GOP turns culture war into food fight
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – Last week, the Tories swallowed up fake news claiming that President Joe Biden was planning to ration red meat. Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert suggested that Biden “stay out of my kitchen.” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted a headline warning that Biden was starting to “get on your grill.”
The news was false – Biden isn’t planning anything like that – but it wasn’t the first time the Right had recognized the political power of a juicy steak. In recent months, Republican politicians have increasingly used food – especially beef – as a club in a culture war, accusing climate-conscious Democrats of trying to change Americans’ diets and, therefore, their life.
“It’s a direct attack on our way of life here in Nebraska,” Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican, recently said.
The rhetoric being launched is probably a sign of the future. As more Americans recognize the link between food production and climate change, food choices are likely to become increasingly political. Already in agricultural states, meat consumption has joined abortion, gun control and transgender rights as an issue that is quickly sending supporters to their corners.
“On the right, they’re just going for the simplest line of applause, which accuses the left of declaring war on meat. And that’s a really good line of applause, ”said Mike Murphy, a Republican consultant. “It’s politically effective, even if it’s intellectually dishonest.”
Ricketts has been among the first to tackle the issue in recent months. In March, the governor – whose state generated $ 12 billion in cattle and meat products last year – criticized his Colorado counterpart, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, for suggesting the Coloradans someday fire the red meat to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. .
Republican Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds was quick to follow Ricketts’ comments, saying in a campaign fundraising email: “Democrats and liberal interest groups are trying to quash our industry. meat.”
In her weekly column a few weeks later, Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa blasted “everyone from disconnected politicians to Hollywood elites” as leading the left’s “war on meat”.
But the problem exploded last week after a Daily Mail report – debunked within 24 hours – suggested the Biden administration could ration the amount of red meat Americans can consume as part of its goal of reducing greenhouse gas pollution.
Over the short life of history, conservative figures have pilloried Biden’s apparent invasion of the American Dining Room.
While the story is false, there is no doubt that the livestock industry is contributing to climate change.
A Environmental Protection Agency Report 2019 noted that agriculture was responsible for 10% of all greenhouse gas emissions, a quarter of which is emitted by livestock before they are slaughtered.
There are signs that Americans can adjust their diets for the sake of climate change. About a quarter of Americans reported eating less meat than a year earlier, according to a 2019 Gallup poll, mostly for health reasons, but also for environmental reasons. About 30% of Democrats polled said they ate less meat, compared to 12% of Republicans.
For some, it’s hard to imagine Americans giving up on beef and it’s easy to see its power as a political symbol, said Chad Hart, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University.
Americans aren’t too sentimental about barns filled with chickens or thousands of pigs, but few images are as uniquely American as cattle grazing on hills.
“When you think of American food, the beef is what’s at the center of that plate,” Hart said. “And that will likely remain a national identity when it comes to what an American plate looks like.”
To be sure, food is nothing new in the politics of culture warfare.
First Lady Michelle Obama has been attacked as intrusive by conservatives for defending higher nutritional standards in school meals.
As a presidential candidate in 2007, Barack Obama was accused of food elitism when he asked a group of Iowa farmers if they had seen the price of rocket at Whole Foods, a chain. upscale grocery store that hadn’t yet arrived in Iowa. Obama has always won state caucuses.
More famous still, Michael Dukakis was pilloried by Republicans because he was far from contact with rural America in the midst of the 1980s farm crisis, when he suggested Iowa farmers consider diversify their crops by planting Belgian endives.
This prompted then-vice president Dan Quayle to wave a head of endive, a green used in salads, to show a crowd in Omaha “how the Massachusetts man thinks he can rebuild the world. agricultural economics. “
In the past, food was a way of portraying Democrats as out of touch with rural America. Today, the message is about the climate and the economy.
There is a growing movement to discourage meat consumption and a massive market for meat replacement foods. The Green New Deal, a vast environmental plan championed by liberal New York representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, calls for a sharp reduction in animal production.
Biden called the plan “an important framework” but did not approve of it.
As these policies are just plans for now, Republicans who complain about them have offered little substance with their demands for a war on meat.
Still, Republicans have looked for ways to signal which side they are on. In April, Ernst introduced a bill that would prohibit federal agencies from establishing policies that prohibit serving meat to employees.
Ricketts declared “Meat on the Menu Day” in March and returned Wednesday to name the entire month of May “Beef Month”.
These efforts are failing to address significant issues in the beef industry, including a backlog at slaughterhouses due to the pandemic, drought, and high feed costs.
And a spokeswoman for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association has kept her distance from the food battle.
“When emotions and rhetoric run high on either side of the political aisle, the NCBA remains focused on achieving lasting results,” said spokesperson Sigrid Johannes.
Associated Press writer Grant Schulte contributed to this Lincoln report, Neb.