But all this historical wrangling elides the obvious point, which is that Americans do eat more meat than they should — way more. The literature of meat consumption and production makes for very gruesome reading indeed. Blithe neoliberals can talk all they want about how meat’s transformation from luxury good to seven-day-a-week staple is a sign of progress, but this ignores the reality of how industrialized animal husbandry has upended the global food supply chain. We have monopolized the international market for grain in order to feed all these animals, and destroyed the soil, the rivers, and the forests. We make a great deal of noise about only buying mutts from shelters in the interest of being “humane” to dogs, but we don’t raise enough chickens in decent living conditions in this country to feed the population of Staten Island. Into the bargain, we have become the fattest people in the world. Who is actually winning here? Somehow I don’t think it would kill us to stick to fruits and vegetables and grains for a few more meals every week — and make our portions smaller when we do eat meat.
Even talking about all this is, of course, politically suicidal. There is nothing Republicans would rather do in 2020 than run on steak rights. In America it is impossible to make any argument about the common good without being drowned out by buffoons like Gorka. Nor does it help that all too often, the mouthpieces for otherwise sensible points about meat eating are people like Ocasio-Cortez, who also believes that it will be possible to eliminate all non-renewable energy in 10 years by clicking our heels three times and saying a few magic words. Still, it should be possible for sensible people to recognize that eating 265 pounds of meat a year on average — 30 percent more than Germans and twice as much as Norwegians — is not synonymous with economic prosperity. Why not follow the Japanese model, and stick to fish, rice, and vegetables? We’d all live longer, even if we smoked like chimneys.