For Hindus, cows are objects of veneration. Govinda, protector of cows, resides in Goloka and tends to a herd of creatures that bring nourishment and strength. Krishna lives here, and cows roam lush grasslands in peace.
My head is swimming slowly, meditatively. Am I in Goloka? There are cows here: giant beasts with gentle eyes. But these are not grasslands. This is a gigantic, stinking barn, where cows are huddled up together in unbearable heat. In the distance there are moans. A calf is being dragged from its mother. One of the cows turns to look at me:
‘just gonna come out and say it: vulnerable people are always the most susceptible to propaganda, misinformation, and conspiracy, especially in times of cultural anxiety, and if there is a way to help them out of these traps, targeted self-righteous vilification isn’t it’
What? I blink. Suddenly, I am no longer in the fields. I am in front of a dead cow, suspended in the air, being cut up into pieces. Flesh is being carved out to be turned into steaks and burgers. Blood is pouring from the carcass into giant drains. The cow’s great head flops in my direction and I hear the voice:
‘friendly reminder in times of uncertainty and misinformation: anecdotes are not data. (good) data is carefully measured and collected information based on a range of subject-dependent factors, including, but not limited to, controlled variables, meta-analysis, and randomization’
What the hell is going on? I am transported, in an instant, to a supermarket. I am stood before a freezer which contains packets of ‘Steak-umms’: frozen steaks, for sandwiches, in gaudy cardboard packaging. I hear the voice again:
‘as a company, our end goal will always be selling product, but rather than promoting ads overtly crafted to sell during this crisis, we are committed to:
1.) providing factual, helpful information
2.) bridging our cultural polarization
3.) helping people who are helping people’
What? Even in my dream I know that there is something very disingenuous about this statement. Surely Steak-umm are not promoting ads overtly crafted to sell during this crisis? Is this some kind of joke? Browsing through a newsstand I see that various outlets, including the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek, are carrying rapturous coverage of their ‘brilliant’ social media posts. Is that some kind of happy accident? Was it not part of the plan?
And where is the genius in the smug little quips that are echoing around me? ‘Anecdotes are not data,’ says one, ‘Try to avoid fear-based sensationalism.’ Thanks, I would never have thought of that. But what does this pompous frozen meat purveyor mean when it contrasts ‘global consensus around this pandemic’ with ‘amateur reporting’? Bourgeois liberals love aligning themselves with ‘the experts’ and ‘scientific consensus’. To be fair, it can be a smart thing to do. When I get in a plane I am trusting scientific consensus around aerodynamics. But what is global consensus around this pandemic? Scientists have told us that COVID-19 is less dangerous than the flu, that travel restrictions do not work and that masks are useless. Now, we are told that it is far more dangerous than the flu, that we should not even go to the park and that we should wear masks. I am not saying that there is no expertise. But there is no established consensus for us to put our faith in.
Around me I can hear cheerful, chirping voices. ‘My house is eating @steak_umm tonight inspired by their awesome tweets,’ says Megan Ranney MD MPH. It is vaguely surprising that a public health expert would recommend a frozen meat product made from emulsified beef trimmings just because they published a bunch of pandering tweets but what do I know? ‘I’m a vegan, but @steak_umm is a worthwhile follow,’ says Soledad O’Brian. What level of ‘sucker’ is that? ‘If only it were possible to nominate frozen meat for president,’ says Noah Smith of Bloomberg, himself a master of the tiresome tweet thread.
‘The “naturalistic fallacy”’, begins the post that Smith acclaims:
‘…is when someone equates what is “natural” with what is “good”. unfortunately, people do this all the time with medicine, food, and other material trends. please remember that nature on its own can range from healthy to poison, and compassion to murder’
Am I going nuts? Of course, this is true in the abstract. But are we going to take lectures about ‘health’ and ‘compassion’ from a company that feeds millions of harmless, intelligent beasts through the meat grinder of the American livestock industry and chops, emulsifies, freezes and sells the off-cuts? I knew woke capitalism was a tremendous engine of hypocrisy but this is preposterous. How about Steak-umm posting a thread on the enormous risks of antibiotic resistance, in large part caused by the tremendous amounts of antibiotics that are pumped into animals on factory farms? That might do some good in raising awareness about public health. But it could also threaten the bottom line.
I am in a kitchen, tied to a chair. Bearded content creators are swarming around me, waving bits of lumpy beef on forks. ‘Eat it!’ they scream, ‘it’s quirky and relatable! It’s meta-irony! It’s bridging cultural polarization!’ ‘No!’ I yell, ‘it’s garbage! No amount of meta-irony will stop it being garbage!’
The window shatters. An enormous beast bursts into the room. This is no beast! This is Kamadhenu, rising from the milk ocean to avenge her young! See her toss these social media managers with her tremendous horns! Watch these advertisers cower beneath her mighty hooves!
I break out of my shackles and toss the Steak-umm package into the oven where it crumples into nothing. The voice fades away. Outside, I hear gentle mooing. It sounds like wisdom.