, and just 2% of people consider themselves vegan — people who don’t eat any ingredients that come from an animal, including eggs, milk, and honey.
While the percentage of vegetarians has remained unchanged over the last decade, this pattern may slowly change as tofu and chickpea salads became more fashionable among America’s male movers and shakers.
Former U.S. president Bill Clinton revamped his diet after undergoing quadruple bypass surgery in 2004 to deal with artery blockages.
Known for his love of McDonald's and dessert, Clinton quit his unhealthy eating habits and went vegan after leaving office. The low-fat, plant-based diet helped him shed 24 pounds for his daughter Chelsea's 2010 wedding.
With a net-worth of around $200 million, Biz Stone ranks in the 1% of richest Americans. And after more than 10 years as a vegan, the entrepreneur in the scant group of Americans who call themselves vegan.
The 38-year-old invested in a vegan meat company, Beyond Meat, last year with Twitter co-founder Evan Williams. In an interview with Fast Company, Stone said the company's meatless chicken strips imitated the flavour and feel of the real fleshy stuff so well that 'it was a bit freaky.'
The founder of Def Jam Records was raised eating meat, but turned full-on vegan more than 10 years ago with a new-found awareness about the environmental impact of eating meat.
'Every day, more and more people are turning vegan, more children are looking at a rib and making the connection that it came from a suffering animal and more people are loving themselves and the Earth they live on just a little bit more by saying no to meat and dairy,' Simmons said told Ellen DeGeneres in 2010.
The entrepreneur, reportedly worth $340 million, is using his fame and fortune to protect animals. He recently launched a 'cruelty-free' clothing line called Argyleculture that will not use any animal products -- meaning now wool or leather apparel -- in its collection.
Booker has been a vegetarian for more than 20 years. The politician credits a meat-free lifestyle for boosting his athletic performance.
'In 1992, I decided to experiment, to try (being a vegetarian) for 3 to 6 months,' the politician explained in an 'Ask Me Anything session on Reddit. ' And WOW! when I did my athletic performance took off, I felt so much better and it comported with other values and ideas I was exploring at the time, so I decided that this is what is best for me. It was a very personal decision.
Quadruple bypass surgery in 1994 forced Michael Eisner, then 52, to adopt a non-fat, vegetarian diet.
It wasn't easy for the media mogul to give up his 'regular American' eating habits. 'I miss everything,' Eisner told the 'San Francisco Chronicle' in a 1998 interview.
Eisener left Disney in 2005 after a 21-year career, but not before transforming the theme-park operator into the world's largest entertainment company.
The 71-year-old chairman and CEO of Wynn Resorts became a vegan in 2010. The business magnate described his conversion at a vegan tasting hosted by Bon Appetit magazine in Las Vegas.
While on his boat in St. Tropez, Wynn was inspired by 'a handsome Indian gentlemen' who after a year as a vegan 'was 30 lbs lighter and 15 years younger,' Eater quoted the self-made billionaire as saying.
He added: 'The American diet is unbearably suicidal… animal-based diets cause cancer and degenerative spinal disease… and animal-based diets are absolutely unhealthy.'
(Just a note: Wynn isn't a doctor or nutritionist, and we aren't sure where he got his facts from. Studies indicate that meat in moderation can be healthy for most people.)
In an effort to ease the stigma associated with plant-based diets, Wynn mandated in 2012 that restaurants in his hotels have vegan menu options.
Joi Ito, director of the MIT media lab, blogged about his decision to become a vegan in December 2006. Six months later, Ito was 40 pounds lighter and overflowing with praise for his new fruit- and vegetable- heavy eating plan.
'I've never been healthier or happier as long as I can remember and I intend to continue being a vegan,' Ito wrote.
Ito is the CEO of venture capital company Neoteny and chairman of the boards of Creative Commons and Six Apart Japan.
Freston's meat-free conversion was heavily influenced by his zealous vegan ex-wife, Kathy Freston, who is also the author of 'Veganist: Lose Weight, Get Healthy, Change the World.'
Before the power couple separated last summer, Kathy told Vanity Fair in 2011 that Tom 'eats fish and occasionally meat, but never at home.'
Prior to that interview, Tom gushed in a Bloomberg article that the benefits of veganism are 'undeniable and many.'
John Mackey, the co-CEO of Whole Foods, has built a grocery empire that's modelled after the executive's own attitude toward food.
Mackey survives on an organic vegan diet that spurns vegetable oil, sugar, and processed food.
The health-conscious supermarket co-founder recently described a typical dinner to the The New York Times:
What did I cook for dinner last night? A salad, with my own walnut-cashew-based dressing, a stir-fry that I made without any oil, because you can do that with just water. It had kale and chard, onions, mushrooms and tomatoes in it, and mashed potatoes without salt or dairy, but I added some almond milk.
Meanwhile, Whole Foods continues to grow as a result of its commitment to healthier, natural, and local food.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.