Health & Fitness | April 26, 2021 12:50 pm

Why So Many American Men Were Bragging About Their Red Meat Consumption This Weekend

We have an unhealthy relationship with steak. That's never been more clear.

fake red meat law
If you saw more steaks on social media this weekend, you weren't imagining it.
Jose Ignacio Pompe/Unsplash

After President Biden unveiled his climate plan last week — which includes a goal of reducing greenhouse gas pollution by 50% from now until 2030 — a number of online outlets pondered concrete measures that might help the effort along. In one article, The Daily Mail made the apparent cardinal sin of suggesting that Americans eat less meat, citing a University of Michigan study that illustrated the connection between dietary choices and emission levels.

Some of that study’s numbers (e.g. cut back on meat consumption by 90%, try to eat just four pounds of meat a year) were picked up by Fox News, and falsely peddled as “Biden’s Climate Requirements.” This triggered partisan outrage online, where Republican politicians and pundits pulled out their best “don’t take my steaks” takes.

This is yet another a contrived culture war. Those who participated in it over the weekend know exactly what they’re doing. Someone, somewhere in this country, actually believes bacon’s going to get banned a few months from now — the people with the big Twitter followings propagate that lie to fuel the fire, advance their agenda (sabotage the climate plan), and grow their personal followings even more.

Politics aside, though, this incident is yet another indicator of America’s wildly unhealthy relationship with meat — particularly the behavior of American men. The macho posturing that’s gone on over the last few days, as the country’s carnivores have proudly posted photos of 20 ounce rib eyes, is reminiscent of another viral mistruth. In 2019, the internet became convinced that Burger King’s Impossible Whopper, made from plant-based protein, contained enough estrogen to give a man “man boobs.”

This isn’t true — in fact, in a move that never happens, the man who advanced the idea backtracked and apologized — but that doesn’t seem to matter to most men, just as many commenters (conveniently) missed this weekend’s most cogent replies, which took pains to clear up the confusion on Biden’s climate “requirements.” A lot of these guys want to be angry about the rise of plant-based meat, or the suggestion that they cut back on red meat. They see the trend as a personal attack.

Studies have indicated that for many men, meat consumption is critical to their understanding of self. It’s not just that they can’t imagine a dish without it — they can’t imagine life without it. They rely on it for pleasure as well as for protein; according to one study, men with low self-esteem are more likely to increase their red-meat consumption as a compensation mechanism. It should come as little surprise that at the end of the day, men eat more meatkill more animals and are half as likely as women to consider a vegetarian or vegan diet.

It’s frustrating to see people so confidently get something so wrong. A meat-heavy diet is bad for fitness, bad for digestion, bad for the environment. And even if you somehow don’t care about any of that — it’s bad for your sex life. See enough commercials of bikini-clad women wishing you’d eat more cheeseburgers, and it makes sense that you’d start to equate meat with virility, but fatty cuts of meat reduce arterial function almost immediately, which disrupts blood flow and limits sex drive.

When these debates crop up, there’s this pervasive idea that one group of people needs another group of people to start eating less meat. There is some truth to that. Too much land is used for livestock. The working conditions of meat manufacturing facilities are deplorable (they were a COVID hotspot last year). Emissions would drop — insanely so — if everyone in the world went vegetarian tomorrow.

But ultimately, your diet is your decision. You’re responsible for it — not me, not President Biden. This is actually a good thing. It means you can eat ribs (and post about them) whenever you like, but it also means that if you consistently choose cholesterol over fiber for 50 years, you have little excuse for the way you feel day-to-day. Definitions on manliness vary — the internet gave us a front-seat to that fact this weekend — but it’s hard to argue with the manliness of living a long, full life. We suggest cutting back a bit on meat this year. Not because you have to. Just because it’s the right thing to do.