Why This War On Meat ? What's the Agenda ?
Updated: Jun 18, 2019
Media headlines recently ran with yet another study claiming to prove how bad meat is for our health. The study did nothing of the kind. So what is the agenda here, why is there such a powerful push against meat right now ?
This latest study appeared in the June edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and is available online here. Tom Naughton, of 'Fat Head' the movie fame, does an excellent job of deconstructing the study's findings in this video. What the study did was to compare LDL levels between participants fed diets either high or low in saturated fats, from three different protein sources, red meat, white meat, and plant derived. It found little difference between the first two. In addition to Tom Naughton's criticism, I would also question the validity of ANY inferences from the study given the menus given to those taking part, with so many variables and confounders. Here is a sample of those menus, there is just so much going on here.
The main problem with the study is that it simply takes as a given the connection between LDL and cardiovascular risk, the classic 'diet/heart hypothesis'. This idea has dominated the mainstream for the last 60 years but is currently under siege, (see here) so much so that even the authors of the study qualify their findings with this comment,
"However, the present findings also bring into consideration the fact that differing apoB-containing lipoproteins have differing relations to CVD risk. In particular, as summarized elsewhere (34, 35), large LDL particles, measured by several different methodologies, have not been associated with CVD in multiple population cohorts in contrast to the associations observed for concentrations of medium, small, and/or very small LDL... Thus, the estimated impact of red meat, white meat, and dairy-derived SFA on CVD risk as reflected by their effects on LDL cholesterol and apoB concentrations may be attenuated by the lack of their effects on smaller LDL particles that are most strongly associated with CVD."
The words 'may be attenuated' are a direct concession to the debate raging about LDL at present. As a result, the authors' final conclusion is very carefully worded, and can even be read as a guarded criticism of the current Dietary Guidelines,
"The results of the present study support current dietary recommendations to adopt dietary patterns with high vegetable content, but do not provide evidence for choosing white over red meat for reducing CVD risk on the basis of plasma lipid and lipoprotein effects. Moreover, the weaker association with CVD risk of large LDL than of small LDL (26, 36–38) suggests that the impact of high intakes of red and white meat, as well as SFA from dairy sources, which selectively raised large LDL subfractions, may be overestimated by reliance on LDL cholesterol, as is the case in current dietary guidelines."
'may be overestimated' are the key words in this case.
Media reporting following the study's release, on the other hand, stands in stark contrast to such nuance. CNN's headline was typical, and echoed across English speaking news outlets around the globe. This follows a familiar pattern. In January 2019, the Spectator magazine ran this article, 'The War On Meat Has Begun', while back in 2018 Peter Attia republished an earlier piece of his, 'Is Red Meat Killing Us ?' commenting on the dubious science behind the endless announcement of new papers 'implying red meat is going to send me to an early grave.'
If this anti-meat agenda is not being driven by science, then what does lie behind it ? Why are the media so quick to pounce on any new evidence that 'meat is bad', and why are plant-based diets being promoted so hard at this point in time ?
I don't have a definitive answer, and this is in fact a question I intend to investigate much more deeply in the months and years ahead though this blog, but I can give a brief outline of some of the drivers behind this hostility to animal sourced foods. They come from a very diverse range of directions, with some very different sets of motivations, while at the same time interweaving in some very interesting ways, as in the case of veganism for example. I believe we can place these in the following broad categories -
Let's give a short summary of each, bearing in mind that this is only a first attempt to come to terms with what is going on.
What I have in mind here is the drive to eliminate masculinity and femininity, sexual polarity between male and female. This is one of the trajectories of Western civilisation, liberation from all social constraints, 'gender stereotypes' being considered one such. Plummeting levels of testosterone are one indicator of how far this agenda is progressing, the phenomenon of 'soy boys' another. Meat is closely identified with traditional ideas of masculinity, with virility, strength, power, a warrior mindset, all of which run counter to the dominant values of our era. For women, meat is associated with beauty, health, vitality, and fertility, this latter concept also devalued, as are the related ideas of strong families, with growing, healthy, children.
One reason for this push is the desire to abolish any collective sense of identity and reduce people to individual atoms, free to shape their own identities at a whim, or under the influence of the latest marketing device or viral trend. Philosopher Alexander Dugin has developed this theme most fully, his writings can be accessed here. Gender is not the only identity in their sights, family, tribe, ethnicity, nationality, faith are all to be destroyed, anything that stands in the way of individual consumerism.
These are the Seventh Day Adventists, who promote a 'Garden of Eden' diet based on their interpretation of scripture. Adventists are also hostile to masculinity, which they see as a source of violence and war, but their main target is sexuality, which is evil. Meat is 'carnal', it brings out the animal in us, our 'base' passions, which is why eating it is strongly discouraged. This Christian sect is enormously influential behind the scenes in the nutritional establishment, as it has made the promotion of a plant based diet a central component of its proselytising mission. Belinda Fettke is the researcher who has most uncovered the extent of their influence, her work is available here.
