In fact, Joseph Stalin was unambiguously pro-hamburger: In the 1930s, he sent his food supply commissar on a research mission to the United States, which resulted in kotleti, a Soviet rip-off of the classic ground-beef burger, being popularized throughout Russia.
Also, and more relevant to today, none of the Democrats backing the Green New Deal, which seeks to radically overhaul the U.S. economy to cut greenhouse gas emissions, have actually suggested outlawing beef consumption, or, for that matter, seizing pickup trucks. But Gorka’s hyperbole — which was met with chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” — demonstrated how Republicans have turned environmentalists’ recommendations to eat less meat into an all-out culture war in which nothing less than American freedom is at stake. First, they came for your guns, the argument goes, and now they’re coming for your sausage links.
Conservatives have been gearing up for this particular battle for several years now: The Daily Beast notes that far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones tried to taunt President Barack Obama by posing for photos with a platter of raw meat back in 2016, even though there was no particular reason Obama, who also eats meat, would be bothered by the sight of uncooked steaks. But it’s heated up over the past month, thanks to the introduction of the Green New Deal.
Blame it on the farting cows. The now-infamous quote appeared in a since-retracted fact sheet that the office of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) put out at the start of February, stating that the resolution’s authors aimed to reach net-zero emissions, rather than zero emissions, within 10 years “because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.” Ocasio-Cortez’s spokesman told The Washington Post that the remark was clearly intended to be ironic, but it was too late: President Trump and the right-wing media were already declaring that the Green New Deal was going to eliminate cows and airplanes altogether.
In reality, the resolution calls for the government to work collaboratively with ranchers to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions “as much as is technologically feasible.” And, for the record, while cows are responsible for a surprisingly large percentage of the methane gas that gets released into the atmosphere, that gas is mostly released through burps, rather than farts, according to one expert cited by The Washington Post’s Fact Checker.
During an appearance on Showtime’s “Desus & Mero” last week, Ocasio-Cortez clarified once again that no one would be forced to go vegan under the Green New Deal. But there was a legitimate need to “address factory farming,” the freshman congresswoman added. “Maybe we shouldn’t be eating a hamburger for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” she said. “Like, let’s keep it real.”
Her suggestion that Americans might not need to eat burgers at every single meal went over about as well as you might expect.
“REP. OCASIO-CORTEZ INSTRUCTS AMERICANS TO EAT FEWER HAMBURGERS,” blared an all-caps headline in the Daily Caller the next day, which prompted a predictably outraged reaction. In one response that gained thousands of likes and retweets on Twitter, a man whose bio described him as an advocate for limited government replied with a photo of a gigantic burger that consisted of at least 10 beef patties layered in between congealed slices of melted American cheese and topped with roughly a dozen strips of glistening bacon. “My lunch,” he wrote, adding that it was designed to troll Ocasio-Cortez. Reddit users later discovered that the photo had been pulled off Pinterest.
On Tuesday, Ocasio-Cortez was spotted eating dinner at a Washington restaurant. Her chief of staff, who was sitting next to her, ordered what looked like a hamburger. Naturally, the photographs immediately went viral. “Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has been caught in full-blown hypocrisy mode,” the conservative website LifeZette declared. “She’s been pictured with her chief of staff downing a hamburger just days after telling Americans they need to cut cows out of their own diets.”
By Wednesday, the idea that Democrats were planning to crack down on an all-American tradition had gone from being an Internet meme to an actual talking point for members of Congress. Republican members of the House Natural Resources Committee chomped on burgers at a news conference criticizing the Green New Deal, while on Twitter Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) claimed that the resolution would “ban hamburgers,” end air travel and outlaw cars.
The next day, while speaking at CPAC, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) joked that the Green New Deal would at least be good for Chick-fil-A’s stock, since getting rid of all the cows would result in people eating a lot more chicken. It all added up to literal red meat for the base — and any hamburger-loving Americans.
Overstated claims about a ban on hamburgers could potentially become an effective tactic, Vice’s Harry Cheadle wrote on Thursday, because they attract plenty of news coverage while also forcing Democrats to go on the defensive and explain that, no, they’re not really trying to outlaw ground beef. Plus, it’s an easy argument to make: People may not want to read a wonky, fact-based critique of the Green New Deal, but they do enjoy their burgers.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Congress’s hamburger wars are heating up at a time when Republican lawmakers in state legislatures nationwide are trying to crack down on how imitation meat and dairy products are marketed to consumers.
Last August, Missouri became the first state to ban labeling plant-based meat substitutes with terms like “ground beef-style crumbles” or “soy turkey slices,” which would force a significant number of companies to either change their packaging or pull their products from grocery shelves. The statute has yet to go into effect, however: It was blocked by a lawsuit from the faux-meat company Tofurky, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and others who contend that it violates the First Amendment.
Though it’s unclear whether Missouri’s labeling law will hold up in court, similar bills have been introduced in South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado and Arizona this year. Supporters, including lobbying groups for the cattle and pork industries, argue that terms like “vegan sausage” are misleading and confusing for consumers.
“All I’m saying is when you walk up and use simple words like ‘milk,’ we should know what that’s from,” David Cook, a Republican state representative in Arizona who is also a cattle rancher, explained at a hearing on Wednesday. “Almonds do not lactate.”
Opponents, who disagree that anyone could be confused about where tofu dogs come from, claim that amounts to censorship. The ACLU of Missouri has called that state’s law “a brazen attempt to stifle the growing grocery category of plant-based meat.”
At CPAC on Thursday, however, Gorka’s defense of hamburgers focused on what he described as the encroaching threat of socialism. The Green New Deal, he said, was like a watermelon: “Green on the outside, deep, deep red communist on the inside.”