Last week, Epicurious announced that they were no longer going to be publishing any content featuring beef.  They cited the impact the cattle industry has had on climate change (15% of greenhouse gases comes livestock, and 61% of that comes from cattle) and the changes in consumer preferences reflecting that, as the main reasons behind the decision.  (Also, as a reminder, Epicurious is part of the Conde Nast media empire, whomst through the Bon Appetit scandal exposed themselves as being an all-around shit company, so let’s not be too quick to pat them on the back for this.)  My initial reaction was “ok, who cares,” but, unsurprisingly, it turns out that a lot of people care, actually.  

8.1k people immediately took to the replies on Epicurious’s original tweet to gloat that they would have to take their steaks and burgers from their cold, dead hands. Turns out that this was a very poorly timed announcement on Epicurious’s part, as Fox News had also just (blatantly falsely) reported that President Biden was, as part of a larger plan to fight carbon emissions, going to limit Americans to 4 pounds of beef a year.  Between these 2 incidents, the internet was a blaze with pictures of burgers charred beyond recognition by amateur grillers and multi-pound, thick-cut steaks so hedonistic that they could make Dionysus say “hey, that’s a bit extra,” all accompanied by captions that would make you think that they would die without them.  All made even more hilarious by the fact that Epicurious had actually made the change a year ago, and just hadn’t felt the need to brag about it until now (again, really bad timing there).

Is there anything behind the pearl-clutching besides the usual “but muh freedoms?” What if I told you yes, and that perhaps the answer is… cowboys.

Picture the cowboy.  Hard-working, tough-as-nails, larger than life with an even larger hat. Through movies and dime novels, the cowboy has become a staple of American culture, and, as such, a role model of American masculinity.  And you can’t have cowboys without the cow, so to eat steak is to eat like the cowboys, and an attack on steak is an attack on one’s masculinity.

But there’s one major problem with that- cowboys didn’t eat steak.  Could you imagine how complicated it would be to process a whole steer while on a cattle drive? The average cow can yield about 400 lbs of beef, and without refrigeration or maybe some way to turn all of it into jerky, there would be no way a crew could eat all of that before it went bad.  And, considering that this was also in the era of robber barons, I think it’s safe to say that they weren’t getting paid enough to enjoy a nice steak at the end of the drive.  Real cowboys mostly ate beans and hardtack biscuits.

(Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if most of these kinds of people that fetishize cowboys as the pinnacle of white American masculinity would also get upset upon learning that most cowboys were actually either black or Mexican, with “buckaroo” being derived from “vaquero,” the Spanish word for cowboy.)

Does any of this cowboy talk really matter at the end of the day? Unfortunately, saying “cowboys didn’t get to eat steak” doesn’t actually help with the whole climate change thing.  And it’s easy to say “buy local/sustainable beef,” (not to mention the whole “no ethical consumption under capitalism” angle) but are the people getting worked up over all of this even willing to do that much?  Like most internet controversies, they’ll probably get all their outrage out all at once and then move on with their lives as if it never happened.  

If there are any hot takes to be had in the scandal (it turns out “eat whatever you want in moderation” is not a hot take), it’s that maybe Epicurious should stop writing new beef recipes, not for the sake of appeasing or pissing off certain parts of the political compass, but because we don’t need any new ones.  Most applications of beef don’t need much to dress it up to make it appetizing.  If someone’s in the mood for a steak, chances are they aren’t going to be doing much to it besides salt and pepper or whatever their favorite spice blend is.  But if you can find a way to make boneless skinless chicken breast, or, dare I say it, turkey burgers, sound enticing? That would be impressive.

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