This I use in the sense meant by Martin Heidegger, and is a theme I will be developing at length in future. As he put it, technology is nothing technical, it is a mode of being in the world. Global technology, which annihilates any sense of time and place, of meaning and significance, is best seen in initiatives like the recent EAT-Lancet program, a one size fits all diet for all people on earth. It is also present in global agricultural production, mechanised farming on a mass scale, the production and packaging of plant sourced items into processed food, as well as the global distribution networks and logistics chains that stand behind our familiar supermarket - with its infinite array of produce and items from anywhere and everywhere, at any time of year. Animal husbandry is resistant to this mode of being, as are forms of regenerative agriculture appropriate to the climate and topography of a region, and the traditions of the people who have lived there.
Technology is the second arm of Modernity, in this case the constraints it seeks to overcome are those of nature. GMO crops are a good example. At present the focus is on artificial meat substitutes, and behind these lie the prospect of laboratory grown 'meat'. These will transform meat production into an activity similar to where big agriculture is now, a process totally divorced from the natural world, that imposes its will on it, and on us. This is the nightmare posed by 'Frankenfoods', it threatens the destruction of our planet as a place where human beings can genuinely dwell.
For an understanding of how serious this prospect is, we need to enter the domain of 'Trans-Humanism'. Dugin again correctly grasps its significance. So does Tristan Haggard of Primal Edge Health in this video, where he also traces the logical connection between veganism and trans-humanist thinking.
These are fairly obvious, big food, the global corporations who dominate our current production, transport and distribution systems. Plant sourced products are infinitely more profitable than are those from animals, they are also more reliably and consistently manufactured as a result of technology (see above). In addition, we have both big Pharma and the health care industry, who exist as antidotes to the disease and chronic illness generated by our appalling plant-based, highly processed diet. More broadly, we also have the promotion of a general consumer culture through the way we approach food and diet - grazing constantly, getting as much variety as possible, using food as a source of pleasure and emotional support, and eating anything from anywhere. Aspects of a low carb or carnivore lifestyle, with its intermittent fasting, one meal a day, eating locally sourced animal products often direct from the producer, and maintaining our health and well being by doing so, just do not offer much in the way of commercial opportunities for the corporate world.
Here I am mostly referring to the nutrition mainstream. The Harvard School of Public Health for example, has only this week produced yet another poorly designed study in what seems an endless series, showing how meat will kill us all.
The Dietitians Associations, the authors of my nutrition textbook, the medical establishment, the government authorities behind the Dietary Guidelines, these and many other institutions have a direct investment in the current guidance which is becoming more and more hostile towards animal sourced foods. A reversal of this advice would amount to an enormous source of embarrassment to these people, a loss of face, credibility, prestige, it would damage if not destroy careers, and in the face of this threat they appear to be digging in.
This one is tricky, because the concern is misplaced, nevertheless the widespread sentiment today, in particular amongst young people, over the environment has to a large extent been successfully channeled into a position that sees vegetarianism and veganism as more 'sustainable' options than eating meat. The irony is that this environmentalism expresses a deep seated instinct that our current Modern way of life is careering us along a path towards disaster, and this is entirely justified in my view. Global corporations and other interests have succeeded up to now in diverting this into actions and activism that plays into their hands, encouraging monocrop agriculture, ultra food processing and global distribution. The promotion of veganism from behind the scenes as an 'anti-corporate' counter-culture amounts to a masterful manipulation of people and ideas, transforming them into 'useful idiots', the foot soldiers of global capital and technology.
The environment is a crucial battleground, it is OUR territory, we need to WIN IT BACK.
Here too we have a misdirected view that plant based is more healthy than animal sourced foods, especially red meat. Part of the complication in this area involves the transition from Modernity to Post-modernity, it is this that many epidemiological studies pick up on when they show results demonstrating that meat eaters are less healthy than non-meat eaters. What I mean by this is the following - Modernity, above all in the 20th century, promoted a certain 'f... you' attitude towards health, smoking being the classic example. This was closely associated with masculinity, think 'Mad Men', all the chain smoking going on. In part it was also related to the experience of the two world wars, after all, in a front line trench the prospect of lung cancer in your old age is not exactly anyone's highest concern, the series 'Mad Men' touches on this too.
Since the 1960's, we have transitioned to a much more feminine primary society in the West, with a realignment of values away from this kind of masculinity. Nevertheless, pockets of the old attitude remain, in particular among middle aged and older men. Since the dietary guidelines have essentially been promoting rabbit food and demonising red meat, remnants of the 'f... you' attitude towards health are expressed through higher consumption of whatever is NOT being recommended, which means meat. These same meat eaters tend also to smoke, drink, and in general not really care much about their health, they have other priorities. (I will return to this theme in another post)
So, our final element brings us back to the first. In reality, all of these forces interweave and reinforce one another in a variety of ways, which makes the political landscape surrounding meat and animal sourced foods so interesting. It is also why I insist in this blog on making the debate surrounding nutrition about ETHICS, about our conception of 'the good life', our answer to the question, 'how are we to live ?'
Contained within these various components of the 'war on meat' are at least four, possibly more, very different conceptions of 'the good life'. Untangling these, so we can see what is on offer from each one, what is at stake, and how these standpoints find expression in day to debates over diet and nutrition, is a major goal of this blog. Stay with me on this journey.