gender, Random Wonderfulness
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Tofu & Tapenade? The Unspoken Food Rules of Football

With the completion of the AFC and NFC Championships, Super Bowl XLVIII will soon be upon us, along with its super-sized spread of snacks, which forms an American meal as iconic as Thanksgiving. Just as there are “authentic” and “traditional” dishes that accompany our national holiday dedicated to gratitude and family, unspoken rules guide which foods pair perfectly with America’s favorite sport. Two recent TV commercials make this point abundantly clear.

While much of the recent campaign for Chevrolet’s Silverado has emphasized strength, hard work, and individualism, the new “Wheatgrass” commercial instead cuts to the heart of tailgating—the food. As a gleaming white truck pulls up with a behemoth barbecue in tow, a male voiceover recites a poem-like ode to simple and straightforward masculinity, football, and the food that ought to accompany them:

A man.

A man and his truck.

And tofu, and veggie burgers, and raw kale salads.

Be…damned.

As these vegetable-based options are relegated to eternal football damnation—perhaps considered too feminine or too outrightly healthy to suit the character of the day—men and women alike chow down on hunks of meat of every size, shape, and sauce, each expertly prepared by the truck-driving master chef who wears his full beard, plaid shirt, and carnivorous appetite with pride.

Assorted imagery from the Chevrolet Silverado "Wheatgrass" commercial promotes meat, while denigrating kale.

Assorted imagery from the Chevrolet Silverado “Wheatgrass” commercial, which promotes meat and the spirit of football tailgating, while denigrating kale.

While Chevrolet clearly aligns football food with masculine meat rather than feminine veggies (a stance that incited a slew of angry pro-vegetarian comments on the video’s now defunct YouTube page), this commercial also expresses a degree of class-based resistance against foods considered too healthy, too fancy, and too inauthentic for football.

The Huffington Post took the same angle in the article, “11 Foods that Don’t Belong Anywhere Near a Super Bowl Party,” a list that includes kale chips, fancy cheese, and quinoa. Article author, Rebecca Orchant, elaborates the list with comments such as,

Chips are a requirement. Kale is exactly the opposite.

This day is not a day for salads.

Tiny, fancy foods are for other parties. This party is for big, messy, overblown foods.

This sentiment is also echoed in a DIRECTV commercial from last year. In this ad, Peyton Manning and Deion Sanders appear as tiny, winged, football fairies in a man’s refrigerator as they attempt to persuade him to purchase DIRECTV’s Sunday Ticket.

In a DIRECTV Sunday Ticket ad, tapenade is humorously, but disparagingly framed as antithetical to football.

In a DIRECTV Sunday Ticket ad, tapenade is humorously, but disparagingly framed as antithetical to football.

Incredulous, Sanders berates the potential customer saying, “You’ve got prime rib, but you don’t have NFL Sunday Ticket?” The confused customer stutters that despite the expensive steak in his fridge, he doesn’t think he can afford this football expense. The football fairies continue their food-based pitch, as Manning assures him with comedic sarcasm, “It’ll be tasty. Kind of like tapenade and football…together.” Just as tofu and kale are too highbrow for football, so is tapenade, although Manning does palm an olive in his tiny fairy hand like a football ready to be thrown.

So there you have it: the food rules of football. Anything served up at a tailgate party or before a big screen TV must be considered as simple, honest, and true as the sport itself. Nothing perceived as pretentious is allowed. Healthy options don’t find themselves in a prominent place. Meat, and the raw masculinity it connotes, is king.

42 Comments

  1. Being a seasoned tail-gater (from Lambeau Field to U of Miami) – Yes, meat is king. I do take issue with flannel and gas- sucking trucks ! You can go back to tofu on monday 🙂

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  2. So true – I’m the only female at our house and, when I suggested vegies and dip at our Super Bowl spread, I was told there would be no need! Wings, shrimp, mozzarella sticks and chips – that’s all they want! Oh, and cake too!

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  3. It drives me crazy how sports are used to peddle junk food. You can bet the athletes eat plenty of veggies 🙂

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    • emilycontois says

      You’re absolutely right! Your comment made me think of this interesting article from late last year that described the pre-Rose Bowl eating habits of college football players. Gone are the days of all you can eat madness, as tightly regulated sports nutrition is now considered as important to the training regimen as the hours in the gym.

      Billy Witz, “New Order for a Pre-Rose Bowl Tradition: Hold the Gluttony,” New York Times. December 29, 2013.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Like

  4. You failed to mention Rotel dip…Rotel tomatoes with green chilis, Velveeta “cheese” and scrambled breakfast sausage, all melted together.

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  5. It’s funny, because there are corollaries that don’t follow these rules, yet the rules remain. Here in Seattle, ever other restaurant has had some kind of Seahawk themed special on the menu for weeks, sometimes months. The other day I had “12th Man Crepes,” which featured kiwi and blueberries and was quite delicious. This is acceptable, but if someone tried to put a kiwi and blueberry spread next to the hotwings on Superbowl day, even here, they’d probably be thrown out the window.

