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Food is definitely not just about survival, but is, indeed, an emotion. For a lot of us, it’s love at first bite! 🙂 And following a range of beguiling food-related hashtags on Instagram today has given food a totally different dimension which transcends the boundaries of just taste. However, while food is the fuel of life, it’s pretty interesting to try to understand how it comes to associate with us through the chords of CULTURE, NUTRITION and GENDER.

Tracing until centuries or, even millennia ago, by and by people came to share out physically tasking jobs to men, who were hefty, broader & thus, visually ‘sturdier’ than women. Add to them, the ultra-laborious ages of back-breaking chores sans any mechanical assistance. Now, I do not intend to re-route this discussion to whether the nature of our physical work channelizes the evolution of our bodies. Or even that of our gender.

But the science of Calories In, Calories Out & Hunger is not too difficult to understand. Is it?

Since back then it was the men who were in-charge of tougher jobs like, gathering wood, shepherding, soldering, masonry, carpentry etc, they were naturally at the forefront of a quickly induced hunger. Women, on the other hand, were largely confined to domestic chores & thus, juxtapositioned against a ‘lower’ hunger, or appetite.

And THIS, somehow, went on to shape a not-so-great norm that still perpetuates the sense of inequality between men & women, when it comes to food.

Regardless of how and when this began to sink in, people tended to connect men with appetite, rather the beneficiary of food. And women as the rulers of the ‘roast’. Well, I don’t even think that this started from a space of intentional bias between the two genders. And that’s what I’m aiming to take up with you about the relation between nutrition and gender.

Now, I know some of you would surely rebut saying that a lot of popular chefs and world-famous food bloggers are women and that’s a badge of honor that they love to wear all their lives. And also that cooking is, what people believe, comes to women ‘naturally’, with their love for details, ‘caring’ nature and a ‘pronounced’ desire to be appreciated for it.

To analyze this sort of gender bias based around food, let’s gracefully delve into 2 aspects:

  1. Body Composition
  2. Basic Nutrition
  3. Socio-cultural scheme

Body Composition

Body composition, nutrition and gender

Based on a research conducted by the University of Zarazoga, Spain, to assess gender-based fat distribution in adolescents, girl adolescents were observed to have more body fat than the boy adolescents, regardless of height & weight. A similar observation was made in Ireland, Belgium, France and the U.S. too with over 1000 babies.

When young girls and boys go through puberty, girls actually get fat, which is distributed to the body in a typically feminine way. Men lose a lot of their subcutaneous fat.

Dr. Michael Jensen, physician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota (basis his studies on the differences in fat storage between men & women)

This means that these weight changes due to our gender make us look more ‘masculine’ or more ‘feminine’.

A lot of studies are conclusive of the tendency of women to store more body fat throughout their lifetime, starting from puberty. Women, as compared to men, go through a lot of hormonal & physical changes in different decades of their lives. Life processes like menstruation, pregnancy, breastfeeding & menopause involve a lot of hormonal support & fluctuation at the back-end.

Basic Nutrition

Experts see fat as a great back-up source of food and energy in order to sustain our body in different situations. Say, for healthy menstruation & pregnancy, having a sufficient amount of body fat is necessary.

Nutirtion of boys and girls

Hence, bodies of women are naturally more effective at storing & using this extra body fat too. It has been shown that generally men consume more calories than women, possibly because men have more muscle & bone mass than women. And hence, need slightly more calories as well. Also, it’s interesting to observe that in a case, where a man & woman consume the same amount of calories in a day, their bodies use these nutrients differently, on the basis of genetics, ethnicity, hormonal framework, gender & of course, BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate)

More so, with age, females tend to suffer considerable loss of bone density & even weaker bones, leading to Osteoporosis. And that precisely explains that even if the ideal calorie intake of females may be slightly lesser than that of males, ladies definitely need more vitamins, minerals, Calcium, Iron & Folic acid throughout their lives.

Socio-Cultural Scheme

Hi-Five! If you’ve read through patiently until here! 🙂

Let’s trace why this purely biological difference has been culminating into a cultural topic since ages.

socio-cultural rules of food for women and men

Owing to the conditioning that a lot of girls receive in their younger years, cooking becomes an earmarked life-skill for them. And thus, women are encouraged to know more about textures, the chemistry of ingredients, free-play of flavors & the education of nutrition, that’s passed on from one generation to another.

Despite the sea of changes that the world has undergone in terms of automation, outsourcing & the progression of a gender-inclusive work environment, the tags of nutrition and gender haven’t changed at all. I mean, where the number of employed women in various econominc sectors is only increasing, roles of cooking & the social proviso of eating on women hasn’t changed.

The Unspoken rule of Nutrition and Gender

unspoken rules of dining: why women neglect their own nutrition

We still haven’t moved from the unspoken rule that:

  • A woman (not a man) should learn to cook, irrespective of how much help she gets
  • A woman should priortize eating later than the other members of the house. (Surprisingly, in many homes, even today, there’s an order of dining, vis-a-vis, the men -> kids -> elders-> the women, where sometimes, even little girls are made to wait till everyone’s done.)
  • Women should learn to be fine with leftovers of their favorite food, when everybody is done hogging.

But, WHY?

When are we going to scrap these hierarchies of nutrition and gender?

In a country where a lot of females are anemic, why should they be a second fiddle when it comes to food?

Yes. Cooking is a life skill. Then why is it not as much a pre-requisite for a man?

Very much like Shashi’s words in the late Sridevi-starrer English-Vinglish movie reverberate around us every moment.

Gender bias in food. Cooking for man & woman - FitbeWell
Image source: Twitter

With decades of malnutrition & undernutrition, why portion sizes of women are something that nobody really cares about?

And why is it that the only time when a woman’s nutrition is paid a monumental importance, is when she is expected to bear a child?

When, for God’s sake, will we pass on our heirloom recipes to our boys instead of just cooping them into our girls?

If you’ve known me from my older blogs, you know that I have always crusaded against body-shaming.

But WHY, the majority of fat-shamed people are WOMEN?

Isn’t it the perception that regardless of what is healthy or unhealthy, it is women who are expected to eat ‘decently’ AKA less?

How long will this gender bias with nutrition haunt us?

Have you been through this sort of gender-discrimination anywhere at any point of your life? What did you do, or how do you think you can it fight it in your own way? Come on, pour in your comments!

This post is part of #CauseAChatter for Gender Equality with Blogchatter

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