Meat Advertisements and Their Techniques: How Industries Produce and Naturalize Our Craving for Meat

Although total beef consumption in the U.S. has been dropping in the recent years, the value of US. Cattle and calf production has been increasing rapidly, from 37 billion dollars in 2010 to 60 billion dollars in 2015, according to the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service (2017). This increase in meat value is plausibly affected by the meat industry’s hard effort in advertising. It is reasonable to expect successful advertisements to increase demand for meat and hence, if one changes the method in advertising, it can result in changes in revenues and vice versa (Hyde & Foster, 2003). Thus it is safe to say that, like any other products, the need for meat is not genuine, but rather “manufactured” by the producers. As Zaraska (2016) writes, “increasing meat consumption around the globe, the U.S. included, is not demand driven but supply driven: it’s pushed more by the actions of the meat industry and not so much by the desires of our buds.”

Hegemonic masculinity, defined as “the dominant form of masculinity within the gender hierarch,” is a term first coined by an Australian Sociologist R. W. Connell (Encyclo, “Hegemonic masculinity”). Connell divided masculinity as three different types; Hegemonic, Subordinate, and Complicit masculinity, and hegemonic masculinity includes qualities like heterosexuality, whiteness, physical strength, suppression of emotions, machoism, etc., and is culturally valued the most. As an industry, meat markets have been worrying for the past few years due to the decrease in meat demand although it is a very small amount. Because the meat industries perceive the recently increased movements and non-profits for environmental and animal rights as threats to hegemonic masculinity they fear that this new atmosphere will lead to a more rapid decrease in meat demand, which leads them to take more active and even aggressive actions than before when it comes to reaching their consumer with their advertisements (Rogers, 2008). Meat has been always associated with men and masculinity (Adams, 1991), thus this perceived threat to hegemonic masculinity has made meat advertisers use more sexist and misogynistic methods than ever before.

The objective of this research is to analyze how meat industries use advertisements to encourage carnism and increase meat demand, and thus resultantly rely on misogynistic images to do so. In this paper I will explore how meat industries represent carnism in their advertisements, the techniques they use to produce meat demand such as false information, the gender binary, and misogynistic images, and the way they normalize and naturalize eating meat by targeting children.

False Information Used to Increase Meat Demands

Even thought eating meat is the main reason behind health issues like cancer, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes (“Eating for Your Health,” n.d.), environmental pollution, desertification of the Amazon, world hunger, global water shortage and so on, meat industries are one of the biggest industries in the world that are willing to do anything not to lose their profits in any way. According to Zaraska (2016), “the annual sales of meat were worth 186 billion dollars in the U.S. alone in 2011, and Tyson, the largest meat corporation in the U.S. recently had a revenue of 34 billion dollars.” She also writes about her meeting with Bill Roenigk, the senior vice president of National Chicken Council(NCC) on how meat industries work to increase the meat demand:

As Bill Roenigk explained to me, … Meat demand is like a large dog, just sitting there, pretty immobile, but this dog also has a rather big tail. Good promotion and advertising is like grabbing this tail and wag-wag-wagging the dog as hard as you can.

One of the most famous meat advertisement was the “Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner” slogan in 1992. The industry spent 42 million dollars of beef checkout money to promote this slogan and this project got so popular that most Americans automatically answered “beef” when hearing the question “What’s for dinner?” (Zaskara, 2016).

“The texts of meat which we assimilate into our lives include the expectation that people should eat animals and that meat is good for you.” Adams says (1991, p. 26). Meat industries are too eager to boost their revenues that they are not even concerned about spreading false information to the consumers. Most of the basic knowledge we have on meat that we believe is scientific is actually strategically made up by meat industries.

Look at the two advertisements below. Both of them are advertisements in the 1940s to 1950s, from the American Meat Institute. In the fist picture meat is described as “nourishing”, with the words “a complete protein food” highlighted with boldface type. The second advertisement is purely made to show how good the meat is, not just for your appetite but also for your health. In the chart it has six kinds of meats that show: excellent, good or fair amounts of “complete” protein, three types of B vitamins and iron. Overall these advertisements are suggesting that meat is actually nourishing and good for your health. It may sound fair. However, the information on these advertisements is not entirely true.

