The study, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, found that people's choices are influenced by a strong link of meat with masculinity -- a reason why men generally more reluctant to try vegetarian products.
"To the strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, All-American male, red meat is a strong, traditional, macho, bicep-flexing, All-American food," the researchers said.
"Soy is not. To eat it, they would have to give up a food they saw as strong and powerful like themselves for a food they saw as weak and wimpy," they said.
In a number of experiments, the team comprising researchers from University of Pennsylvania, Louisiana State University, University of North Carolina and Cornell University studied people's metaphors about certain foods, like meat and milk.
They found that people rated meat as more masculine than vegetables, LiveScience reported.
They also found that meat generated more masculine words when people discussed it, and that people viewed male meat eaters as being more masculine than non-meat eaters.
"In marketing, understanding the metaphor a consumer might have for a brand could move the art of positioning toward more of a science," the researchers wrote.
The metaphor for meat they found was a strong connection between eating meat -- especially muscle meat, like steak -- and masculinity.
Most of the studies took place in the US and UK, but the authors also analysed 23 languages that use gendered pronouns and they discovered that across most of the languages, meat was related to the male gender.
If marketers or health advocates want to counteract such powerful associations, they need to address the metaphors that shape consumer attitudes, the authors explained.
For example, an education campaign that urges people to eat more vegetables would be a tough sell, but reshaping veg burgers to make them resemble beef or giving them grill marks might help cautious men make the transition.