Love It or Leave It, But Don't Eat It: Why the State Is So Hostile to Meat

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by Paul Gresser

Humor can still be found in the trail of absurdity left behind by the greasy hand of government control. As a non-smoker, I giggle when I see folks forking over eight dollars for a pack of smokes. They may no longer even be able to smoke at their favorite New York bars. I even chuckle when I see both liberals and conservatives at each other's throats, enraged at what the other one is doing to their children's public schools. Recently, however, fate has chosen me to punish, and this time, it's not funny. The government has decided to take my hamburgers away.

The last place I'm likely to rant about the evils of government is the local steakhouse. There is not, nor ought there be, anything more soul-soothing than a half pound cheeseburger, cooked so rare that it still has a pulse.

"How would you like that cooked?" asked the waitress, "Medium-well or well done?"

"Um… neither. I want my meat to be the hue of a freshly picked strawberry."

She regretfully informed me of a new law that forbids restaurants to serve ground beef below medium-well. Would I prefer another menu item not so offensive and un-American?

"What is this, Iran?! This isn't an Uzi or a bag of crack or a Henry Miller novel, this is a tasty, benign piece of meat!" But my protests were in vain. I don't think the waitress was quite ready for a lecture on personal freedom.

The absurdity of this is deeper than it seems. A rare hamburger is one of my favorite foods. And now the government has decided that I may no longer eat one, in a restaurant at least.

I understand the anti-beef arguments. I'm aware of the different kids of nasty diseases that are more easily transmitted through rare meat than well done meat. I have always confronted this problem with a healthy dose of libertarian self-responsibility. It isn't hard. If you trust the restaurant, eat their rare beef. If you don't trust them, eat something else. If you get cholera and die, blame nobody but yourself.

But now, despite 24 years of responsible beef consumption, the government has decided I can no longer be trusted to plan my own diet. Why not? Beef isn't nearly as dangerous as driving a car or shooting up heroin. There are no documented cases of beef-related auto accidents.

But I can still make a rare hamburger at home, right? Maybe for a little while. If the government can forbid a restaurant to serve rare beef, what's to stop it from forbidding grocery stores to do the same? And if the government can decide what you can and can't smoke in the privacy of your own home, is it such a stretch of the imagination to think that, in the interests of rescuing us from our own evil eating habits, the government may just devote a division of Homeland Security to door-to-door beef inspection?

Who is to blame for this? Is this part of a liberal agenda? A conservative agenda? Who can tell the difference anymore? Have vegeterrorists infiltrated Capitol Hill? Are they attacking my values, my way of life? In five years, will I have to drive through northeast DC, find The Man in some dark alley, and inconspicuously fork over cash for a quarter-bag of raw beef? Will cop-dramas on television depict heroic detectives hunting down dangerous meat-peddlers?

There is something inherently political about meat. According to historian Norman Davies, the hunter-gatherers of prehistoric Europe lived rather easy and carefree lives. There was almost always plenty of meat available. It is not well understood why people made the shift to the agricultural lifestyle, but as soon as they did, tribes began to settle down, cities were built, and society required a more rigid structure. This led to feudalism, and eventually to the birth of the modern State. So, while meat allowed man to live free, vegetables would prove to be our road to serfdom.

Perhaps tearing into a chunk of almost-raw hamburger awakens something inside of me, some primal urge to shed my clothing, pick up the spear, and start looking for creatures to slay. And perhaps it helps me recall a time when a man took care of himself, relied on no higher government, and still got along fine.

This kind of thinking is a threat to the State, and if rare beef is the cause of that thinking, I would not be surprised if a new anti-beef agenda was already influencing the actions of our government.

Of course, I could be completely crazy. History will be the judge of that. For the time being, however, eat meat, and lots of it. It may be our only defense against the powers of tyranny.

Paul Gresser [send him mail] teaches physics at the University of Maryland.

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