First of all, “complete protein” does not have any practical meaning to it, and is just a myth that is based on British Imperialism. After the industrial revolution, Britain was able to increase the supply of food dramatically, especially meat. Until then meat was globally a very expensive and fancy dish that only rich people could have. In the need to boost the country’s superiority British scientists came up with the idea of “complete protein,” which means that only meat contains all the essential amino acids that are needed to build protein. Then they advertised that only Britain could supply so much meat and that “complete protein” was essentially needed for human health to their people. Thus for decades it has been believed that we cannot survive without meat mostly because of this protein myth, and some people even think that plants have no protein at all. However, although it is true that meat protein contains all essential amino acids, it does not mean that it is “essential” for us to consume meat in order to get protein. There was one time when it was believed that in order to get the full protein value from only plants, one had to consume various and great quantities of vegetables and legumes together. According to the American Dietetic Association, now researchers suggest that as long as one consumes just enough calorie value for their energy needs, protein needs can easily be met (As cited in “The Protein Myth”, n.d.).

Secondly, vitamin B, vitamin B12 to be specific, is one of the essential vitamins that no animal can produce itself, which means that in order to get vitamin B all animals have to rely on plant consumption. In the past animals generally had more vitamin B12 in their system than human beings simply because they ate much more plants than humans did. Nowadays the situation is different. As the air, water, soil pollution has been aggravated, it is hard to get vitamin B12 even from the plants. It means that eating meat cannot do the same tricks anymore. Instead, taking vitamin substitutes or consuming seaweed, which is rich in vitamin B12, on a daily basis is a better option. However, the meat industries tend to ignore this and keep their myth of “nourishing meat” in their advertisements.

Gender Binary and Misogyny in Meat Advertisements

When thinking about advertisements and paradigm, it is not hard to take for an image which shows a family who went to camp in the woods, kids playing soccer while the mother would prepare for dishes and the father would grill the meat. In her unprecedented book The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory (1991), Carol J. Adams thoroughly investigates how eating meat is strongly related to masculinity and misogyny. “Meat-eating societies gain male identification by their choice of food,” she explains (p. 48). Men eating meat while women eat vegetables and dairy is quite frequently, but unconsciously, reproduced as a societal norm. We could easily think of a 19th century family in a war zone where a housewife prepares meat for her husband while she and her children can only eat rice and vegetables, and this is not a rare situation even today. In the 20th century when there was no sufficient amount of food for an entire family in Great Britain, there were cookbooks’ menus saying “For the man only,” when referring to meat (Adams, 1991).

Kilbourne (1999) once said in her work Can’t Buy My Love that women had always been closely linked with food. It is very obvious that we have been closely linked with food, but mainly with vegetables, fruits and dairy products like cheese and ice cream. When we are represented as meat, it is not because we are considered to consume meat on a daily basis but because we are supposed to be consumed like meat, by men. Symbolizing consuming meat protein with male activities and with degrading females has been a long-lasting theme, at least in western society. It is very easy to find in various pieces of literature examples of females being as degraded as any other things in nature which should be dominated by males, including the Bible in which the Fall of Man is entirely blamed on a female and an animal (Choi, 2011). More recent pieces of literature demonstrate this blatantly. In Looking for Normal, a play scenario by Jane Anderson, Wayne becomes impotent and says,

“You know maybe I just haven’t been eating enough red meat. Maybe when I go down for my visit I should hop over the farm and me and Gramps could go out and shoot ourselves a couple of deer. I’ll chow down on some fresh-killed venison, that ought to restore my manhood” (p. 52).

