Beware the Meat Dude in All Of Us

What were YOU wearing the last time you bought meat? Was it a Tuesday? Were you in the market for cheap cold cuts or splurging on steak? 

More to the point: would aggressive selling techniques, on the part of the grocer or butcher or anyone else for that matter, have caused you to purchase significantly more meat?

What about fear-based selling techniques usually reserved for fire insurance or politicians? 

None of this was on my mind yesterday afternoon.

Liz and I were sweating in what’s left of our front yard, moving dirt from one pile to another in a shell game called “landscaping.” In our nearly fifteen years of marriage, and despite owning a home (and all the weeds that come with it) for a decade, this is our first—and may it be the only—descent into heavy earth-moving. It’s child’s play, though, compared to gutting and remodeling the house attached to the yard (which we’ll call a garden once it contains some living vegetation again). But no matter the muck in which we’ve been mired (landscaping, remodeling, parenting, college-ing, working, musicking), Liz and I have been yoked pretty equally.

We also don’t eat lots of meat. Very little, in fact, in the pre-K (that’s pre-kid) years of our together-life. And a little more since then, mostly to appease the Cheesburglars that run our circus. 

And so it was on at least two accounts—meat and marriage—that my mental red flags were hoisted as a man (see fig. 1) poured himself out of his white pickup truck, which he left idling as he dude-strutted past Liz to address me: “Are you the homeowner?”

Liz grinned and guffawed at me behind his back.

“We’re the homeowners, together, yes,” I said. “This is our dirt.”

“I’m just making the rounds, selling steaks, chicken, and salmon fillets,” he said, at which point I noticed the deep freezer in his pickup bed, almost as capacious as the truck itself. When I was a kid in Salt Lake City, there were occasional door-to-door food vendors. In the fall, the apple guy came, selling boxes of apples from the back of a delivery truck. Perhaps they were “pecks” of apples; I still don’t know what a peck is. But for peckish neighbors and kids on the street, he’d hand out fresh-cut apple slices, and at least some of us would buy a few boxes. In the winter, it was the orange guy, hauling citrus from Arizona and again tempting us all with slices. (Might have been the same guy, now that I think of it!)

Meat Dude didn’t offer a slice of salmon, which was just as well. I hope that freezer is plugged in, I thought, but said only, “Thanks, I’ll pass.”

“Well, the elites are engineering a famine, so I just wanted to make sure you’re covered,” he countered.

I don’t remember all of my interactions with the apple-orange guy—and I grant that I was pretty young at the time—but I think he relied primarily on the appeal of his produce to persuade his customers. He may have had apocalyptic scare-tactics in his repertoire if we weren’t responding to the fruit, but things never escalated to that point. 

Meat Dude turned and huffed his way back to his cache. This time I was gawking behind him, as Liz, over his shoulder, gave me a quizzical “did he just say what I think he said?” look. 

Without the opportunity to explain that my reticence was due to the fact that we don’t eat much meat, that I worry about buying unknown animal inventory from an unplugged cooler, and that I wasn’t sure he wasn’t just marking up Costco poultry anyhow, I just furrowed my brow and my dirt in silence.

The lesson of the 2020 elections and the culmination of decades of partisan warfare is this: nothing is safe from fear-based persuasion tactics, not even charcuterie. 

Conservatives don’t want to be ruled by intellectual elites, but trust their fates to business elites, give or take. Liberals don’t want to be ruled by corporate elites, but trust their fates to intellectual elites, give or take. Of course, each side knows which elites to hate, and which elites are engineering the end of everything we love. Each side meanwhile tacitly agrees that the good of the nation depends on the right elites winning the war.

“They say it’ll last four to five years! You’d better stock up!” he shouted as he hoisted himself into the meatmobile and rumbled away. 

Each side knows who “they” are. You know who “they” are.

I actually do worry about famine, though I didn’t get to explain it to Meat Dude. Watching the topsoil from the breadbasket of America slip, through the fingers of big ag, into an algal bloom in the Gulf of Mexico makes my heart sink, as I imagine a 21st Century Dustbowl gathering. What we’re now calling a North American “mega drought” makes me feel thirsty all the time—not just for water, but for saner relationships between our human communities and Creation. 

But I don’t think “they,” as we imagine them, exist. 

“They” are merely people who, with the right technology and opportunity, are following basic human curiosities and appetites to extremes, like racoons with keys to the station wagon. “They” love comfort and convenience and novelty, and thus invent cities, reduce labor inputs in agriculture, seek power and influence, and inhale diet soda and super nachos while watching Netflix or fireworks. “They” are us.

“They” are often clever but seldom wise. And “they” know that fear works as a persuasive tactic—it reaches us, all of us, in the deepest, most reptilian part of our animal brains. 

Don’t just offer me oranges. Convince me I’ll die of scurvy without them!

Don’t just sell me chicken. Convince me my political foes are plotting my demise, and stockpiling thighs and drumsticks is my only path to avoid extinction!

Propaganda is “persuasion without argument.” I’m not asking for “arguments,” such as we seem to see regularly at town hall and school board meetings, with red-faced neighbors shouting over the top of each other. No, I’m asking for “argument” like a slice of apple so sweet that it does its own convincing. Let’s look at the drought data together, let’s “reason together,” and adjust our behavior accordingly. 

And, yes, if the meat is good, I might buy some—probably a little—for its own sake.

Of course, Meat Dude could be right. I may have just turned my back on Joseph as we head into years of famine in ancient Egypt. If that’s the case, I guess I’ll have to eat my hat since we won’t have any beef!