A fake claim that President Joe Biden is planning to limit meat consumption is driving conservatives insane. Here’s why they are wrong.
It looks as if the right are giving themselves heartburn to own the libs. Over the weekend, some prominent US conservatives shared pictures of themselves eating enormous slabs of meat in response to fabricated claims that president Joe Biden is planning to limit red meat consumption. Despite the fact that Biden’s imaginary meat quotas exist only in these people’s heads, rightwingers have spent the last few days frothing at the mouth over them.
Several Fox News hosts have repeated this baseless claim and a number of Republican politicians, including the governor of Texas, have tweeted their opposition to this fictional policy. Larry Kudlow, the former economic adviser to Donald Trump, even complained that Biden wants Americans to drink “plant-based beer”. You know, as opposed to the flesh-based beer that real Americans enjoy.
What on earth sparked this carnivorous conservative fever-dream? MailOnline. On Thursday it published a highly misleading article claiming: “Biden’s climate plan could limit you to eat just one burger a MONTH.” The word “could” is doing a lot of heavy lifting there: Biden has said nothing of the sort. The assertion stems from a 2020 academic paper that has no connections to Biden; this study noted that if Americans made a 90% cut to their beef consumption, there would be a 51% reduction in diet-related US greenhouse gas emissions between 2016 and 2030.
Factchecking all this is largely futile, of course: the people who get het up about an imaginary war on burgers tend to not let reality get in the way of their feelings. I suspect many of the high-profile people pushing the Biden-bans-beef narrative knew very well it was baloney; they just wanted to stoke the culture wars. Fox News, for example, rammed the story down people’s throats for days then acknowledged on Monday that its reporting about Biden’s meat quotas had been somewhat inaccurate. The rightwing grievance cycle goes like this: invent something to get upset about; have jowly men with names like Tucker and Chad amplify this imaginary grievance on conservative media outlets; find ludicrous and often self-defeating way to protest against this imaginary grievance; get Tucker and Chad to quietly admit they may have somewhat exaggerated things; conjure up something new to get outraged about.
This isn’t the first time the right has had a meat-based meltdown. Meat has become a cornerstone of the culture wars, a recurring theme in the endless rightwing grievance cycle. “They want to take away your hamburgers,” the former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka yelled at the 2019 Conservative Political Action conference. “This is what Stalin dreamed about but never achieved.” Ah, yes, Stalin’s Five-Year Hamburger Eradication Plan – I remember learning about that in history class. In today’s polarised world, meat is no longer just a foodstuff: performative meat-eating has become a way to signal that you’re a Real Man (or a Traditional Woman who appreciates Real Men) who loves guns and freedom and is sceptical about the climate crisis. Fox News host Jesse Watters once ate a steak on air to “trigger” a vegan. Very edgy stuff! Jordan Peterson, the right’s favourite philosopher, has memorably endorsed a meat-only diet. (Tangentially, according to one study by researchers from the University of Hawaii, men incorporate more red meat into their diet when they feel like their manliness is threatened.)
Ultimately, however, it is not just the right that has an unhealthy obsession with meat. Global meat consumption keeps rising: the amount of meat consumed per person nearly doubled in the past 50 years. “Plant-based” eating may have become fashionable, yet the world is on track to consume more meat in 2021 than ever before. That is a problem because the meat industry has a huge carbon footprint.
While banning people from eating animal products obviously isn’t feasible, we desperately need to find ways to reduce global meat consumption. Food for thought while you enjoy a plant-based beer, anyway.