Yes, it's a culture war

A hoity toity restaurant group's resolve to go meatless is not "just a business making a decision." (Also, I'm going on vacation).

One of the most prestigious and highly-regarded restaurant groups in the world, Eleven Madison Park, announced on Monday that it will no longer include meat or seafood on its menus.

The decision was based on environmental concerns, though which concerns exactly are unclear. EMP’s statement did not include the words “climate change” or “water quality”—or even the word “environment.” It only included the most politically neutral terms possible: “sustainable” and “planet.”

That’s understandable, given all the false meat-related fuss Republicans made last week about President Biden’s climate plan. But whether the group said “climate change” or not was never going to matter. Conservatives are going to accuse them of being part of a liberal climate cabal trying to turn red-blooded meat-loving Americans into wussy veggie babies either way. It’s stupid and untrue, but also 100 percent what’s going to happen. We are living through the meat wars. Isn’t it great?

Not everyone has caught on about the meat wars, though. A couple hours after the news of EMP’s decision to go meatless broke, National Review columnist Josh Kraushaar tweeted that it was evidence of “the next culture war”—and every political reporter I follow appeared to lose their collective shit.

This morning, my feed was mostly filled with very politically knowledgable people scoffing at the idea that one extremely fancy restaurant group’s decision to go meatless might be part of a “culture war.” This was “just a business making a decision,” as Punchbowl News’s Jake Sherman said.

The whole thing demonstrates a lack of understanding among political commentators about the importance of culture in climate politics. As I wrote for MSNBC this week, we won't muster the will to create a sustainable economy until we change what we value as a society.

Republicans understand this well, which is why they make up fake controversies about taking away your meat every time a Democrat talks about climate action. They know that abundant meat is one of the things that traditionally make Americans who we are, and that we will cling to it with every fiber of our beings.

So EMP’s announcement isn’t “just a business making a decision.” It’s an influential industry group voluntarily entering a political minefield in an attempt to change food culture to be more climate-friendly. They did this one week after Epicurious, an extremely influential recipe publisher, did the very same thing. And they did this knowing Republicans would try to falsely paint them as pawns in the Democrats’ secret attempt to force burgers out of Americans’ hands.

EMP and Epicurious didn’t start the meat culture war, but they’re fighting it anyway. If more institutions did the same, we’d probably solve climate change a lot faster.

Political reporters love to ask whether climate action is “realistic.” They ask this because the don’t believe that Americans will “buy in” to the societal changes effective climate policy will likely create over time. They don’t believe Americans will want to drive electric cars. They don’t believe they’ll want to have wind turbines on their landscapes. They don’t believe they’ll want to see a great number of restaurants that don’t have meat.

But this is where their curiosity generally ends. They don’t think to ask: why don’t Americans want those things? Why do Americans have such a strong, unconditional love for gasoline and SUVs and bleeding red meat? Why does any suggestion of shifting away from those things seem to enrage people so much? What would need to happen to make people want a sustainable future?

If reporters spent more time asking and answering those questions, I think they would understand how powerful a decision like EMP’s can be—and how it is part of a war that’s been going on for quite some time.

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On that note:

I’m taking the next two weeks off for vacation. I’ll be back in your inbox on May 17, 2021.


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