Coming 11/16: Diners, Dudes & Diets: How Gender & Power Collide in Food Media & Culture

Emily Contois's picture

Greetings all, 


I'm excited to share that my book, Diners, Dudes, and Diets: How Gender and Power Collide in Food Media and Culture (University of North Carolina Press), comes out next month and pre-orders are already shipping! 


One of the few good things about the pandemic is that the book launch on November 16, hosted by Magic City Books, one of Tulsa's great independent bookstores, will be free and virtual. You are all warmly invited to attend! I'll be in conversation with Anne Helen Petersen, author of the just released Can't Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout GenerationRegister here


I feel hugely awkward to encourage pre-ordering the book, but if you do, I'd love to send you a postcard of thanks, custom designed by one of my wonderful students. Thank you to those who have already. Your support means so much to me! 


With sincere thanks and best wishes,



Praise for Diners, Dudes, and Diets


“Contois has demonstrated that there is much fertile ground for considering how, why, and where the trope of ‘the dude’ functions and the arguments remain engaging throughout the entirety of Diners, Dudes, and Diets. She makes a significant contribution to food studies, gender studies, and cultural studies by deftly weaving an analysis of gendered power dynamics with observations of race, class, sexuality, age, and disability at important consumer culture sites.”


Kathleen LeBesco, coeditor of The Bloomsbury Handbook of Food and Popular Culture


Diners, Dudes, and Diets is truly interdisciplinary in a way that few works actually are. I feel like I’m being guided by a master storyteller who knows how to convey a sense of discovery, originality, and surprise. The textual analysis of the dude in his many forms is so compelling as to stand alone with the best literary deconstruction. Not only is this book an accessible, up-to-date primer in cultural studies, consumer culture, gender studies, hegemonic process, body image, food studies, and many other fields, it obviously connects to the intense, intimate concerns of many students (regardless of major), and it’s short! A trifecta! It’s the perfect teaching text.”


Warren Belasco, author of Meals to Come: A History of the Future of Food 


“Contois deftly documents how the emergence of a new masculine identity—the “dude”—enabled food marketers, media, and culinary professionals to sell both diet food and a countercultural male lifestyle to consumers hungry for both. Astutely applying a historian’s lens to a sagacious selection of examples … Contois reveals how “dude culture” softens the rigidity of gendered food rules but does not fully eradicate them. Ultimately, this sophisticated yet accessible work proves that we need more expansive, more inclusive, and more representative relationships between the food media we consume and the gender identities we inhabit.”


Julia Ehrhardt, Reach for Excellence Associate Professor of American Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Oklahoma Honors College



Emily J.H. Contois, PhD, MPH, MLA

Assistant Professor of Media Studies | The University of Tulsa

800 S. Tucker Drive, Oliphant Hall 132, Tulsa, OK 74104

she/her/hers | Website | Twitter  | Instagram | Facebook 

Emily, I am so proud and pleased for you! I knew that Diners, Dudes, and Diets would be fire from the moment Nina Holmes and I accepted your short piece on "brogurt."

I hope that other H-Nutrition subscribers will share with us their triumphs, too, from articles and books to grants and teaching awards. It builds community when we can celebrate with each other.

I'd be interested in checking out this book. There was an important shift in the late 1800s to early 1900s when there was an obsession with gender roles, social norms, and racial identities --- and it all overlapped, such as with the strange phenomenon of neurasthenia. During that era, dietary identities were also gendered, such as promoting plant foods for women and animal foods for men, although interestingly there was a movement among certain Christians (Seventh Day Adventists, Unity Church, etc) that idealized plant-based diets as more spiritual for both genders (often with the intention of suppressing what was perceived as sinful oversexualization), presumably based on an old cultural influence ancient Greek dietary ideology.

