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While women are scouring the aisles for healthy-eating options, what are men really filling up on? Oliver Bennett tells the high-fat, high-cholesterol truth

WAYNE Rooney has been outed. In his girlfriend Coleen's new television series Coleen's Secrets she revealed that his favourite food was... lettuce. Rabbit food? Surely, a tough lad like Rooney wouldn't stoop to eat such unmanly food as salad, particularly as he was apparently bought up on an unrelenting diet of sausage, chips and beans? I'll wager that when Coleen and the press aren't watching, Wayne doesn't touch lettuce.

Indeed, men eat all kinds of things out of the sight of women; very often the more noxious collaborations between butcher and baker. These foods are usually taken alone or in exclusively male company, and can be roughly subdivided as follows:

n on the road - sausage rolls, Pepperami, Scotch eggs, pork pies, pasties

n at home - ready-meals, cheese dippers, chip butties, frozen pizzas

n out socialising - nuts, crisps, pork scratchings, beer, burgers and, of course, the supreme late-night feast, the doner kebab. Any colour, as long as it's orange.

Our propensity towards such delicacies came to the fore in a 2004 report for Mintel that covered 'snacking on the go', with a section entitled, 'Who eats all the pies? Men, of course.' This dossier of the British male gourmand found that 'cheese and pasties are both significantly more popular among men, who are probably less concerned about high fat content'. You've only got to go to male-dominated canteens to see this theme writ large. Salad is garnish, to be left on the side of the plate - if there is a plate. Vegetables are taken with reluctance, or penitentially, or not at all.

I can vouch for these secret male eating patterns, for on outings to the country I find myself lusting after sausage rolls. So do my friends. 'I love pork pies, but I never have them at home,' says Jon, while another friend, Adam, admits, 'My typical on-the-move lunch is a cheese sandwich with white bread and my typical 'evening meal' is a Ginsters pasty. I eat it quickly, to get it over with, then chase it down with a couple of beers.'

This kind of snacking is considered functional, practical and masculine: part of the job of being male, really. 'It's true that the majority of our customers are men,' says Larry File, marketing controller with Ginsters. 'We advertise Ginsters pasties as 'real honest food', and I think that the idea of no-nonsense, hearty food appeals to men.'

Indeed, men buying food such as Ginsters pasties from service stations is a kind of metaphor for British man's attitude to what he eats. 'Men still have this tendency to see food as being like fuel,' says Peter Baker, director of the Men's Health Forum. 'It's there to serve a purpose.'

It may be, of course, that we are following a script about manhood. 'There does seem to be a sense that these are 'manly' foods,' says Kate Fox, a social psychologist at the Social Issues Research Centre at Oxford. 'Perhaps there is something a bit 'unmanly', even effeminate, about making a healthy salad or some grilled chicken and steamed vegetables when having an evening alone.'

In the 1982 satirical blockbuster Real Men Don't Eat Quiche: A Guidebook to All That Is Truly Masculine, author Bruce Feirstein argued that only men who eat red meat could qualify as truly masculine. It was satire, but at home the male role does seem to be as warden of the kill: carving the Sunday roast, tending the sausages on the barbecue. And as Peter Baker adds, male eating patterns are linked to the notion of the daily graft that is a good man's lot. 'Take the morning fry-up,' he says. 'Thankfully, it's in decline, but it's definitely linked in the imagination with a hard day's work.'

Some of the appeal of these high-fat delicacies might also lie in a forbidden-fruit effect; that men eat differently when away from women. 'My husband lives on frozen pizzas and ready-meals when I'm away,' says Kate Fox. 'It may not be that these foods are desirable per se, but they become irresistible when severely frowned upon by wives / girlfriends / mothers.'

High-cholesterol treats may almost be a contemporary form of male infidelity. 'We do tend to have secret binges,' says Rob Kemp of Men's Health magazine. 'We drink beer, which makes us hungry, and then eat burgers, vast curries and kebabs as part of the pro forma package of a men's night out.'

Granted, part of the male desire for stodge could be due to limited choice, particularly in typically male environments such as sports grounds and pubs. 'A lot of it boils down to convenience, as men tend to like food to be quick and easy,' says Kemp. 'It's also because we don't have a long-term view of health: we're risk-takers by habit. I'm amazed how many men become chefs, actually.'

Agreed. For despite the number of high-profile food-loving men, from Jamie Oliver to Heston Blumenthal, the rump of British manhood remains way behind the female population when it comes to knowledge about food. 'Men don't, on the whole, understand as much about diet and nutrition as women,' says Baker. 'Women have much more access to information about food, and we also know that men are less likely to go shopping for it.'

As Allan and Barbara Pease wrote in the book Why Men Lie and Women Cry (Orion, pounds 7.99): 'Women prefer to zigzag the aisles when they supermarket shop and work from a list but men prefer to take a straight line, shop by memory and examine every item that looks good.' As a result, say the authors, 'a single man's kitchen cupboard has 26 cans of baked beans and nine bottles of tomato sauce, but not much else.' An unattractive but harmless part of being a chap? Perhaps, but the stark warning from the Men's Health Forum is that living alone is bad for men as they are more likely to adopt unhealthy eating habits leading to obesity and cardiovascular diseases.

Men's fat intake is above the daily recommended level, they eat fewer than 3.2 portions of the five recommended daily portions of fruit and vegetables, and more men are overweight than women.

But there are signs of change. Fashionable low-carb, meat-packed diets have proved popular with men, as they can now diet without feeling emasculated. And perhaps, in a few years, we won't laugh or cry 'foul' when told that a footballer really does eat lettuce.

Thanks to Sainsbury for the use of Secrets and Pies
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Apr 18, 2006
Words:1107
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