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(Myths That Will Not #$%&@*# Go Away)

I, I don’t want tofu
I’d rather have a mouthful of beef stew
I don’t wanna be a vegetarian
Why eat beans when you can have steak instead?
(“Vegetarian Mumbo Jumbo,” NOFX)

Some myths just will not die. But it’s not because it has any validity to it; it’s not because it’s such a compelling myth. It’s because it serves a purpose.

I think the latest version of this myth began with the emergence and acceptance of the Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat. These complaints — and fears — are posted on places such as 4Chan and Reddit though I also see them on Facebook and Twitter. Users there claim that the Impossible Burger has huge levels of estrogen, and that eating one is part of a plot to turn everyone into women, or transgender, or something that’s not a MAN. It was one thing, I suppose, when a few crunchy men ate some tofu — the protestors weren’t going to eat that, anyway. It was another thing when they started to introduce soy-based products in schools, because that was affect children at an early age. But now, they have started messing with one of the icons of masculinity — the burger!

As Jessica Lindsay notes, they claim, for example, that the Impossible Burger has 11 times the level of estrogen used in Hormone Replacement Therapy for someone undergoing gender transition. These conspiracy theorists like to cite an article in Trio-State Livestock News by veterinarian James Stangle. In that essay he writes:

“An Impossible Whopper has 18 million times as much estrogen as a regular Whopper. Just six glasses of soy milk per day has enough estrogen to grow boobs on a male. That’s the equivalent of eating four impossible whoppers per day. You would have to eat 880 pounds of beef from an implanted steer to equal the amount of estrogen in one birth control pill.”

Well, that’s not exactly true.

Impossible Hysteria was, of course, preceded by the “Soy Boy” derangement. These reactionaries have long claimed that drinking soy milk will produce enlarged breasts on men (gynecomastia); they have claimed that tofu is an agent of the lesbian cabal.

On the other hand, we also see blogs such as Lucille Sorella’s Femme Secrets, a blog of tips and inspiration for those in the process of transitioning. Sorella, for example, suggests a number of foods that make the individual “more feminine,” including soy milk, fennel, and lentils.

In reality, as the site Soya notes, NO study has shown a link between soy and breast enlargement. Instead, whatever increase in breast size noted in anecdotal cases is more likely caused by increased caloric intake. For one, the studies on feminization have all been done on rats and mice, and the effects have not been replicated in humans. Furthermore, the version of estrogen found is soy (phytoestrogen) is simply different from the estrogen used to Hormone Replacement Therapy and for breast enlargement.

So, in the face of this evidence, why does it persist? At first glance, the practice seems analogous to those people who rig their trucks to spew black smoke, and then proudly sport a bumper sticker that says something like: “Choke on this, snowflake.” Eating less meat is healthy for the body. Eating less meat is healthy for the planet. And, yet, just like those truck drivers, they gleefully revel in their decisions.

The first and most obvious reason would be that we live in a post-truth era. Far too many people distrust science, and far too many people exploit that distrust for their own personal and financial gain. Cigarette companies exploited people’s distrust of science in order to keep selling the very cigarettes they themselves already knew were carcinogenic. Oil companies capitalize on people’s distrust of science in order to keep pumping petrochemicals. Politicians rely on people’s distrust of science in order to enact policies that enrich themselves and their donors.

The second, and perhaps less obvious reason is because it seems rooted in a perceived assault on masculinity. These protesters fundamentally believe that they and all of society are being radically feminized. They believe that eating soy is part of a left-wing, feminist agenda. For one, this perspective is nothing new. In their essay in Animal Studies Journal, Iselin Gambert and Tobias Linné note the ways in which food has historically been tied to masculinity. Those who eat rice and those who eat soy have historically been seen as less masculine, and therefore as suspect.

But it’s more than that. They believe that masculinity is under attack. They believe that THEY are under attack. That thought, that perception of the world, is behind the upcoming patriarchy conference in Orlando, Florida. It’s behind the father’s rights movement. It’s behind (some versions of) the men’s movement. It’s behind the incel movement. Their fear of soy is misogynistic, homophobic, and transphobic.

The introduction of the Impossible Burger is just one more line of attack in their eyes. How dare they subvert that icon of masculinity? (The real irony, though, is that the consumption of beer can cause gynecomastia, though not because of estrogen, but because of calories.) However, the basis of their belief is just fundamentally wrong. Soy is not turning their sons into daughters. Soy is not turning their sons or daughters into lesbians. Soy is not turning men into women.

Now, it’s 2020; the science is clear; can this myth finally go the way of the dodo?

Ritch Calvin is an Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at SUNY Stony Brook. He is the author of Feminist Epistemology and Feminist Science Fiction and editor of a collection of essays on Gilmore Girls.

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