About one particular gender diet as applied to a specific food, look at the following --- Mark McWilliams, “Moral Fiber: Bread in Nineteenth-Century America”; from Food and Morality: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery ed. by Susan R. Friedland:

"From Sarah Josepha Hale, who claimed, ‘the more perfect the bread, the more perfect the lady’ to Sylvester Graham, who insisted, ‘the wife, the mother only’ has the ‘moral sensibility’ required to bake good bread for her family, bread often became a gendered moral marker in nineteenth-century American culture. Of course, what Hale and Graham considered ‘good’ bread differed dramatically, and exactly what constituted ‘good’ bread was much contested. Amidst technological change that made white flour more widely available and home cooking more predictable, bread, described in increasingly explicit moral terms, became the leading symbol of a housewife’s care for her family."

I'm curious how the author discusses particular diets that are often perceived in terms of gender stereotypes and how such things might relate to what we know about the nutritional differences involved. Veganism and vegetarianism tend to be considered popular more among women and effeminate men. On a personal level, I know a lot of men on these diets, some are more effeminate but not others, and so I'd be reluctant to generalize. It is true that people particularly on a vegan diet for the long-term are notorious for being extremely thin and that could be perceived as effeminate or at least not hyper-masculine.

Admittedly, one rarely comes across a vegan musclehead, as one might argue that veganism isn't generally conducive to massive muscle-building. This could be for basic nutritional reasons far beyond protein levels. Maybe this is related to deficiencies in choline, carnosine, carnitine, fat-soluble vitamins, etc (nutrients found in animal sources); or maybe something else. Also, most people I know on these diets seem low energy, although does the diet cause that or are people like that attracted to the diet. The hippy stereotype does fit some vegans and vegetarians I know, and this kind of person does tend to be more laidback, although in some cases this might be because they smoke pot. LOL

Interestingly, during the Middle Ages, Christianized Galenic thought led to the belief that red meat would cause too much energy, in building up 'blood', to such an extent that it was feared people would burn up from heat and so die young. For fear of red meat making people too energetic and rowdy, it was sometimes banned prior to Carnival and other festive events. The powerful and victorious Mongol army, in eating a diet mostly of red meat (combined with blood and milk paste), seemed to support this belief. For certain, I was lower energy back when I was a vegetarian, but I was also depressed back then. Looking back, I suspect I had nutritional deficiencies, although I would mostly blame that on unhealthy eating that began before I became vegetarian.

By the way, my severe and crippling depression lasted decades until it finally disappeared after I experimented with low-carb diets in my 40s. This involved paleo, keto, and carnivore; along with some knowledge form traditional foods. There are multiple studies that confirm this experience, in showing vegans and vegetarians having higher rates of depression, whereas low-carb diets have been used to treat neurocognitive conditions. This not only involves treatment of depression but also serious conditions like epileptic seizures and Alzheimer's (a century's worth of research is behind the former, and more recently the Bredesen Protocol has been studied for the latter).

On the opposite side, there is the stereotypical perception that men are the primary adherents of another category of diets. One that comes quickly to mind is the carnivore diet, but many of the leading carnivore advocates are women. The same with the keto diet. The paleo diet is even more dominated by the female perspective, as it draws upon the traditional foods info advocated by Sally Fallon Morrell which has a lot of emphasis on health in pregnancy and childhood, areas of interest to many women of course. If you look at the Paleo Magazine, there are more women who contribute to it than men. That entirely does not fit the caricature of manly men wanting to eat like a 'caveman'.

It's funny about stereotypes. I was never an overly masculine guy, although not overly effeminate either. I was always a tough and athletic kid who wouldn't have been accused of being a sissy, but I wasn't a fighter and didn't have stereotypical masculine interests. I was raised to be a touchy-feely sensitive male, in having attended new agey churches. As such, even as I played team sports, I never cared to build muscles and never had any attraction to the idea of appearing masculine, if anything the opposite. Yet when I went on diets that were low-carb and animal-based, I felt drawn to working out and now have more muscles in middle age than I had when younger.

Did the diet create in me a desire and capacity to do more physically taxing exercise? That's an interesting question to ponder. I definitely have more motivation, energy, and endurance than I had in the past. That is an interesting change, as most people don't see that happen as they grow older. That should be studied. Anyway, I couldn't exactly say how my identity has or has not changed as I took up different diets. I've never been one to be concerned with social norms of gender identities, not that I've sought to flout them either.