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Five Lies You’ve Been Told About Meat

Is fish meat? Was Hannibal Lecter joking? Let’s find out the truth.

The world is full of lies, and it’s hard to get through life without taking a few on board. Luckily, we’re here to sort the fact from the fiction, and find the plankton of truth in the ocean of bullshit. This week: Meat! Is it murder? And will an all-meat diet make you happy and sexy? Let’s slice off a bloody hunk of truth-steak.

Lie #1: Meat Is Murder

Legally, no it isn’t. While murder law varies from state to state, it always uses the definition from the U.S. Code of Law: “the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought.” The meat industry obviously involves a lot of killing, but it’s lawful, involves animals and is done more out of commerce than malice.

(Is killing a person to eat them murder? Yes it is, yes.)

The ethics of eating meat are definitely kind of sketchy though, and justifying biting into a glorious medium-rare T-bone involves quite a lot of moral gymnastics. We can’t argue that eating meat is necessary to survive, because it manifestly isn’t — millions of healthy people forego it entirely. We can’t argue that the animals involved don’t suffer, because they manifestly do. What we end up doing with meat is either ignoring what it is entirely or claiming some sort of existential superiority over animals, making the metaphysical distinction that we possess consciousness where they merely exist. A study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin in 2011 found that “meat eaters are motivated to deny minds to food animals when they are reminded of the link between meat and animal suffering.” 

The meat industry is horrendous for the planet in general, not just the individual animals involved. Creating space for cattle is a major cause of deforestation, and those cattle, in their brief time on Earth, produce a lot of methane. The National Academy of Sciences says that “health and climate change benefits will both be greater the lower the fraction of animal-sourced foods in our diets.” 

Eating meat sucks for the animals involved, sucks for the planet and isn’t treating us particularly well, and leaving it behind is the way forward for humanity as a whole. We can hide behind habits and traditions as long as we can, but ultimately, choosing to regularly involve death in our diets is kind of a bastard choice. We’re mean!

(NB. Some extremely sketchy chicken in cashew nuts was eaten during the writing of this piece.)

Lie #2: “What’s the Difference Between Meat and Fish? If You Beat Your Fish, It Will Die”

The line drawn between meat and fish is incredibly arbitrary. Fish is, fucking clearly, meat. 

The flesh of a fish is constructed differently to, say, that of a cow. While fat is marbled through beef, it is incorporated into the tissue of a fish in oil form, something which makes fish cook faster. It’s still meat though.

If you count fish as meat, meat is really easy to define: the flesh of an animal eaten as food. Exclude it, and it makes no sense, and there are exceptions to it wherever you draw the line. If you say it’s the flesh of mammals, what about chicken? The flesh of mammals and birds, then? Hey, good luck finding a vegetarian who eats snake! The flesh of mammals, birds and reptiles? Escargot fuck yourself! The flesh of a creature that lives on land, then? Whale meat!

It makes no sense and is stupid. Fish is meat, or else meat as a concept loses all meaning and has to be defined by what it isn’t. Flesh eaten as food. Done done done.

Although… Do insects have flesh? What is flesh? Is it muscle? Does a muscled exoskeleton count? Are grubs meat? FUCK!

Lie #3: “A Census Taker Once Tried to Test Me. I Ate His Liver With Some Fava Beans and a Nice Chianti”

The picture this famous line from Silence of the Lambs conjures up, of Hannibal Lecter calmly preparing appropriate accompaniments for a human organ, is chilling — it’s not the actions of a frenzied lunatic, but a cool, collected psychopath, being all cultured and urbane while chomping down on chunks o’dude.

But it may also contain a very, very subtle joke. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors aren’t widely used anymore, but were once widely prescribed for panic attacks, social anxiety disorder, treatment-resistant depression and persistent depression disorder. One of the reasons they aren’t used anymore is the sheer amount of dietary restrictions they placed on people. Foods you couldn’t eat included… beans, liver and red wine. Lecter was a psychiatrist, and would have known this, and is, arguably, making a claim with this line that he finds himself to be extremely sane indeed. It’s not exactly a thigh-slapper — it’s no “You eat pieces of shit for breakfast?” — but it’s clever.

