Meat Becomes Them

August 9th, 2007  |  Published in etc  |  7 Comments

I wobble in and out of meat-eating, so when I read this piece called “Be Yourselves, Girls, Order the Rib-Eye” I think all kinds of things.

Initially, I want to heap scorn on people like this:

But others, especially those who are thin, say ordering a salad displays an unappealing mousiness.

“It seems wimpy, insipid, childish,” said Michelle Heller, 34, a copy editor at TV Guide. “I don’t want to be considered vapid and uninteresting.”

But then there’s this:

Ordering meat, on the other hand, is a declarative statement, something along the lines of “I am woman, hear me chew.”

In fact, red meat on a date has become such an effective statement of self-acceptance that even a vegetarian like Sloane Crosley, a publicist at Random House, sometimes longs to order a burger.

“Being a vegetarian puts you at a disadvantage,” Ms. Crosley said. “You’re in the most basic category of finicky. Even women who order chicken, it isn’t enough.” She said she has thought of ordering shots of Jaegermeister, famous for its frat boy associations, to prove that she is “a guy’s girl.”

And that reminds me that socially, unless you’re surrounded by other vegetarians, it can really suck to be a vegetarian.

People don’t even bother to hide their pique if you ask to eat somewhere besides, say, a rib joint. Some will even tell you there’s cornbread to fill up on so please let’s just go. Sometimes they’ll nominate another place that “serves vegetarian,” and you get there and it’s swill because a lot of cooks don’t know how to prepare a good vegetarian meal. They just steam some vegetables and drown them in a horrible sauce. Or give you some iceberg lettuce and a cold, dried-out tomato and call it a day. Do you complain at that point? No … in a mixed crowd where you’ve already vetoed one place you better just eat the crappy food because it’s either your precious beliefs or your palate, but not both.

For some conceptions of social economy, maybe that’s a reasonable tradeoff. I don’t think it is, but that’s because I’ve known resolute vegetarians for whom eating meat is no more an option than deciding to adapt their lungs to a methane atmosphere. It’s not a thing they can set aside the way we sometimes keep our mouths shut and maybe even nod pleasantly when it turns out our boss thinks Rush Limbaugh is da bomb, so it seems like a decidedly unfriendly thing to do to force them to not enjoy a communal meal.

Anyhow, you learn which people it’s best to not go out to dinner with; or you take the initiative when suggesting places. Or you all figure out the good restaurants, where the cook has an imagination and some talent and you can get something besides fettucine alfredo.

So if it’s a pain in the ass to deal with when you’re among people whose pants you do not want to get into, I can’t imagine what it’s like when you’re a frightened single in the big city hoping to hook up and settle down before you lose all track of time and are found dead among your cats, crushed under a pile of hoarded newspapers and yogurt cartons.

None of that is a good reason to develop a cirrhotic liver in hopes of impressing jackasses who still spend their mornings boasting over the cube wall about how fucked up they got last night, but after a few years of dealing with even friends getting impatient because hot dog stands are out, I can see how one might begin to break down.

All the social pressure of meat eating aside, though, the article just chaps my ass when it gets to this:

What about when the tables, so to speak, are reversed? Can a man order a juicy New York strip on the first date and make a good impression? Gentlemen, be careful. Real men, it seems, must eat kale.

“When a guy sits down and eats something fatty and big, you wonder if they eat like that all the time,” said Brice Gaillard, a freelance design writer. “It crosses my mind they’ll probably die early.”

That’s supposed to be the twist at the end that leaves you feeling light and merry about the fact that singles in New York apparently think people who eat in accordance with their own ethics are boring drags. And the author’s supposed to get bonus points for dragging out the exhausted “chicks and dudes exploit each other mutual-like, so it’s all good” callousness the popular culture widely imagines “feminism” to now be.

Am I overthinking it? Fuck if I know. Al’s out with Dunetchka for the evening and I’m the picture of bald-legged bourgeois enfeeblement, sitting here sipping hard cider and scraping the bottom of the link barrel on the front page of the NYT.


  1. gl. says:

    August 10th, 2007 at 1:58 am (#)

    sometimes i want to say “amen, brother” at the end of your posts, but don’t really know how you’ll take it. i’m glad you noticed the feminist issue there, too.

    of course, i have told sven more than once, “at least you’re not vegan,” which is my way of saying, “thank goodness we can eat together in some places sometimes,” but which is still the same issue, so i should stop saying it.

    i don’t understand it, but the pdx foodie blog readers are really angrily against vegetarians. if the customers are vocally antivegetarian, what incentive do chefs have to go out of their way for vegetarians? when i get the chance, i try to explain that if they have decent veggie options, they can have two customers instead of none.

    so what are your favorite veggie restaurants? i find breakfast is the most veggie-friendly meal of the day, especially if you don’t want pasta. crepes & burritos are pretty good options, too. i like the idea of vita/paradox but really don’t find their food all that good. “carmelita’s” is a frickin’ awesome veggie restaurant in seattle that i wish we had down here.

