When liberals called for gun control, conservatives rushed to gun stores and rifle clubs. When Democratic cities suggested banning plastic straws, right-wing Twitter personalities posed with straws to own the libs. Now, amid a liberal-driven call for vegetarianism, a wave of conservative media personalities are promoting all-meat diets.
Meat is poised to be the next proxy battleground in a left-right culture war.
Vegetarians skew left. Meat production, particularly beef, creates more greenhouse gases and requires more energy than vegetable farming, leading environmentalists (statistically a left-leaning set) to call for meat reduction. In response, an all-red meat “carnivore diet” is surging in popularity among conservatives; Fox News has done so many segments where an anchor debates a feminist vegetarian in front of a steak they’ve become formulaic; Ted Cruz wrapped bacon around the barrel of a gun to cook it, ostensibly to upset liberals.
InfoWars founder Alex Jones laid out the looming debate on a platter in August 2016 when, apparently unprompted, he tweeted a picture of himself red-faced and glowering over a platter of uncooked sausages, steaks, and meat patties.
“Celebrating Americana with some Red Meat,” Jones tweeted, “f-you Obama!”
Why would then-President Barack Obama, a meat-eater, care about Alex Jones’ lunch? With the exception of the time Jones blamed a spicy bowl of chili for his memory loss during a court appearance, why would anybody care about Alex Jones’ lunch? The implication was clear: Obama and his ilk wanted to take away America’s meat, just like they were coming for guns and Confederate flags and all manner of totems beloved by conservatives who believe themselves besieged by the left.
And just as a set of too-online conservatives pose with plastic straws or carry automatic rifles in public with the hopes of upsetting liberals, some meat-eaters double down on their diets in response to vegetarianism.
“There does exist a connection between exposure to vegetarian or vegan viewpoints and a desire to ascertain a ‘right’ to meat,” Marta Zaraska, author of Meathooked: The History and Science of Our 2.5-Million-Year Obsession With Meat, told The Daily Beast.
“It stems from something that psychologists call the ‘meat paradox—most people love animals (or at least like them) and also love/like meat... This creates cognitive dissonance, a psychological discomfort which arises when we hold dear two incompatible viewpoints, such as ‘I love animals’ and ‘I love meat.’”
So meat-eaters justify their diet with what scientists call the “four Ns”: that eating meat is “natural,” “normal,” “necessary,” or “nice” to eat.
Some meat-lovers have found support in conservative-leaning communities for people who want to subsist on all-meat diets.
While the all-meat diet has plenty of non-conservative practitioners, it has seen a surge in popularity on the right, after it circulated in conservative-leaning podcasts and Reddit threads.
Just last month, Mikhaila Peterson, the daughter of conservative-beloved writer Jordan Peterson, began making headlines for her claims that she lived entirely on beef and water. The professor had also adopted the diet, hailing it as a weight-loss and mind-clearing miracle, and promoting his daughter’s $90-an-hour carnivore diet video consulting sessions.
The diet Mikhaila Peterson described was a version of the carnivore lifestyle, a food regimen that has found increasing popularity on the right.
One of the diet’s loudest champions is Shawn Baker, a former orthopedic surgeon who sells a diet plan encouraging adherents to abandon all other foods for meat. “World Carnivore Tribe,” a Facebook group Baker launched in late 2017, has amassed nearly 16,000 followers. (In 2017, Baker’s medical license was revoked “based on failure to report adverse action taken by a health care entity and incompetence to practice as a licensee.”)
Pro-meat stances often overlap with conservative beliefs, including traditional representations of masculinity, and Biblical teachings about humans having dominion over other animals, Amy Bentley, a professor at New York University’s Department of Nutrition and Food Studies told The Daily Beast.
“Everything has become so polarized, that even something like eating meat can have political motives and messaging attached to it,” Bentley said. “So it’s not surprising to me that there would be a meat-eating diet that would be attractive to conservatives.”
Gab, a “free speech” social network that has found favor with the far right, hosts multiple groups for carnivores. A quick scroll through one group surfaced a Gab user who had posted a screenshot of himself telling an Indian man that he would not work with him, partially because, in his opinion, India’s low red meat intake resulted in low productivity.
“We have tried voluntary experiments with our own staff by going on a full carnivore diet and experienced productivity gains of 32% and a decrease in mistakes by a whopping 56%,” the Gab user wrote in the email to his would-be business partner. “Also, sick days decreased by an impressive 72%. Something to think about.”
Another user in the group, who posted a picture of his home cooking, had a username that referenced a fascist meme about feeding political opponents into a woodchipper, which to his credit, is at least consistent with anti-vegan beliefs.
Gab’s founder, Andrew Torba, is a conservative who practices a version of the carnivore diet, and has recently promoted it from Gab’s Twitter account. He told The Daily Beast he swore off vegetables in February after watching Baker’s videos.
