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RSS By: Steve Cornett, Beef Today

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Eating Meat and Two-Piece Bathing Suits

Dec 14, 2009

By Steve Cornett

"Buying gifts for vegans is tricky, no doubt. But it’s not impossible, as long as you’re conscientious about what you’re buying. Read the labels. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. And by all means, even ask Vegan Katie. She loves talking about veganism, because it’s something that she’s passionate about.

I lifted that from an Internet site, offering advice on how to shop for non-offensive gifts for Christmas for a hypothetical vegan named Katie.

A quick browse through responses to my most recent blog makes you think “passionate” is an understatement.  “Rabid” would be a more apt.  The point of the piece was sort of joking around, teasing our meat-phobic neighbors about a popular song that gently suggested the writer would rather hang with her dog than a “vegan and a pothead.”

The message from the responses was plain: “Do NOT joke about vegans! Murderer!”  We should have seen it coming. How cranky would you be if you hadn’t had a decent meal in months?

Belatedly, I remember this isn’t about diets. It’s about a religion for folks who’ve largely cast aside the versions they were raised with. So, now I get it. It’s like I can joke about Baptists being, say, square, but only if I’m a Baptist. In fact, I’ve lived in a Baptist town for some six decades now, so I should have known better.

I mean I’ve told a few Baptist jokes in my time. My favorite being the one about the Texan who dies and goes to Heaven and St. Peter is showing him around, and he sees a room full of guys playing cards. He asks, are those men gambling? St. Peter nods. Next room, folks are dancing. The guys raises his eyebrows quizzically at St. Peter, who nods again. At the next room, there’s a full bar set up. Wow, says the Texan, we can’t do any of that in Texas. “Yes,” says St. Peter. “But we don’t have as many Baptists up here.”

But I can’t tell that to a Baptist because I’m not a Baptist. It’s like telling horse jokes to your horse. It’s hard to tell if they catch it or not. All you get is a long face and maybe a snort.

So you don’t do it. And, for that matter, unless you’re possessed of a missionary zeal, you don’t try to talk people out of their religions, no matter how illogical they may seem to you.

Here’s part of agriculture’s challenge: A high percentage of Americans have lost their roots. Not just their agricultural roots, but their ethical foundation. If you don’t “believe in organized religion” and you don’t believe in a heaven-sent moral code, then you’re forced to find a new way to determine right from wrong.

And a whole lot of folks are having trouble finding anything they think is “wrong.” The list isn’t very long nowadays. I mean think about all the stuff my preacher told me not to do that are perfectly acceptable today. I remember a sermon about two piece bathing suits at the city pool, for goodness’ sake. You haven’t heard one of those in a while, have you?

A couple of millennia back, a lot of religions involved animal sacrifice. But religion has changed. People have been fighting chickens and betting on dog fights forever. Now those sports are taboo.

More people than ever don’t buy into the old religious beliefs. Consider how much change there has been in U.S. churches in the last generation or two. I’m no scholar, but I doubt it’s because God or Allah has changed his or her mind about things like eating fish on Fridays, letting women preach and two-piece bathing suits. The change has been right here on Earth. We’ve changed, and we don’t like old rules.

So we need, and are creating, new rules. Among the more threatening, from the standpoint of those of us who depend on the status quo at least, are things like ardent environmentalism and strident veganism. They come complete with the same proselytizing and missionaries of earlier religions.
And, as the high priests at PETA and HSUS have found, preaching the word can be highly profitable.

Maybe I’m overreaching here, I’ve never seen a study showing church goers are less likely to be vegans. But I know some of both and none of those I know are both religious and veganistic. So it’s anecdotal. And the way my cousin Jo preached to me about eating meat reminds me of the way preachers used to talk about sin.

Religions have a way of getting their rules codified to make non-believers act as true believers in regards to what is proper. Consider Sharia law, for instance. Or, witness the EPA’s decision to treat CO2 as a pollutant. People driving Suburbans and F250s around, are, to the new religionists, as people shopping on Sundays were to the more churchy of our forebears in the days of Blue Laws. Shouldn’t be done; There ought to be a law. 

Alas, the constitution does not demand separation of this sort of “church” and state.      

Last week, in fact, the Pollan Principle, of which we’ve spoken here too often, got an official boost from the government of the United Kingdom. You can read the report here.

This is not going to go away, folks. These new evangelicals are going to keep hammering on these themes in the developed countries.  The beef industry’s future in these countries—with stagnant income growth, nearly stable populations and affluence-guilt—is limited. The future must be in building and serving the broader, worldwide market. 

Vegan Katie isn’t where it’s at. Statistically, she will probably backslide some day, but she will never be a true meat eater. For that matter, neither will her children.

The future is in China and Indonesia and all the places crawling out of poverty doing the jobs Americans used to do. That market is increasing in affluence, but still protein-deficient. And huge.

Steve Cornett is editor emeritus at Beef Today. You can reach him via e-mail at

This column is part of the Beef Today Cattle Drive e-newsletter, which is delivered to subscribers biweekly and includes beef industry analysis, market information as well as the latest beef headline news. Click here to register.


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COMMENTS (13 Comments)

Brandon Gilvin
As the son of a cattle farmer and an ordained minister in a progressive Christian tradition, I find this article interesting.

A couple of things I do want to note:

I served a church for a couple of years that had a number of vegetarians, and three or four vegans. While they were very clear concerning the health, environmental, and ethical motivations for their vegan diets, they were not the rabid evangelists you depict. Of course, the culture of the church was one that encouraged inter-faith dialogue with other religious communities.

A larger subsection of this community, however, was interested in justice issues around agribusiness, and encouraged participating in Community Agriculture Programs, buying locally produced agricultural products, as a way to support small family farms and reduce one's carbon footprint.

Of course, I am well aware that seeing eating as a justice issue is not par for the course in all churches.

Ethical perspectives always have a situational element to them--religious stances are not simply determinative, but also rightly evolve with the culture--though Mr. Cornett laments that religions no longer condemn two-piece bathing suits, I am glad that ministers rarely preach condemning interracial marriage....

I'm making a meandering argument here, but my point here is that it's a more complicated issue than Mr. Cornett presents.

I would also add that it's important to look to the developing world not simply as a market for American beef, but as places where agricultural infrastructure deserves a chance to compete on a level playing field, be their products vegetable or livestock.
8:29 PM Dec 25th
Good article. Its kind of like, well, we will do what pleases us, when it comes to eating and also what's in the Bible. Nowadays, many churches are incorporating as a business, afraid that the membership might be sued. Doesn't the bible say something about "Be ye separate from the world?'
7:43 PM Dec 17th
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