What women eat
We’ve all heard the cliches that women eat chocolate and men eat meat, but what is really finding its way into our shopping baskets and why? A health study has revealed that the differences in the way men and women eat range from different meal times, to how we drink and even how we prepare food...
A sneaky peek at our shopping baskets
A study led by the French National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies analysed the shopping baskets of men and women living alone. The results revealed that women had very different expectations and attitudes towards food.
The first interesting fact was that women spend more on their food than men (18% of their budget compared with 15% for men). Women’s shopping baskets contained more fruit and vegetables, dairy products, eggs, fish, mineral water and tea, while men headed straight for pasta, rice, meat, bread and alcohol. The study also confirmed the popular belief that women are much more likely to buy sugary foods like jam and honey.
Apart from their drastically different shopping lists, men and women also headed in different directions when it came to where to buy food. Even though 70% of products can be found in supermarkets now, women still prefer to explore food markets. They value fresh produce and prepare it lovingly, while men still prefer quick and easy ready meals (12% of their food shop is pre-prepared, compared with only 8% for women).
Women are generally less afraid to cook and don’t have a problem buying fruit and vegetables that need preparation – unlike men, who content themselves with more straightforward choices like apples, bananas, dried fruit and potatoes. Women also eat out less often, and only spend 3% of their total budget on meals at restaurants or cafes. Men who live alone, however, spend 5% of their budget on meals out.
Why are we so different?
In general, women eat more fruit and vegetables and fewer ready meals than men and drink less alcohol. This can be explained in part by the fact that “society is gendered, and this is reflected in our eating habits,” according to sociologist Thibaut de Saint Pol.
First of all, women have very different attitudes to their weight and body shape. “Watching your weight is much more of an issue for women. We live in a society where being thin is the feminine ideal, both in daily life and in the job market,” says the sociologist.
Apart from this, women are culturally more sensitive to health. “It is women who take care of the family’s health,” and this responsibility affects their attitudes towards eating. It means women are much more likely to opt for foods with a healthy image.
And it's our ideas about food that are a determining factor behind what we eat. “We have a certain preconception about food that is itself gendered, just like our society. This means we all tend to associate meat with strength, making it a masculine food, while fruit and vegetables are seen as healthy and therefore more feminine,” the sociologist continues, adding that these symbols are deeply rooted in our culture.
How we prepare meals is no less affected by gender: “In our society, women have traditionally always been the ones who cook. This has become part of the social image of femininity, so that it's almost expected that women know how to cook. Even though men and women’s roles have evolved, it is still more natural for women to cook, as they are much more likely to be taught how to,” according to Thibaut de Saint Pol.
Women spend more on average than men on food bills at a similar age and stage of life. The difference in spending on food is more significant than any other difference in lifestyle between the two sexes. Furthermore, women “devote more time to preparing and cooking meals and therefore have less free time.” But even if women have less cash and not enough time to relax, they still reap the benefits of a more nutritious diet. Better eating habits also lead to a healthier lifestyle all round. The result? “Women are much less likely to suffer from cardiovascular problems,” says our expert.
So, are our eating habits really determined by gender? No, according to Thibaut de Saint Pol. He points out that “apart from gender, there are other factors that have an effect on our eating habits, such as what we do for a living, where we live, whether we have children or not, and social status.”
1 - Thibaut de Saint Pol, sociologist at the Observatoire sociologique du changement (OSC), a sociology research centre at Sciences Po, and administrator for the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies in France (INSEE).
2 - Study "La consommation alimentaire des hommes et femmes vivants seuls" (The eating habits of men and women who live alone), Thibaut de Saint Pol, Lifestyle department, INSEE, May 2008
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