Opinion | There’s a reason the GOP’s beef ban conspiracy won’t go away

Meat is, and lengthy has been, one of America’s fiercest political battlegrounds. But these fights have taken on a new tenor recently. Last month, a buddy despatched me a picture of a small meat store in Brooklyn. Its entrance window was as soon as plastered with neon pink and orange posters promoting ham, turkey breast and prime spherical by the pound. Now, a inventory picture of a large, billowing American flag attire that very same window, flanked at the backside by a banner depicting cuts of uncooked, crimson meat, as one other banner at the prime proclaims, “My nation ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty.” Why did this neighborhood spot change from a place to pick up dinner into a beacon of freedom?

Meat is, and long has been, one of America’s fiercest political battlegrounds. But these fights have taken on a new tenor lately.

This query of meaty liberty grew to become a matter of viral dialogue lately — no less than in some corners of the web — as outrage erupted over false claims that President Joe Biden’s local weather plan demanded that Americans drastically scale back the quantity of meat they eat. Personal meals consumption isn’t at present a part of Biden’s eco-policy, however nonetheless conservative warnings that the left is coming in your meat have steadily gained floor over the final couple of years. These anxieties reveal our present second’s deep political division. But there’s a reason why this fake warning cry about a meat ban, particularly, conjures such fury and concern.

Take, for instance, the function consuming meat, or not, performed in the 2020 presidential marketing campaign. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii each campaigned as the nation’s first vocally vegan presidential candidates. This didn’t sit nicely with some conservatives. A Fox News article decreed, “Iowa voters have beef with non-meat eaters Booker, Gabbard at Iowa State Fair,” whereas opinion items endorsed views like “Why I vote ‘hell, no!’ on a vegan president” and “No to a vegan president.” These writers framed a vegan chief as out of step with custom, as somebody who wouldn’t eat pork at the Iowa State Fair or whose presidential turkey pardon at Thanksgiving would ring hole. These voices additionally frightened a vegan president could be prescriptive and restrictive — that’s, somebody whose dietary zeal would possibly spill over into nationwide coverage. (Booker instantly responded to such concerns, saying “Freedom is one of the most sacred values — whatever you want to eat, go ahead and eat it.”)

Former Vice President Mike Pence also made meat an issue at a Farmers and Ranchers for Trump event in Iowa in August 2020, which was held shortly after Biden announced then-Sen. Kamala Harris of California as his running mate. Pence warned Iowans of Harris’ comments from CNN’s 2019 local weather disaster city corridor, when she endorsed modifying dietary pointers to reduce red meat consumption, which earned little consideration at the time. To booing from his viewers, Pence vowed, “We’re not going to let Joe Biden and Kamala Harris cut America’s meat.” The message was clear: Anything less than a full-throated endorsement of cheeseburgers and steaks was unpatriotic. (Never mind the fact that Harris herself said, in that same town hall, that she loved a good cheeseburger “from time to time.”)

To be fair, food is always political, but meat has become hyper-politicized. This has occurred as meat-free eating has transformed from a countercultural and relatively fringe movement into a more common feature at restaurants, in grocery stores and in food culture more broadly. Just last week, the recipe website Epicurious formally announced that it would no longer develop or prominently post beef recipes, a move that garnered both support and disdain on Twitter.

And yet, despite the increasingly heated rhetoric about meat-free cooking and the availability of plant-based products in the marketplace, the overall number of vegetarians has barely increased in the last 20 years, holding steady at about 5 percent of American eaters.

Rates of vegetarianism do differ significantly when political beliefs are taken into account. A 2018 Gallup poll found that 11 percent of respondents who identified as liberals also identified as vegetarian, compared with only 2 percent of conservatives and 3 percent of moderates. In fact, political ideology resulted in larger gaps between vegetarians versus nonvegetarians than race, gender, age or region.

But enough people to take away America’s burgers? Hardly. Plant-based burgers may be coming to a fast-food chain near you, but a relatively small number of American eaters, of any political stripe, are giving up all meat. So why the recent media deluge threatening outright meat bans?

In a literal interpretation of the political “red meat” approach, conservative pundits have seized on the hamburger as an apparently effective symbol of personal freedom. The claim that Democrats want to take away your burger — like the claim Democrats want to take away your guns — is a strategy to manipulate classic conservative anxieties about individual autonomy and liberty.

It’s not a new tactic, both. In 2019, former Trump White House aide Sebastian Gorka stated proponents of the Green New Deal needed to “take away your hamburgers.” The Daily Mail echoed such rumors when it misreported that “Biden’s climate plan could limit you to eat just one burger a MONTH.” As the claims unfold, former Trump White House financial adviser Larry Kudlow warned of “No burger on July 4,” whereas the constantly conspiratorial Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., referred to as Biden “The Hamburglar.”

Even when they’re false, these claims resonate, and not just because hamburgers are widely adored as delicious. The hamburger is a symbol of America, an immigrant-invented food recognized around the world as both laudably and deplorably “American.” Burgers are affordable and conveniently available at globalized fast-food franchises and local spots, while also ripe for culinary innovation. A totalizing myth-maker, the hamburger is past and present, tradition and modernization all wrapped into one.

And perhaps that is what’s really at stake in this meat ban panic: not burgers themselves, but the fear of losing what they represent. The American identity — left and right, liberal and conservative — is currently fractured, broken even, but not irreparably so. When political fires flared over meat this past week, the real question at hand had little to do with beef. Change is scary — there is a reason some conservative politicians have made change the boogeyman of the past several decades. Biden isn’t going to take away our hamburgers. But as a collective nation, we do have to reckon with a mutual future that won’t look, or taste, quite the same as it has in the past.

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