“I’m not as strict as some of the more extreme carnivores, but I do follow the way of eating very closely,” Torba said. “I do intermittent fasting (16- to 18-hour fasts) and stick to animal products Monday-Friday. On the weekends I allow myself a ‘cheat meal’ or two which still doesn’t include any veggies or excessive grains. Typically it’s breaded boneless wings or maybe some fries with a meal. If I go beyond that and say eat half a pizza, I’ll feel like garbage for days after so I just simply don’t do it anymore.”
Like some other carnivore diet practitioners, Torba said he lost weight on the diet—not surprising for the early stages of a low-carb, high protein diet—and claims to have experienced a spike in energy. Medical experts are less dazzled. Although the young diet has not undergone any clinical studies, nutritionists told BuzzFeed that carnivores should watch their cholesterol levels, and that the diet might leave adherents lacking in certain vitamins or at risk for colorectal cancer. As with most diets, the carnivore lifestyle is riskiest for the unpracticed or under-researched adherent.
Bentley joined a chorus of commenters worried about carnivores’ bowel movements. “No doctor would call that healthy,” she said, adding that carnivores would be at the least risk if they ate lean cuts of meat and avoided cheaper, fattier cuts. Still, she said, “wouldn’t you be constipated all the time?” (Peterson and other carnivores claimed to have suffered the opposite extreme, experiencing diarrhea for weeks into the diet.)
But Torba and other carnivores also claim less-quantifiable benefits. Torba said his libido had increased on the diet, and linked to a study that found Italian women responded more favorably to dating profiles of men who described meats as their favorite foods. The study, which suggested women preferred “conformity to dietary gender norms” (rather than any inherent attraction to meat) recently made its way to Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, on a segment called “The Liberal Sherpa” in which Carlson debates a token liberal correspondent in front of a background of flowers, rainbows, and unicorns.
The segment also marked the latest in a series of Fox News programs in which a male host debated a female guest about the virtues of meat, sometimes while brandishing a steak, often while biting back a giggle. The innuendo is impossible to avoid. Alex Jones, after inexplicably taking off his shirt and eating a plate of meat during a 2017 Der Spiegel interview, dangled a sausage in front of the reporter and asked “wanna suck?”
Threatening to take away a conservative man’s meat? Expect a similar reaction as if you rolled out a groin-height guillotine.
“The connection between meat and masculinity has been with us for 2.5-million years, basically since we've started scavenging for rotten zebras on the savanna… For centuries men limited women’s access to meat—in many cultures there are taboos on women eating certain types of meats, sometimes even punished by death,” Zaraska said.
“Let's make it clear, though: there is no biological reason for men to require meat. There is no single compound that men just must obtain from meat and that nothing else can provide. The connection between meat and masculinity is purely cultural. If anything, there are studies showing that men who eat large quantities of red meat may have low sperm count.”
Nowhere is the conservative male anxiety over meat more visible than in the term “soy boy,” which alt-righters use to describe liberal men. The term references the bunk theory that, because soy contains a type of plant estrogen, it feminizes men, leading liberal vegan men to be less masculine. (For an ideology so fixated on traditional gender binaries, one might assume the far-right would encourage hyper-feminine “soy girl” diets for women, but no such analogue exists because women are typically afterthoughts or outright anathema in alt-right circles.)
“There is a reason hipster beta males become vegan to be trendy and for ‘muh social justice for animals,’” Torba said. “They have low T, low libido, are depressed and anxious, and don’t get the spiritual energy from red meat to make them an alpha male.”
The insult—or at least its spirit—isn’t going away as a slowly increasing number of liberals turn to plant-based diets, and a larger segment of conservative America perceives their meat to be under attack.
And the left-right divide over meat might be growing. Although 2016 Pew poll found a higher incidence of vegetarianism than earlier surveys, with younger people being particularly likely to follow the diet, American meat consumption is slated to hit an all-time high in 2018.
A 2016 Pew Research poll found that 9 percent of Americans followed mostly vegan or vegetarian diets. The trend skewed left, with 15 percent of self-identified liberal Democrats skipping meat, and just four percent of conservative Republicans following the diet. When conservatives take up a vegan or vegetarian diet, they are more likely to relapse than lefties, according to a 2018 study in Appetite, a scholarly journal on eating and drinking. Those former conservative herbivores quit because they had adopted the diet “for reasons less centered in justice concerns (animal rights, environment, feeding the poor)” or from “feeling socially unsupported in their endeavor,” the paper found.
In that particular culture war, conservatives have the numbers. Not even a plurality of liberals want to go vegetarian. Not even Obama—the ostensible enemy of Alex Jones’ meat—is a vegetarian. America may have moved to the left on social issues, but one future still looks decidedly red: meat.
Torba said he and other conservatives plan on remaining carnivores.
“Knowing these facts and feeling how I feel on this way of eating, how in my right mind can I possibly go back to eating processed carbs and other garbage I don’t need in my body?” he said of things that aren’t meat.