O say can you see, my fellow patriots, what these libs are getting up to now? If Donald Trump is not re-elected in 2020, Nancy "Pol Pot" Pelosi and her band of kale-crunching Marxist-Lenninist-Bezosist thugs will make it a felony to eat a hotdog on the Fourth of freaking July.
This is not actually something I have taken from a speech at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, but it might easily have been. In his remarks on Thursday, the former Trump White House aide Sebastian Gorka compared Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to one of the vilest dictators of the 20th century, singling out her recent offhand comment about American meat consumption. "This is what Stalin dreamt about but never achieved," Gorka said.
I have been enjoying the volumes of Stephen Kotkin's biography of Stalin as they have been published. So far I've missed the bits where Uncle Joe, who loved a good traditional Georgian dinner with lamb and all the fixings, tried to outlaw meat. Maybe it's being saved for part three, along with the Siege of Leningrad. If anything, though, Stalin probably did more for the cause of the humble hamburger than any dictator in history. In 1935, Stalin declared that "Life has become better, comrades" and dispatched a Soviet commissar to research the glories of American popular cuisine. The result: ubiquitous meat patties and disgusting mayonnaise salads everywhere for the next half century.
Historically speaking, opposition to meat eating has been a far-right cause as much as anything. Never mind the H word. For every anarchist like Tolstoy, there is someone like the Thatcher-era Tory minister Alan Clark, a committed vegetarian who once tried to use his influence with the prime minister to ban the import of seal fur. He liked animals so much that on his deathbed he decided not to convert to Catholicism after a priest told him dogs did not go to heaven. (Clark's native Church of England has no definitive position on this question.) Even today, white supremacist psychos are using the internet to share their favorite volkisch chia seed ravioli recipes.
But all this historical wrangling elides the obvious point, which is that Americans do eat more meat than they should — way more. The literature of meat consumption and production makes for very gruesome reading indeed. Blithe neoliberals can talk all they want about how meat's transformation from luxury good to seven-day-a-week staple is a sign of progress, but this ignores the reality of how industrialized animal husbandry has upended the global food supply chain. We have monopolized the international market for grain in order to feed all these animals, and destroyed the soil, the rivers, and the forests. We make a great deal of noise about only buying mutts from shelters in the interest of being "humane" to dogs, but we don't raise enough chickens in decent living conditions in this country to feed the population of Staten Island. Into the bargain, we have become the fattest people in the world. Who is actually winning here? Somehow I don't think it would kill us to stick to fruits and vegetables and grains for a few more meals every week — and make our portions smaller when we do eat meat.
Even talking about all this is, of course, politically suicidal. There is nothing Republicans would rather do in 2020 than run on steak rights. In America it is impossible to make any argument about the common good without being drowned out by buffoons like Gorka. Nor does it help that all too often, the mouthpieces for otherwise sensible points about meat eating are people like Ocasio-Cortez, who also believes that it will be possible to eliminate all non-renewable energy in 10 years by clicking our heels three times and saying a few magic words. Still, it should be possible for sensible people to recognize that eating 265 pounds of meat a year on average — 30 percent more than Germans and twice as much as Norwegians — is not synonymous with economic prosperity. Why not follow the Japanese model, and stick to fish, rice, and vegetables? We'd all live longer, even if we smoked like chimneys.