Progressives who glorify meat consumption are doing free PR for a highly-polluting industry working tirelessly to keep polluting.
My brain can’t take any more hard news this week, so today I want to do something a little different.
I want to talk about meatposting.
Meatposting is word I made up just now. It refers to the practice of posting pictures of meat on social media with captions that glorify its consumption. Like, a picture of a grill top covered in hot dogs on the 4th of July with the caption “HELL YEAH AMERICA!!” Or a picture of a salami-filled charcuterie board captioned “ALL THE MEAT!!”
My politically progressive friends post stuff like this all the time. And I gotta be honest: I think it’s super cringey! So today, with BBQ season fast approaching, I’m going to explain why it irks me when people who care about the climate crisis make big stupid meatposts. And subscribers, I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.
(Also, for the inevitably triggered conservatives and climate deniers who read this headline and think I’m trying to police your eating habits: I don’t actually care what you do. This post is not for you. Relax.)
The meatpost that started it all
I was inspired to talk about meatposting today because, a few weeks ago, a friend who works in the climate activism space sent me this meme on Instagram:
It bothered me. So I wrote back, “Ew.” My friend responded: “What’s wrong with a massive viking charcuterie?” Here’s the conversation that followed:
If you can’t see the image, I signaled that I was about to step onto a soapbox. Then I said I thought publicly flaunting meat consumption was “like flaunting filling up your car’s gas tank and being like “hell yeah gas!”
My friend, who is the most lovely and good-natured person ever, responded:
[Sees soapbox come out, checks surroundings and sees that there is a climate crisis, looks down at shirt glamorizing meat consumption, realizes is the bad guy, hangs head in shame].
I should’ve checked myself before I wrecked myself.
What meatposting actually glorifies
My friend, to be clear, is not the bad guy. Like all climate-concerned meatposters, he simply forgot that meat is basically fossil fuels, except more delicious. It is a thing society uses every day but that is fueling a climate crisis causing massive human suffering, particularly among vulnerable populations.
Industrial animal agriculture is one of the largest sources of water contamination in the country. It is a massive contributor to drought in the West; the #1 reason for Brazilian Amazon deforestation; and responsible for up to 18 percent of global carbon pollution. It has been a huge source of suffering and death for workers, particularly during the pandemic. If meat and dairy consumption continue apace, there could be an 80 percent spike in global agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050.
Climate-concerned meatposters forget this because meat culture is powerful. In America, we’re taught from a young age that the coolest thing in the world is to be a big man with a big car who eats big meat. This is part of our deeply embedded culture of petromasculinity. It’s why people still get weirdly furious when you suggest eating carrot hot dogs instead of regular hot dogs on the Fourth of July.
So I have great empathy for meatposters. I used to be one myself. If you scroll back far enough, my Instragram is a treasure trove of bleeding steaks, tender chops, and glistening loins. The pictures were all meals I made as acts of care for those I loved, particularly men. Of course I wanted to share them.
But eventually, as my climate reporting career went on, it no longer seemed ethical to actively encourage that behavior with enthusiastic social signaling. I stopped meatposting as an act of care for those I loved, and as an act of defiance against the powerful industry it benefited.
Meatposting is free PR for a high-polluting industry
My annoyance with meatposting is not about the fact that individuals choose to eat meat. We live in a society that makes it very difficult to live a totally climate-friendly life, and no one should be shamed for what they choose to fuel their body with.
My annoyance with meatposting is about the fact that it unnecessarily glorifies one of the most climate-polluting industries in America. Not only that, it glorifies an industry working tirelessly to prevent regulations that would reign in their pollution.
“It is astounding, the level of fear and pushback from the meat industry on our efforts to address the very real, substantial climate impacts of meat production,” Kari Hamerschlag, deputy director of the food and agriculture program at Friends of the Earth, told InsideClimate. “They don’t want to cede an inch on climate change.”
The fossil fuel industry has to rely on sophisticated PR teams to distract the public from their climate misdeeds, and to give them social license to operate. The meat industry has meatposters to do some of that work for free. And unlike the fossil fuel industry, the meat industry gets social media love from all over the political spectrum: not just conservatives and climate deniers. They don’t have to worry about social license to operate. You give it to them every time you post a picture of your plate.
Catch of the Day:
Fish and I wish you a lovely weekend.
OK, that’s all for today—thanks for reading HEATED! If you’d like to share this piece as a web page, click the button below.
To support independent climate journalism that holds the powerful accountable—and to receive HEATED’s reporting and analysis in your inbox four days a week—become a subscriber today.
If you’re a paid subscriber and would like to post a comment, click the “Leave a comment” button:
Stay hydrated, eat plants, break a sweat, and have a great day!
Ok just want to CLARIFY that I don’t think meat in general is necessarily bad and that I’m talking specifically about factory farming when I’m talking about what contributes greatly to climate change and water pollution and human suffering. I thought I was pretty clear about that but lots of people seem to think I am generally meat bashing, which sorry to my veg followers, is just not the case. If you make a post about meat and say “and I got this from a sustainable farm,” that’s cool. That’s not a meatpost, at least not in the way I think about it. It’s like posting a pic without a mask at an indoor gathering. If you do it without explanation, it’s cringe. but if you clarify, “we’re all vaccinated!” Or “this is my bubble!” It’s whatev.
I feel so seen by this post, and grateful for the term "meatposting" to describe a thing that happens on social media that bothers me and disappoints me over and over again. I totally agree that what we model and celebrate on social media matters so much in setting norms, and is a decision with a lot more power than just occasionally eating meat and other animal products in private. (Are you familiar with Melanie Joy's work on "carnism"? I think it likewise helps us understand our culture around meat eating. https://carnism.org/carnism/)
I wonder what a gentle way is of providing some social push-back on meatposts, short of posting this article in the comments? Usually I just don't react to them, but I want to actively be part of setting norms in my social circles, just as I would if friends posted something racist...