Why Meat and Masculinity are a New Culture War FrontRoundup
tags: agriculture, masculinity, culture wars, Meat
Jan Dutkiewicz is a policy fellow at the Brooks McCormick Jr. Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School.
Gabriel N. Rosenberg teaches at Duke University and is the Duke Endowment Fellow of the National Humanities Center.
“‘Eat bugs, live in a pod,’ is not a meme. It’s their real agenda,” tweeted the conservative provocateur Mike Cernovich to 1.1 million followers last month. The tweet was responding to an anodyne Economist story about the role of meat consumption in global climate emissions. And unless you’re deep into online culture, it’s probably incomprehensible.
Cernovich was referring to a theory increasingly beloved by the right’s keyboard culture warriors—that a shady cabal of elite globalists is conspiring to make everyone on earth eat bugs instead of burgers. Why elite globalists would choose this particular plot is unclear; of all the so-called “alternative proteins” that have been suggested as replacements for meat in the American diet, insects are both the option that is already most widely eaten around the world and the one least likely to replace mainstays like pork, chicken, and beef among affluent global north consumers. If replacing BBQ brisket with roach bricks were part of the secret globalist agenda, it would surely rank somewhere way down the list of feasibility after eliminating electoral democracy, implanting everyone with microchips, and replacing football with fútbol—all changes less likely to raise consensus opposition than pissing off American meat-eaters.
The obsession with bugs, though, perfectly encapsulates the insipid but dangerous battlefield that meat now represents in America’s perpetual culture war. From right-wing trolls’ disparaging references to effeminate left-wing “soy-boys,” to the stomach-churning embrace of hypermasculine “carnivore” diets, it’s clear conservatives’ darker fantasies aren’t just about threats to a dietary staple but about threats to the liberty, bodily integrity, and masculinity of American men.
Echoes of these extreme visions are increasingly bubbling into policy debates, including more “establishment” conservative responses to global climate change. Actual members of Congress now customarily accuse any policy that might reduce meat consumption, and some policies that simply touch on greenhouse emissions, of ripping meat from Americans’ jaws.
Because this is all so ridiculous, it’s easy to miss the tragedy: Turning meat into a culture-war issue both creates new, tribal ideals of consumption and undermines the political and systemic change needed to create a healthier and more sustainable food system—one where more Americans could afford to eat well, where waterways didn’t get poisoned by runoff, where superbugs aren’t bred in feedlots, and where food workers aren’t routinely exploited and maimed. Despite culture warriors’ iconoclastic and anti-elite posturing, the biggest beneficiaries of the meat culture war are the incumbent business and political interests that already play an outsize role in setting the menu of the American diet. Among the biggest losers are ordinary consumers.
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