In meat advertising, misogynistic and sexist images prevail not just because using degrading images of women is common in advertisement, but also because it is hard to disconnect meat with hegemonic masculinity. In The Sexual Politics of Meat, Adams (1991) shows some examples in the advertisements that are highly misogynistic and androcentric. In 1981, Playboar, a magazine self-titled as “the pig farmer’s Playboy,” A pig named Ursula Hamdress appears. She is half-naked, with only bikini panties on a large chair posing sexually and seductively, almost like a woman in a pornography. Blow is Ursula appeared in The Magazine That Bites BackPicture3

Rogers (2008) also shows another example of how meat advertisements show the fear of hegemonic masculinity being threatened and asks consumers to restore the power and dominance by eating their meat products:

He suddenly appears with a powered nail gun, wielding it above his head like a pistol, and violently attacks the furniture, yelling while ‘‘assembling’’ it in a brutal, unplanned way. The violent performance restores, in some sense, his hegemonic masculinity. He may not have demonstrated competency in his masculine task [which was assembling the furniture in a proper way], but he has dominated the furniture. (p. 288)

This Del Taco’s TV commercial named “Feed the Beast” is perfected by the narration in the end that goes “Dude, if you’re freaking out on the furniture, maybe it’s a sign that you need to feed the beast… The new shredded beef combo burrito… It’s the only burrito beefy enough to feed the beast” with “the beast” representing males with hegemonic masculinity.

Meat Advertisements in Modern Days

More often than not we do not usually realize that even meat industries are using this gender bias in their advertisements. Blow is a recent Burger King advertisement in Germany.

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Burger King has been infamously known for its sexist advertisements. In this advertisement, named as “Gold collection” are a naked and seductive woman and a burger with three patties and bacon. Why should there be a naked woman in this advertisement when it is about an “exclusive” burger? This clearly shows that advertisers see women as a product that can be “collected” and eventually consumed by men, both rhetorically and literally, as any other meat product. When comparing two images show up in this advertisement, it is not even crazy to deduct that it implies that the burger itself is made out of the woman. Burger King ad had a similar theme in Singapore too.

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On the left is the very advertisement that has been globally controversial. In this advertisement, a young women’s mouth is open, with a seven-inch sandwich in front of her. Below the image the copy goes “It’ll blow (highlighted with a bigger font) your mind away.” This advertisement, which only ran in Singapore, is “one of the prime examples of how to alienate half of your market and use them as sexual objects” (Johnston, 2014). The worst part of this advertisement is that the woman used in this ad is not a hired model. In a short video, the woman insists that she had some photo shoots with different emotions, but she was never asked for permission to use the photos, nor was she aware that the photo was used for this offensive ad by Burger King (Johnston, 2014).

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On the right side is an advertisement for Le Cornichon, a restaurant in Paris. It features a woman’s body with a goose head, dressed as a typical French mistress, with a very sexual posture. The copy goes “Goose leg confit with parsley,” confit meaning any type of food that is cooked slowly to be preserved. Basically it is an advertisement for a goose leg meat dish. When looking closely, you can find some parsley put on the goose’s hat. The funny thing is that the only legs shown here is those of human female’s. In this advertisement, a woman is amputated, absent and consumed as a product and a dish, preferably by men. Also this poise and elegant posture that this goose-woman is in conveys that women and animals actually enjoy their being conquered by men, degrading both women and animals. The danger of this assumption is well-explained in Sexual Politics of Meat. Adams (1991) insists that “To justify meat eating, we refer to animals’ wanting to die, desiring to become meat…. One of the mythologies of a rapist culture is that women not only ask for rape; they also enjoy it; that they are continually seeking out the butcher’s knife,” just like the animals are seen to be enjoying their presence in meat advertisements (p. 82).

Below is a Ludacris album cover, “Chicken N Beer” released in 2003. This is not a commercial advertisement for meat, but it clearly conveys the similar message on how carnism is related to misogyny. On the front this picture, there are fried chicken meat and beer, representing the album title. “Chicken N Beer.” However, the meat Ludacris is eating is not chicken, but a female’s leg. In this album cover, just like the ad for Le Cornichon, a woman is amputated and consumed along with animals. The difference is that in this picture the consumer is obviously shown as a male. It is not difficult to conclude that this picture not only perpetuates and fantasizes male violence against women, but also in a way that implies human violence against animals.

