In “the land that vegetables forgot”, as Anthony Bourdain stated on his show “No Reservations” meat has always been a staple in Czech Republic’s kitchen, with men especially prone to reach for meat-heavy dishes in restaurants, cafeterias, etc.
Purchasing rates for tofu, soy products, and meat substitutes remain low in supermarkets and restaurants within the Czech male demographics, especially those outside of Prague and over the age of 35.
Now, a new ethnographic research study conducted through in-depth interviews in Dvur Kralove nad Labem, by a Durham University Masters student explains why.
Men believe vegan products, diets, and lifestyles are unhealthy, unsatisfying, restrictive, and bland. Health concerns were also a recurring topic amongst men. The dominant notion within this theme maintained that vegetarian or vegan diets and their corresponding products deplete male strength and energy, confine their choices, limit their satiety, and eliminate their favourite food flavours.
“I don’t think men should cut out meat – especially men that have a physical job or go to the gym or are athletic – you need a lot of energy. I know of some acquaintances of mine that tried a vegetarian diet for a while, and all of those men looked like they had just gotten over a life-threatening illness.” – Martin
Czech men are very proud of their nation, its heritage, its products, and its culture. A big part of this is the traditional food as well, which creates an image of vegan products as being untrustworthy and foreign. Most importantly, men see veganism as a modern trend – a “fad” that will soon die out.
“90% of my friends would say, “Look, we live in Central Europe, we have no sea. Why would I eat any fish or fake stuff? We have pigs, cows, and chickens here in the Czech Republic, so this is what we’ll eat.” – Lukáš
In-group vs. out-group:
The stigma against veganism and its products is created from a sort of otherness which the term exudes. Czech men view plant-based dieters as created for a different group of people. Who exactly those people are can vary – it ranges from women to ‘youngsters’ or to strange men. Sometimes, the men perceived vegan products as only for vegetarians, vegans, or females on diets, and not for normal Czech men.
“My friends eat regular, normal Czech food, like rice, potatoes, pasta with meat.” – Dominik
“From what I’ve heard, it’s always women who are vegan.” – Arnošt
Czech men remain detached from both parts of the food consumption chain. From an ambivalence towards the nature of slaughterhouses to a lack of connection with the purchasing and cooking process. Czech men are not supposed to cook or care.
“Animals are meant to be bred for food intake. If they weren’t, then they wouldn’t exist.” – Břeněk
“From a young age, I’ve attended my grandparent’s farm parties where you kill the animal and eat it. You don’t admit it because I like meat, so I keep eating it and don’t think about it any further.” – Rostislav
83 percent of the interviewee subjects have their wives, mothers, or daughters cook their daily household meals. The men even said that if the women in their lives cooked vegetarian or vegan meals for them, the men would happily eat it.
“I don’t come across [vegan products] much and my wife doesn’t cook it at home, so I don’t eat it. If my wife made it for the entire family and my kids, I would probably eat it as well, no problem!” – Jiří
But most surprisingly of all, most of the men say they would be willing to eat less meat, more vegan products, and become more interested in the health and ethicality of their food – but they all say they can’t. Because of their detachment from the overall food process, they feel they have no control over what they eat, and frankly, they don’t really care about much else but their tastebuds.