[Image via The Bored Ninja]
The first time that I encountered meat pride was in high school. A new restaurant opened up in our town called Cheeburger Cheeburger. On the wall in the back were framed portraits of people who’d survived the Cheeburger Cheeburger challenge: they’d consumed a one pound burger and, consequently, earned themselves a spot on the wall (but not, I imagine, a free cardiological exam). Someone that we knew, a family friend (who shall remain nameless), once proudly declared that he had won Cheeburger Cheeburger’s greatest honor. I didn’t know whether to cheer or throw up.
[Image via Yelp]
Meat pride is a phenomenon–most likely just an American phenomenon–that’s rarely discussed but omnipresent. You see it on TV, when eating show hosts tackle mountains of ribs or piles of brisket and then pat their bellies like happy matadors who’ve swallowed their bulls whole. You’ll notice it in social settings when competitive carnivores outdo themselves by piling more and more bacon on to their chili cheeseburgers, their eyes gleaming as if they’re engaging in the most carnal of possible carnal pleasures. Chefs shoulder animal carcasses for magazine photo shoots, strutting like models donning the most elegant apparel.
It’s one thing to eat animals, it’s another thing to feel pride because you eat animals.
Where does this meat pride originate? Why is meat pride not only accepted in our culture but celebrated? Why doesn’t the same phenomenon exist with carbohydrates? Why don’t I get my picture on the wall for finishing a pound of spaghetti? Or a super-sized bucket of popcorn?
A few theories.
1. Meat Pride originates from the hunter, returning home with a kill, roasting and then devouring the spoils. Even though the industrial meat complex has us many steps removed from that process, we still feel the resonance of that kill and the triumphant feeling of having vanquished our dinner.
2. Meat Pride derives from a period when consuming meat was a sign of wealth. Because meat was harder to come by in previous generations, those who had it felt a sense of superiority, a sense of having something of value. This is probably why the old lady in the Wendy’s commercials who asked, “Where’s the beef?” did so with such incredulousness, dissatisfied, as she was, that her hard-earned money was being spent on such a paltry bit of meat. (Eating that burger would be an exercise in Meat Shame.)
3. Meat Pride flaunts conventional wisdom: that red meat is bad for you, that fat is bad for you, that nitrates in bacon are bad for you, etc. Those who exhibit meat pride are saying, in effect, “I know this may give me a heart attack, and not only do I not care, I’m proud that I don’t care.”
4. Meat Pride is decidedly masculine. Even though I have plenty of women friends who love meat, and even though I know female butchers (like Lindy and Grundy) and female meat chefs (like Naomi Pomeroy of Beast), what I’ve never experienced is a female who boasts of eating huge portions of meat the way that guys do. I’m sure there are exceptions–I can imagine Melissa McCarthy’s character in “Bridesmaids” talking up the entire prime rib she ate off a Las Vegas buffet, for example–but in groups of guys, there seems to be this masculine bonding ritual of talking up and eating up huge quantities of meat. Maybe this is tied to #1, the pride of the hunter (and why it’s dad who usually insists on carving the turkey at Thanksgiving?).
5. Meat Pride unites fellow gluttons. Boasting of one’s love for meat and one’s capacity to eat it in huge portions is a way of sussing out the feasters from mere eaters; Dionysians from dieters. Which is why Josh Ozersky’s Meatopia event is so popular: it is to Meat Pride what Woodstock was to music. The community-mindedness of the event–this year’s is divided into “neighborhoods” like Carcass Hill, the Deckle District, Offalwood, and the Meatopia County Game Reserve–underscores the way that Meat Pride works to bring people together.
To be clear, I myself very much enjoy eating meat. It’s the need to broadcast that enjoyment that I question. Why do we do this? Your thoughts are welcome in the comments.