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On the left is another example. This is a part of a campaign for Rustler’s meat snacks, which was featured in magazine The Drum. This “campaign” features a fictional “butcher’s daughter” named Lexi O’Leary, who has her own Facebook account as “a brainless sex toy fond of making naughty puns” (Megginson, 2012). In this ad there is a seductive woman who seems to be only wearing an apron sitting down on a chair, and behind her the copy says “Of course my breasts are succulent. They are all Chicken.” In this advertisement, a woman, or at least a part of a woman’s body, is again compared to meat, thus implying that both can be justified to be consumed like a product in a purely androcentric and heteronormative way. Rustler marketing director John Armstrong said “Fit as a Butcher’s Daughter will dispel some of the negatives in a manner that will not only appeal to our target market of 16 to 24-year-old males but will also engage people who may not have tried the brand due to their misconception” (Megginson, 2012). In their minds, females are not even a “targeted” customers; They are just a means to increase meat demand, or even a part of meat they are trying to sell.

With this mindset, the fact that there are much more female vegetarians than male ones is not bizarre. In the United States alone, nearly 60 percent who follow a vegetarian diet are female, and 79 percent when it comes to vegan diet. Adams further explains this connection between carnism and masculinity, and vegetarianism and feminism:

One way that gender binary is enforced is through the expectation of what heterosexual men eat, by questioning them when they eat food associated with women (like tofu). … One of the problems with meat-eating is the fragmentation of the animal, in which people eat a leg or a thigh or a breast; they aren’t relating to the entire animal. As I say in The Sexual Politics of Meat, objectification and fragmentation lead to consumption. Refusing meat in our culture is never simply about just refusing a product. It’s about refusing everything it represents (Bolen, 2016).

Children as the Target Audience of Meat Advertisements

Children are always one of the best niche markets that advertisers can aim for. Just like the tobacco and alcohol industries are now guiding young kids into buying their products (Kilbourne, 1999), meat industries have always tried to link kids with meat from their very early ages. Also, Children are a short-cut signifier of family and family values (Delahoyde & Despenich, 1994). Because children are one of the most major factors that contribute to the whole family’s consumption these days, if the children are well-affected by advertisements, then it is not hard to rapidly increase the buying of certain products (Schor, 2004).

The meat industry has been very, if not the most, successful when it comes to its public relations. Especially in America, people are portrayed as loving “juicy steaks,” and advertisements like “Beef¾Real Food for Real People” are so easy to find that most of the consumers actually believe that craving meat is very natural and normal, and that vegetarians are extreme fanatics (Delahoyde & Despenich, 1994). Children are also a big part of this naturalization, because it gives eating meat validation while concerns about meat involving health hazards is steadily spreading. Even though food consumption is a very delicate issue for children because of their worrying parents, they are also very closely related to loving somewhat “unhealthy” foods. That is why it is much easier for meat advertisers and industries to get away with encouraging children to eat more meat, although most adults know that meat can be a cause of lifestyle diseases like cardiac arrest. Thus the advertisers made us believe that all children hate vegetables and love meat products, such as hamburgers and hotdogs. McDonalds will insist that the only way parents can make their children happy is by buying them a Happy Meal, a Back-to-School ad will naturally suggest children’s lunch boxes include a meat dish, etc. Even kids’ TV shows seem to prove it. For example, in Pingu, a famous British-Swiss children’s TV show created by Otmar Gutmann in 1986, one scene shows Pingu, the main character and a young son of the family, hating spinach so much that he spits it out in a toilet after pretending to eat it during a family dinner. Nowadays this belief has become a landscape of our dietary lives. When considering children are more vulnerable and less skeptical to advertisements they are exposed to, there is more of a chance that they will defenselessly feel like they should love meat even though they do not, which provides meat industries a perfect and constant loyalty.

Remember that these children are not only exposed to flooding meat ads, but also to misogynistic images of meat advertisements like those mentioned above. Juliet B. Schor, the author of Born to Buy, insists that even though it is true that children these days have become more sophisticated and worldly than even before, it is difficult to prove that this sophistication and earlier maturity is helping them resist or critically analyze ads’ effects (2004). This means that just like any other advertisements, children who are represented by industries to love meat and are exposed to violent androcentric images of meat advertisements are highly likely to receive the forced connotation without hesitation. By meat industries and their advertisements, people learn how to link masculinity, misogyny and consuming meat from when they are very young, while not noticing it at all, which naturally creates reproduction of the patriarchal and carnistic culture.