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    • emilycontois says

      What an interesting observation – the difference between what is appropriately NFL enthusiastic within the restaurant environment (perhaps prepared by a chef with culinary zeal and community ties) and what is acceptable (and not acceptable) at a tailgate party at the field or a Super Bowl fest within one’s home.

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

      Like

  6. I’ve been a pescatarian for nearly 20 years & often the guys berating me about “unmanly” food often own “unmanly” man boobs… My query is always redirected at the manliness of their “boobs”, silence usually ensues. What a great read!

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    • emilycontois says

      You point to yet another intriguing intersection of sport, food, and gender! Thank you for reading and commenting!

      Like

  7. Ironically, I planned to grill hamburgers for the Super Bowl.

    Toppings to include sautéed onions and mushrooms…

    …and Kale…

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    • emilycontois says

      What a great way to blend old and new, status quo and rebellion, tradition and vitamin-filled innovation. Enjoy!

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

      Like

  8. From Alberta, Canada’s biggest beef producer.

    Has it EVER occurred to NFL that maybe they can expand their viewer market share, by introducing some veggie commercials? Meat, football….kinda old fogey stuff, actually. Sorry, it’s dinosaur times.

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    • emilycontois says

      It is interesting, especially as the NFL has pretty prominently promoted Play 360 to encourage physical activity in children.

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

      Like

    • emilycontois says

      Oh how interesting! I haven’t seen or heard any of those ads. Thank you for sharing.

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

      Like

  9. Great Post! We are getting ready for our Superbowl Party and Manning would be proud…steak and cheese sandwiches, elk chili, pulled chicken, chips and guac. All the bad stuff. Baby kale salad can wait for tomorrow (and I actually do have it!)

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  10. So we are a Vegetarian Hubby/Carnivore Wife home, and I am making Buffalo chicken pizza’s. Of course home made crust, ranch, the whole bit, but one will be with chicken thighs, and the other with crispy “chicken” Quorn strips. Hopefully Manning and Sanders won’t be able to tell the difference, and we will slide by unnoticed!

    Love the post, and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

    Elizabeth

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  11. Fascinating article – even for someone who (whispers) has absolutely NO interest in Foopball. But I AM very interested in food – and am absolutely with the poster who pointed out the links between moobs (and obesity generally) with the high consumption of dead flesh, particularly when the dead flesh is the product of intensive factory farming, involving the unhealthy helpings of steroidal growth hormones to make the cattle good and fat.

    Oops. Are my vegetarian colours showing a little too much??!! Fact remains, I concur we are, as shown by our gut, our digestive juices and our dentition, designed to be omnivores, not pure carnivores nor pure herbivores – however, we were never that good at good ol huntin, back in the dim and distant when all we had were sharpened stones and pointed sticks with sharpened stones, to heft and throw and bring down that poor ole buffalo. But at least the buffalo was lean and mean so he could run, and his sinewy flesh took some hard work chewing. Soooooooooo much evidence mounts up about megaconsumption of intensively farmed, chemically manipulated livestock (and not evidence which supports the practice of continuing to eat it in large amounts)

    What do we want (for the sake of health and longevity) KALE! When do we want it? Pretty well immediately, and often. Tote that tofuburger! Tote it proud!

    Hope you don’t mind this post, but blogowners rights will give you nix it to trash if you do.

    Like

    • emilycontois says

      No worries. I’m happy to promote diverse opinions and responses.

      While meat consumption alone does not cause obesity, it’s certainly true that grain-fed (often feed lot style) beef, for example, is of lower nutritional quality than pasture-raised, grass-fed beef. And while folks choose vegetarianism and veganism for a host of reasons, the promise of health and longevity is certainly a good motivation. Regardless of whether an individual includes meat in her diet or not, Chevrolet certainly stepped on the toes of many a passionate veggie lover with their recent ad.

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

      Like

      • I should have clarified it is meat consumption where factory farming practices occur – the crucial factor is the use of growth hormones. Which are then ingested by people. As that wonderful food writer Michael Pollan says Eat Food. Eat less of it. Eat more greens. What he and others explain is more and more we don’t eat food but artificial chemistry as our food gets tampered with from seed or embryo to table!

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      • emilycontois says

        I agree. The more ‘natural’–itself a term of unregulated, and yet ethically loaded, meaning–the better, whether it’s meat, produce, or anything in between. Which is part of why I was a bit irked by this New York Times Op-Ed earlier this week – “We Need G.M.O. Wheat.”

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    • emilycontois says

      Well, I hope you still managed to enjoy the game – or maybe the commercials due to the largely one-sided action on the field. Either way, thanks for reading and commenting!

      Like

  12. Pingback: Cheers & Tears: 5 More Reasons for Academics to Blog | Emily Contois

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