In the novel, the wine was Amarone della Valpolicella, described in the line as “a big Amarone,” with the more common chianti (which works well with liver) reportedly being subbed in so people didn’t wonder whether a big Amarone was, like, a kind of potato or something.

There’s probably an argument to be made that making a big slurpy “fuh fuh fuh fuh fuh” noise after describing his meal sort of goes against the, “Hey, this guy’s really sophisticated” vibe — if a friend of yours went to a really expensive restaurant and you asked them how the food was and they made squelching noises, you’d think they were a dumbass — but the film won every Oscar going, so what the fuck do we know, right?

But the lying bit here? Census takers don’t test you. They ask you questions and write down what you say. For a guy that eats brains, this Hannibal Lecter guy’s a dumbass!

Lie #4: Only Eating Beef is the Way Forward

Until a few years ago, pointing out that an all-meat diet was a shitty diet seemed kind of unnecessary — nobody who wasn’t a moron or a wolf would ever have claimed otherwise. 

But recently, the idea has gained some traction, thanks to fans of Jordan Peterson, professional lobster-misunderstander and grandmothers’ pube enthusiast. Peterson said his daughter Mikhaila had cured herself of severe depression, bipolar type II, idiopathic hypersomnia, Lyme disease, psoriasis and dyshidrotic eczema by eating only meat and salt, and that his own adoption of the diet led to weight loss and improved mental health. After the weeks of uncontrollable diarrhea, of course. And the time he deviated from it with a few sips of apple cider and spent 25 days in a terrified catatonic state and unable to sleep.

Unfortunately, in the time since adopting the diet, he’s suffered from panic attacks, crippling benzodiazepine addiction and withdrawal, pneumonia, a medically-induced coma and the coronavirus. Attributing any of these to the carnivore diet would be disingenuous, but it seems fair to say one could aim slightly higher in seeking a health role model. 

While a disclaimer on her website states, “Do not take this as medical advice. I am not a doctor,” Mikhaila herself is available to consult on the diet for a mere $90 per hour

People who are doctors have less enthusiastic things to say about the diet, and would be much more likely to suggest that, for instance, a balanced and varied diet reduces your risk of dying young and has mental health benefits, and that among other things, more than 500 grams of red meat per week increases your risk of bowel cancer

Lisa Sasson, a clinical professor in nutrition at New York University, described the carnivore diet to The Guardian as “probably the worst diet I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard such bad ones.” Christopher Gardner, a professor of medicine at Stanford University, described the diet to the same paper as “disastrous on multiple levels.” 

Lie #5: “You Don’t Go Out for Hamburger When You Have Steak at Home”

Paul Newman famously said this when asked why he didn’t cheat on his wife, and how he resisted the temptations surrounding him in Hollywood. It’s a nice metaphor, sort of — if it’s based on the idea that hamburgers are undesirable, it’s arguably kind of harsh on all the women around him — but one that in literal terms is almost certainly untrue. Lots of people go out for hamburgers. McDonald’s alone has about 14,000 branches just in the U.S., and sells about 2.4 billion burgers every year. 

But about 25 billion dollars’ worth of beef is sold retail every year. Some of that is in expensive steak form. Steak freezes pretty well — if you wrap it properly, you can easily keep a steak in the freezer for six months or so before having to worry about freezer burn. For Newman to claim that none of the people buying those 2.4 billion burgers have a steak in the freezer at home is frankly absurd — the sheer weight of the numbers involved mean it isn’t true. Some people go out for hamburgers when they have steak at home.

Also, according to at least one biography, Paul Newman: A Life by Shawn Levy, Newman had an 18-month affair with a journalist. He wasn’t going out for hamburgers, though — he was going out for bacon. Nancy Bacon was her name. He was going out for Bacon, i.e., cheating on his wife with a woman who had the surname Bacon, that is what is being said here. Thank you. 

Man, for a salad dressing magnate, this guy loved his sex-meat!