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POLITICAL ANIMALS: Political Meat and Fake Meat

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Plant-based meat companies perpetuate a consumer-based approach that places responsibility for solving environmental issues on individuals rather than on laws and institutions.

RICKY ZHONG: Meat (and its absence) is a hallmark of cultures all across the world. Hindus don’t eat beef, Muslims don’t eat pork, and a number of Dharmic religions make vegetarianism a centerpiece of their faith. However, meat is not only a religious and culinary subject; it is also a political one that shapes our institutions and sociocultural relationships.

In the United States, meat is consumed not as some sort of religious habit but in large part as a nationalist and political one. Meat is commonly thought of as a culinary pillar of “being American,” and its consumption–and common overconsumption–is quietly celebrated and enshrined through subtle overtones in television, pop culture, and media.

Meat exists in American politics on two levels: on the explicit surface level, where vegetarianism and the consumption of meat has, in several ways, become political. On a more subtle level, the consumption of meat is often glorified as a masculine, patriotic activity that solidifies the “manliness,” or “American-ness” of individuals. For many in this country, eating meat is associated with, or rather an affirmation of, “strength”…

According to OECD figures from 2016, Americans consume more meat per capita than citizens of any other country, averaging about 97.1 kilograms per person per year… This obsession with meat is now often associated with notions of masculinity and patriotism. Hot dogs are a baseball game tradition, turkey practically defines Thanksgiving… Regardless of its origins as a staple of American dinner tables, meat as a political instrument is used widely by political groups both conservative and liberal.

Amongst conservatives, it is often a very explicit source of pride, but even more it is a fear mongering tool by which conservative leaders warn that progressives–with plans such as the Green New Deal–will attempt to take away Americans’ “right” to eat meat… Among liberals and especially among progressives, meat is more an environmental issue than a cultural one… Though most of them still widely enjoy meat, they don’t share the view of it as a definitive piece of “America” as strongly as conservatives do…

Many firms are developing non-policy means for people to still enjoy “meat” without causing as much environmental damage. These companies produce and engineer plant-based foods meant to mimic meat, and they do so with surprising fidelity. The most famous of these companies are Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, both of which have already introduced their products into fast food chains, grocery stores, and dine-in restaurants…

However, given an imminent climate crisis and an indeterminate horizon for such a critical point in plant-based meat development, it is worth noting that plant-based meat companies ultimately perpetuate a consumer-based, demand-side environmental approach that places the responsibility for solving climate and environmental issues on individual consumers rather than on laws and institutions…

While these efforts are not mutually exclusive, the media dominance of the latter messaging can detract from attempts to push the former, because people may internalize and individualize climate responsibility and hesitate to hold firms accountable for their contributions… The development of plant-based meats is largely inevitable and positive because its taste will eventually be either equal or superior to real meat at a lower environmental and financial cost. SOURCE…

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