The latest ad campaign creating a stir in the blogworld is brought to you by TGI Friday's, shilling a recent addition to their menu called the 'Meat Fanatic's Grill Platter.' The platter contains a ridiculous amount of food, including an 8 oz. steak, baby back ribs, sausage, and barbecued pulled pork, with two potato skins underneath to soak up the juices. Friday's wants to appeal to the key male 18-40 demographic, who've been staying away from the popular restaurant chain in recent years due to its insistence on serving stuff like fettucine Alfredo and fruity pink drinks. It's pretty clear who the Meat Fanatic's Grill Platter is for: men, manly men, men who don't always use a fork to eat, men who will consume every shred of flesh from a bone and then use it to pick their teeth afterwards. Beef and pork served three different ways in the same meal ain't for wimps, and if you can't figure that out for yourself, check out the ad: four men gathered at a table, steaming plates of dead animal flesh in front of them. "Beef!" one of them growls, holding up his fresh kill. "Ribs!" another one chimes in, followed by the third with "Pork!" The fourth man cheerfully stabs a spear of broccoli and announces "Vegetable medley!" Silence falls over the table, and his tablemates stare at him with expressions that suggest he's just announced he's fucking one of their wives. Finally, it dawns him what the problem is, and he exchanges the broccoli for a huge, dripping sausage (subtlety!), instantly reclaiming his manhood. "Sausage!" he yells as his friends cheer, and we can relax knowing that there won't be a parking lot beatdown when the meal is over.
Burger King is running a similar campaign, set to a parody of Helen Reddy's 'I am Woman,' in which men free themselves from the constraints of eating "chick food" in favor of a Texas double Whopper with bacon, which is basically the same as a regular double whopper with bacon, the addition of barbecue sauce rendering it "Texas." Other than quiche1, in homage to Bruce Feirstein's not particularly funny Real Men Don't Eat Quiche (1982), it's not really mentioned what qualifies as "chick food," other than that it's apparently anything that doesn't contain meat covered in oily, salty condiments. Nevertheless, men of all ages march through the streets, singing "I am man! I eat meat!" and tearing into their Whoppers with a gusto that suggests there's something in the barbecue sauce that will make their penises grow an extra inch.
My intent is not to discuss the politics of these ad campaigns, the ridiculous notion that eating "healthy" (i.e. not eating anything that's the same size as your head) is perceived as feminine, and a tool for women to control their partners. They're irresponsible ads, not just because they create yet another needless rift between men and women (because us broads are all about snatching the simple pleasures away from guys), but because they plainly state that the best way to reaffirm one's masculinity is to eat massive quantities of meat, and not just any meat, but meat that is high in fat and drenched in various kinds of sauces. I don't care what kind of metabolism you have, nobody should be eating steak, sausage, ribs, and barbecued pork in one sitting. I wouldn't recommend eating that much meat in an entire week, let alone at one meal. It's not going to make your cock any bigger, or grow hair on your chest, or make you a better football player. It's just going to make you fat and destroy your heart. You don't care about that? Fine, only your friends and family are going to give a shit. But don't try to pass it off as some sort of stand for oppressed men everywhere.
The antithesis to these campaigns is the latest from Lean Cuisine, purveyor of bland, postage stamp-sized frozen dinners marketed towards single gals. It features four ethnically diverse women laying out in spa, discussing, as we invariably do, what they had for dinner the previous night. One woman claims to have eaten nothing but crackers, while another says she's eaten "a deep-fried onion ring loaf," whatever that is. Finally, the fourth purrs in post-orgasmic bliss that she had salmon and wild rice. The other three sit up and stare at her, both in disbelief and dismay, to which she stammers "It...it was a Lean Cuisine." You almost expect her to blurt out "And I didn't enjoy it one bit! Every bite was agony!" No one is going to claim that fish and rice is unhealthy, it seems to be the mere idea that the woman admitted to eating a full meal that's supposed to be shocking, the shock minimized a bit by the fact that it was Lean Cuisine dinner, which means the serving of fish was roughly the size of a credit card. One gets the impression that if she admitted to eating a pizza instead, the other three women would have immediately gotten up and filed out of the room, shunning her forever.
You know, folks, you just can't win in this world. In order to be a real man, you must all but lick the grease off the grill at your local Wendy's, and yet there are shows like TLC's histrionic Honey, We're Killing the Kids! that suggest that allowing your child to eat more than one fast food burger a year will result in he or she growing up to become doughy-faced trailer trash. The media recounts in almost pornographic detail the deterioration of Nicole Richie and Mary-Kate Olsen's bodies due to anorexia, yet women in television programs and films are rarely shown eating anything but salad. The act of eating is portrayed as the highlight of one's day for a man, and a necessary evil for women. Just as no one should be eating the equivalent of an entire pig, no one who is not actively trying to lose weight should be relying on tiny, tasteless frozen dinners for sustenance. Enjoying food in reasonable quantities should be an equal pleasure for women, rather than seen as a lack of self-control.
It's disheartening to realize that even into the 21st century, the role that food plays wildly diverges in the lives of men and women. Men are expected to all but roam the countryside grunting and tearing trees out of the ground looking for something to eat, with any sort of thought to whether the quantity or the quality of what they're eating is healthful considered a grave breach in manliness. Meanwhile, for women eating is a spectator sport, we observe and judge other women by how much they eat, and expect the same in return. The cliche of the first date meal consisting of a dressing-free salad and water still, regrettably, holds true. While a group of men dining together in a restaurant may order enough food to collapse the table, often you'll see as many as four or five women sharing a single plate of fries, and undoubtedly the victor who leaves after having eaten the least amount. Of course, she's exercising control, while her friends are busy hoovering every bite, smeared with ketchup. Meanwhile, the serious eating, stuffing down an entire pint of Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby or a log of chocolate chip cookie dough, is done at home, in private, and with no small amount of shame.
1 Considering the key ingredients in quiche are eggs and cheese, occasionally with bacon or ham mixed in, it would seem to qualify as a "manly" dish. Perhaps it's the fact that it's served in pie form that throw people off.