On Sunday, March 9, Pitt Cue Co.—the meat mecca just off London’s Carnaby Street—hosted a special evening, a one-off “Highland Beef Night” that featured a nose-to-tail menu of beef dishes made from a pair of Highland cows the restaurant bought a year ago from a Cornish farmer. The animals spent two months dry-aging, their flesh and bones eventually finding their way into dishes like beef scrumpets, beef and bone-marrow pasties, and the king of all cuts, rib of beef.
All of it was fucking fantastic. Not many places in London do the things to pigs and cows that Pitt Cue does. But with everyone smiling at each other—lips slicked with grease, teeth like fence posts that live animals had been fired into—I couldn't help thinking that there was something a bit culty about a group of humans gathering together to eat two specific cows.
Locavore obsessives will kick their hooves at this. Speak to any chef, food critic, restaurateur—whomever—and they’ll give you the eat-better-meat-less-often argument, droning on about where the animals lived, what they ate, how humanely they died, which artisan coffee they drank, etc., etc. All of that is irrefutable. If you’re going to eat meat, you can do your part by eating the best quality available and, when you can, consuming the animal's less popular parts (neck fillet, onglet, cheek, trotters, that kind of stuff) and not just the common cuts.
Meanwhile, we've become increasingly obsessed with meat. If an event like Highland Beef Night had been touted even a few years ago, there’s no way it would have pulled in the people it did on Sunday. Meat is now highly fetishized, especially among young people. Burgers are the new tits—if you look at any social media platform, there are as many 20-something men posting photos of ground flesh covered in neon sauce as there are sharing that zero-gravity Kate Upton video. We’ve become a society of rabid carnivores, and it’s not just getting tiresome—it’s fucking killing us.
I love a nice burger as much as the next idiot, but if I see any more evangelizing of what is essentially bread and ground-up cow, I might collapse. I'm aware this will infuriate any chef who's devised the perfect supreme-quality-ground-beef-to-brioche-bun ratio, but, really, just how good can a burger be? And let’s not even start on bacon.
Last year, bacon sales in the US rose by nearly 10 percent to an all-time high of $4 billion, which is a lot of cash to spend on salty, water-injected slices of pig—especially in light of how unhealthy a flesh-heavy diet is. The National Health and Nutrition Survey, which has been collecting data on 6,381 Americans over the age of 50, recently released a study that found that diets rich in protein (like the protein found in meat) could be as harmful to the body as smoking. If you’re under 65 and eat lots of meat, dairy, and eggs, you are, apparently, four times more likely to die of diabetes or cancer. Yet despite the terrifying “Eating Meat Will Give You Cancer” headlines, we still ask for bacon on our burgers, and chefs and food bloggers are still worshiping at the altar of artisanal meat.
Again, please don’t get me wrong—I love bacon. It’s just that the collective meat fever gripping foodies doesn’t seem to be breaking, even in light of all this news about how bad animal flesh is for you, and that’s troubling. Shouldn’t we start obsessing over something else? Are we really so fucking moronic that we'll carry on like this?
This meat hysteria is probably a product of recession weariness. When times are hard we crave food that isn’t just comforting and a bit childish (a burger and fries is a five-year-old’s dream meal) but also escapist. Eating meaty food can make you feel drunk—the fat, refined carbohydrates, salt, and sugar sees to that—and getting a little bit high on a burger is accessible and acceptable to everyone. A hunk of meat is reliable, too; it’s not likely to be booby-trapped with anything nasty. You know where you are with it, and that means something.
Another issue is that we’ve been led to believe that protein-heavy diets are what will keep us healthiest. The most successful diet fads of the past decades—Dukan, Atkins, and, of course, "paleo"—all promote cutting your carb content drastically and overloading on protein. Each is based on some sort of bespoke science, especially paleo, which makes woolly claims about how we should eat what our caveman ancestors ate.
But it seems now that, even though it might help us get thinner, eating meat every day is probably going to kill us. I have friends who don’t consider a meal complete without some meat on the plate, and they don’t get that they’re the subjects of all these news stories. It feels like there’s a gulf between the information and people’s realities.
The only solution I can think of is that we need to start fetishizing broccoli the same way we do steak. It might look a little silly at first for people to shove green things into their mouths and blog about the different textures of squash, but it would probably help us live a lot longer.
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