Conclusion

Even though we are almost not able to recognize it, meat advertisements have been very successful in naturalizing eating meat. As advertising is an essential means to boost meat demand, advertisers have been using every way to make it more effective, even though it can lead into deceiving customers and spreading harmful images. False information used in meat advertisements has made us believe that meat is in fact scientifically nutritious and essential. Misogynistic meat advertisements praise masculinity and male dominance over females. They have been raising people to be brainwashed to presume that meat is a “real dish” for “real men,” while making women invisible and rendering them into meat like that of dead animals. Another point that should be made clear is that because advertisers tend to hide the cost of mass production, including meat production, the vast majority of people do not even get to think about how meat industry is closely related to major environmental pollution and world hunger. Since children are the most vulnerable, but also very easily targeted by advertisers, we are all growing up not learning how to defend ourselves from the dangerous messages meat advertisements are perpetuating.

There are not many things to do in order to make advertisers honest and moral all of a sudden. However, what we can do is first realize how effective these advertisements are in creating our need for their products, although it would be a bit harder to do that with meat advertisements than with any other commercials, since consuming meat is so normalized. We should also keep in mind what information meat advertisements are conveying is correct and what is not. It would be a starting point to be more active and independent in our dietary lives. Furthermore, since consuming meat itself has been historically justifying the patriarchy, choosing a vegetarian or vegan diet would also be an effective way of boycotting to show the meat industries that we care about the cause.

 

References

Adams, C. J. (1991). The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory.

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Anderson, J. (2002). Looking for Normal. New York: Dramatists Play Service.

Bolen, B. (2016, Sep. 17). Why Men Are Afraid of Going Vegan.” Munchies. Retrieved from

https://munchies.vice.com/en_us/article/why-men-are-afraid-of-going-vegan.

Choi, H. (2011). Feminism and Vegetarianism. Korean Feminist Philosophy, 15, 205-231.

Eating for Your Health [Web log post]. (n.d.). People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Retrieved April 12, 2017, from http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/eating-

health/

Delahoyde, M., & Despenich, S. C. (1994). Creating Meat-Eaters: The Child as Advertising

Target. Journal of Popular Culture, 28(1), 135-149.

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Hyde, J., & Foster, K. (2003). Estimating Dynamic Relationships Between Pork Advertising and

Revenues. Review of Agricultural Economics, 25(2), 279-293.

Johnston, A. (2014, Aug. 8).  Model in Burger King’s Sexist “Blow Job” Ad had No Freaking

Idea. Bustle. Retrieved from https://www.bustle.com/articles/34832-model-in-burger-

kings-sexist-blow-job-ad-had-no-freaking-idea.

Kilbourne, J. (1999). Can’t Buy My Love. New York: Touchstone.

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Retrieved April 9, 2017, from http://www.pcrm.org/health/diets/vsk/vegetarian-starter-kit-

protein

Megginson, T. (2012, May 29). Have a Butcher’s at the Sexploitation Campaign of the Day.

Workthatmatters. Retrieved from http://workthatmatters.blogspot.ca/2012/05/have-

butchers-at-sexploitation-campaign.html.

Rogers, R. A. (2008). Beasts, Burgers, and Hummers: Meat and the Crisis of Masculinity in

Contemporary Television Advertisements. Environmental Communication, 2(3), 281-301.

Schor, J. B. (2004). Born to Buy. New York: Scribner.

Statistics & Information. (2017, April 18). Retrieved April 28, 2017, from

https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/animal-products/cattle-beef/statistics-information.aspx.

Zaraska, M. (2016, April 4). This is Why You Crave Beef: Inside Secrets of Big Meat’s Billion-

Dollar AD and Lobbying Campaigns. Salon. Retrieved from

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meats_billion_dollar_ad_and_lobbying_campaigns/

 

 

1 thought on “Meat Advertisements and Their Techniques: How Industries Produce and Naturalize Our Craving for Meat”

  1. Informative article! But it’s not just the meat industry.. our civilization has been very masculine based for a long time.. times are changing… a balancing is taking place now.. the shift in human consciousness.. although slowly. Scandals and manipulative controls are being exposed… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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