  2. amy says:

    August 10th, 2007 at 6:41 am (#)

    This gender politics in relation to meat-eating issue has mystified me for some time. I am a meat-eater, but I know enough about meat-producing processes in this country to feel kind of ashamed about it, and I’m especially ashamed when I’m in a meat-focused eating establishment (like Little Zagreb’s, which I’ve only been to once and have no intention of ever going to again). I feel surrounded by, well, “consumers” is a one-word succinct description. I often think, “Well, here we all are, together, implicitly supporting each other in making this somewhat dubious ethical decision to feed on another animal who probably wasn’t treated very well.” I also notice that there’s often small groups of well-fed white guys who seem to regard ingesting red meat together as some sort of weird bonding/masculinity boost, similar to circle jerks, using power tools or talking about HEMI engines in trucks. And grilling! Jeezus – have you looked at all the “GRILLING is MANLY PURSUIT!” books stacked up around your local bookstore? (if nothing else, the cover photo always features the BEASTGRILLMASTER’s Enormously Virile Forearms!), which strikes me as so thoroughly strange in a marxian estranged labor sort of way. I’m sure what people are trying to connect to is ye olde manly roles of animal husbandry, or hunting, or whatever, but all they’re doing most of the time is cutting through some plastic wrap and placing the flesh-commodity on the heat. i mean, how alienated do you have to be from the sources of production to feel like that activity represents manliness? yikes. i should really stop here….

  3. amy says:

    August 10th, 2007 at 6:49 am (#)

    oh, and, I hope my last response doesn’t come off too much like, “look at those stupid men who know not what they do.” because I didn’t intend that, at all. I just went down one path of many, but I probably should’ve spent more time being critical of my own behavior. I do know better than to think eating meat is the best possible decision, and yet many times I do it anyway. ANYWAY, I’m still wayyy off-track from the core idea of the article that Mike discusses – that meat-eating has become another way to perform how you want others to regard your gender identity – because that issue is one that I can’t even begin to address here.

  4. pk says:

    August 10th, 2007 at 9:50 am (#)

    another way to perform how you want others to regard your gender identity

    You could sub in any number of tags here. Liberal v. Conservative; Prius v. Hummer; indie film v. summer blockbuster; sportsmen v. environmentalists; law-enforcement approach v. Global War On Terror. Here it’s uptight scolds (women) v. good-time goombahs (MEN!). It’s the conflict between thoughtful responsibility and hedonistic gusto.

    Or just women whose self-esteem is rooted in diet/weight v. men who don’t care. If we set aside the meat/veggie issue, it could just be about women letting themselves live a little, which some women could really do with. I’ve not politically blinded myself to women’s physical attractiveness, but I’m damned if I can see, let alone be turned off by, the five extra pounds some women are starving themselves to get rid of. But, like you guys, I think I’d rather go more meta on this, so I can be as mad at it as I think I am.

    (It’s hard to tell how the 34-year-old copy editor sees it: “wimpy, insipid, childish … vapid and uninteresting.” I do not think those words mean what she thinks they mean. We’re not talking about ordering a grilled cheese and chocolate milk.)

    So, as far as this article’s social-norm-representin’ author and audience are concerned, women who eat salad are saying either “I’m painfully insecure” or “I have no sense of humor, and I’m judging you right now.”

    Neither of which is something any of us wants to be saying, right? But the one thing no one’s arguing with is that, in this case, it’s women who are faced with either bearing or resisting that role. In spite of that end-of-story caveat, TV and movies have shown us that men can be as loutish as they wish and still have a companion, as long as they have, at least once in their pathetic, selfish lives, produced a small black lump of a heart with a capacity for loving kindness, or at least a base need for it from someone else.

    Whom do we sympathize with? The joyless, finger-wagging spinster, or the fat, messy boy who just wants to have fun? Everybody roots for the fat kid! So here’s the fat kid, driving a Hummer though Baghdad in aviator shades with a meatfork in one hand and a Budweiser tall-boy in the other, and Sarah Plain And Tall gamely downing a shot of Jag so we’ll know she’s game for a few laffs, too.

    I may not get this point made as sharply as I meant to, but I’ve seen this article mirrored lately in ones about what uptight phonies Prius drivers are, as opposed to SUV drivers who, although it’s dutifully reported that they’re mistaken, just think they’re “safer” in their steel leviathans–and, what the heck, aren’t above having a little fun, which is one thing you can bet those goddamn Prius drivers (or tree-huggers, or antiwar types, or tax-and-spenders, or vegetarians, or women who order salad or even a chicken breast) don’t know the FIRST THING about!

    Men are fun, women aren’t. Republicans are the Daddy party, Democrats are the Mommy party. That’s what this article’s about. There’s no such thing as a responsible liberal who likes martinis, grilled steak, and Adam Sandler movies. Nope, they’re all feminized parsons out to spoil your good times, and you’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists. Just reinforcing whose side the social narrative is on.

    You want butter and sour cream?

  5. mph says:

    August 10th, 2007 at 10:51 am (#)

    One other note independent of the comments: The article’s gloating satisfaction that one of its subjects shed her “Meat is Murder” t-shirts really struck me. Apparently women not only need to “live a little,” it’s really best when they rid themselves of any inconvenient moral position they once held.

  6. gl. says:

    August 10th, 2007 at 12:35 pm (#)

    this is a double whammy if you’re a fat woman, i might add. can’t eat the salad: you’re a prude! can’t eat the meat: you’re a slob!

    also, i just discovered a new vegan restaurant which sounds like it might be the carmelita’s i’m looking for: nutshell.

  7. mph says:

    August 10th, 2007 at 3:18 pm (#)

    Holy cow. Nutshell sounds fantastic!

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