“Let’s eat a whole lot of meat until we can’t.” That phrase comes from a cartoon created by New Yorker contributor Victoria Roberts. The drawing portrays an older couple strolling through the grocery store with an empty cart. They’re trying to decide on dinner, and the wife remarks about eating meat “until we can’t.”
Roberts’ was poking fun at all the condescending, fatalistic food activists. She was ahead of her time – the cartoon is probably 10 years old. Little did we know then that Meatless Mondays would turn into something like EAT Lancet or the Green New Deal.
My intent here is not to pile on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but she is a (very) public figure. Never mind “cow farts” – she shared something on Twitter this past month that was equally (if not more) absurd. It further represents just how little activists really understand – or often care to understand – about food, agriculture and climate change.
To that end, she visited a school in Queens in early-February. Following the visit she proudly tweeted one of the students asked her, “What can we do to combat climate change?” Her response was telling.
Her first recommendation: stop using disposable razors and switch to safety razors (ok, whatever). More important here, the second recommendation was to, “Give your tummy a break! Skip meat / dairy for a meal (easiest is bfast [sic], I do banana & peanut butter).”
Bananas - it hearkened me back to a column I wrote several years ago. I had flown into Pittsburgh in an early-January snowstorm and was making my way to West Virginia:
I stopped at a grocery store to get something to eat. As I walked into the store I passed an elderly gentleman exiting the store with a single sack of various items and a bundle of bananas. The image was powerful – the paradox stopped me dead in my tracks (if only I taken a picture). The availability of fresh bananas, against the backdrop of a snowstorm in Pittsburgh in January, speaks volumes about the bounty of our food and transportation system.
It’s the transportation system that makes much of this happen!
Where does Ocasio-Cortez think her breakfast bananas come from? Getting that banana to where you want, when you want, and how you want is an involved process. It’s the direct result of a highly intricate system that’s dependent on specialized containers and sophisticated logistics. It requires trucks and more trucks, ships and planes (yes, airplanes).
You get it. I haven’t done the math – but the carbon footprint of having a one banana delivered to Queens in the middle of February is no small matter – and defeats the purpose of skipping “meat / dairy for a meal.” After all, transportation is one of the single largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions (far ahead of agriculture).
That makes one wonder if this isn’t all just a ploy. It’s not really about food or agriculture or climate change. Wall Street Journal reviewer Paul Beston touched on that concept several years ago discussing Andrew Potter’s book, The Authenticity Hoax. He described perfectly what we seeing playing out in public:
“…the ever-narrowing search for just the right kind of food has less to do with saving the environment or pursuing a healthy lifestyle than with achieving a certain self-image…” Potter notes that the search for authenticity often ends up as a status-seeking game. Authenticity, Potter writes, is "a positional good, which is valuable precisely because not everyone can have it." By competing against one another to see who is more authentic, he says, we just become bigger phonies than we were before….The overarching goal is less to possess the thing itself than to make a claim to refined taste and moral superiority.
Therein lies the key – “moral superiority.” That’s precisely where Ocasio-Cortez ended up in her 60 Minutes interview. She proudly proclaimed that, “facts don’t matter when you’re morally right.” For her, the pressing matter of the day, the serious business, is climate change.
So never mind the carbon footprint of the banana; never mind the facts. What’s really important is to eliminate meat and dairy from our diets because it’s the morally superior thing to do. For her, skipping meat / dairy in lieu of bananas is the solution regardless of being effective or matching reality.
The same basic principle of thoughtlessness played out elsewhere on Twitter during the past month. OatlyUS (proclaims new oat milk factory opening soon) posted a picture of a black-baldy steer with the proclamation: “How great is it to live in a time when we no longer need an animal to making something to put on our cereal or in our coffee? #plantbased.” Wrong: black-baldy steers and milk don’t go together.
We’re supposed to be living in the information age. As a result, one would suppose we’re becoming clearer and smarter and better informed. But somehow, it seems to be going the other way - we hold less regard for facts or knowledge or truth than ever before.
Ostensibly, if we believe it’s morally or emotionally right that we can say whatever we want (no matter how wrong it may be). Nowhere is that more evident than the many disparaging proclamations that surround food and agriculture. That’s not a good trend. I don’t know where it all ends up. But in the meantime, I’m skipping the banana breakfast and will keep on eating a whole lot of meat until I can’t.