What the hell is real food for real men? Does Wal-Mart sell a “Food Manliness Meter” I can buy?
In Chiang Mai, Thailand, the McDonald’s is attached to the Imm Thapae, a hotel across the street from the historic Thapae Gate. The Gate was where monks and businessmen once traveled through to conduct meetings and trade. The old, blackened bricks stand strong, plants growing between their cracks and all; a symbolic monument to days long gone. Still, it’s the main entrance to what is called the “old city,” and as I sat looking out at it from inside of McDonald’s it provided the juxtaposition necessary to wax philosophic. In my peripheral was a plastic, life-sized Ronald McDonald – hands together sa-wa-dee-krup Thai style – there to greet incoming customers in all his simultaneously culturally crushing and embracing ways. This is to say that the McDonald’s is an easily recognizable place for people to meet before they go elsewhere. As I sat there waiting to be picked up by Ricky Tan, founder of Care Corner Orphanage, I couldn’t believe what came out of their public announcement system.
I’m paraphrasing but not exaggerating in describing the pre-recorded promo ad:
It’s the rainy season here in Thailand. This means the temperature is high and the humidity even higher. We sweat a lot, and we’re active people. This can result in potentially dangerous health situations where we lose important nutrients called electrolytes. You could pass out. Your blood sugar could drop…or even worse. So it’s important to indulge in sweets as they can help get your sugar levels back to normal. You owe it to yourself to indulge, for your health’s sake. Go ahead, enjoy one of our pies. You deserve it. Come on up and order….
I smiled for the brilliance of it all. It’s true what they say – I even had an electrolyte powder mixed into my bottle of water. I fumed for the brilliance of it all, too. There’s so much conflicting nutritional information out there that it’s no wonder the general population has no idea what or who to believe. This commercial was insanely manipulative and convincing. You owe it to yourself to indulge.
A flashback of a flashback came to me. I was training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at the renowned Renzo Gracie Academy in midtown Manhattan. In between some brutal rounds of sparring I flashed back to a Nutrisystem commercial I’d heard: “Pizza, burgers, pot roast…Real food, for real men!”
What the hell is a real man? I wondered. And why are these foods considered “Real food, for real men?” Does Wal-Mart sell a “Food Manliness Meter” that I can buy?
My mind continued to drift despite the bells and buzzers and grunts of a fight gym surely clanging around me.
It’s an insinuated assumption that if a man skips a pot roast for grilled salmon and a side of steamed broccoli his manhood is up for debate, I thought. Why does the definition of a man depend upon him loving pizza, burgers and Ford F-150’s?
Renzo paired us up to do five minutes of triangle choke drills with a partner. Even then, as I went through the motions of muscle memory, my mind raced on this topic:
Action movies with Vin Diesel expressing only the anger emotion and saving weak women are still blockbuster hits. Lebron James, an icon of the National Basketball Association, storms out of the arena without so much as a handshake to the players on the team that beat his. “I’m competitive,” is the excuse he gave in a later press conference.
Most of the fighters I trained with were both men and vegetarians. A conflict? These are some of the most elite combat athletes in the world, “men” in every sense of the definition that is pushed upon us. And yet they don’t eat meat at all, let alone a freaking pot roast. Is their manliness up for debate too? What does it mean to an already nutritionally-confused and body-conscious population when unhealthy foods are put in the sleek, shiny wrappers of sound nutritional advice advertisements?
My mind came back to Chiang Mai. How oddly beautiful it was, I reflected, to have been in a class devoid of ego, a class where I learned the most efficient ways to break limbs and choke other men unconscious, a class where a legendary fighter and instructor cries when he hands a new belt color to a deserving student, a class where men routinely and every second are giving up, tapping out, then smiling in defeat. Ultimate vulnerability. That’s manly.