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Steak on white plate
Frank Bauer  /  © Frank Bauer/zefa/Corbis
msnbc.com contributor
updated 5/18/2012 9:24:13 AM ET 2012-05-18T13:24:13

The spectrum of cultural dude-ness begins somewhere around Ted Nugent then arcs through fast cars and rough sports before coming to rest at a massive, manly dinner. (Hold the salad.)

And what’s No. 1 — with, yes, a bullet — on the male menu? Steak, of course ... Cue the meat sweats.

Scientists may not be able to explain the fellas’ love for The Nuge, ’68 Mustangs or the Green Bay Packers, but new research pinpoints why so many guys avoid vegetables yet lick their chops when they sniff marbled chunks of cow sizzling on the grill.

In America and more than 20 Western nations, people see a metaphoric link between men and meat. And this robust, psychological connection influences diets and grocery choices, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

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Through experiments that explored what people unconsciously think of certain foods — and via an analysis of cuisine descriptions in 23 languages — the researchers didn’t mince words: “Red meat is (commonly considered) a strong, traditional macho, bicep-flexing, All-American food” while a leaner alternative like soy is generally seen as “weak and wimpy.” This explains, the authors wrote, why healthy-eating campaigns fail to resonate with many guys.

Cutting even a layer deeper, the metaphor carries added weight with “muscle meats” like steak, which is regarded in Western cultures as more masculine than ground meats such as hamburger, the study found.

This is all ancient thinking, no doubt — a tasty remnant from our hunter-gatherer days, said one of the study’s authors, Brian Wansink.

“In the (distant) past, meat was associated with strength. It was important for males to have more muscles than females in our social evolution — for hunting and fighting,” said Wansink, the John S. Dyson endowed chair of marketing at Cornell University. “That association remained — not between protein and muscles but between meat and muscles. It started a long time ago and it’s still powerful today.”

The findings may fuel future initiatives to nudge men toward better diets, the authors wrote: “For example, an education campaign that urges people to eat more soy or vegetables would be a tough sell, but reshaping soy burgers to make them resemble beef or giving them grill marks might help cautious men make the transition.”

Sounds smart. But also a tad tricky — perhaps a manipulation that guys like Ron Swanson from the TV show “Parks and Recreation” might easily see through.

Or, men like rocker Ted Nugent, who during an interview with Fox News described his most favorite recent meal as coming from the “incredible pantry of God’s renewable protein. God just keeps sending me packages of delicious grilled meat and I accept them.”

To be clear, in that context, the Nuge had just been asked how he had celebrated Easter.

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