Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Friday, April 06, 2012

Pink Slime and the Herbivore Men

In the last few weeks, the public has become suddenly aware of what Mark Bittmann calls "the pink menace"—the practice of treating beef trimmings with ammonia to kill pathogens and then selling the beef as food (presumably after rinsing off the ammonia). I haven't seen any allegations that so-called "pink slime" is nutritionally worse than other meat, but people apparently find its production method distasteful, and so it may not have much of a future in the American diet. (One presumes that the beef scraps could be used in dog food instead, but in that case maybe the scraps can be processed in a cheaper way. Or perhaps it only works financially if the scraps are usable in human food.)

I think there is a large degree of arbitrariness to this development. As the old saying goes, the three things you don't want to see being made are laws, love, and sausages. I am sure there are many food products that appear distasteful at some point in their production. Matt Yglesias observed that "as time goes on, if the United States becomes a more prosperous country we'll keep becoming pickier and pickier eaters who demand a less manufacturing-intensive food system." And this, I think, is the key. One of the things you can do when you get more affluent is to refuse to eat things that disgust you. Disgusting food is an inferior good.

And so are disgusting men. I see a parallel to herbivore men. These are men who do not actively pursue sex. Let's back up a bit. We had a lengthy discussion of the sexual revolution and its alleged consequences. In general, the thought was that women gained substantially more autonomy over their sex lives, perhaps because they weren't economically dependent on men (and could thus indulge their taste for casual sex) or because the norms against casual sex were significantly eroded.

So you can think of women as having become more affluent, in a sense. Capable of being pickier. And so men who previously would have been sexually viable lost that status. They became pink slime. (Of course, they were always pink slime, but once upon a time women couldn't afford to discard them. They were pink slime but they weren't "pink slime.")

And I imagine that a lot of herbivore men are essentially opting out of a hopeless situation (though some may have other motives). They are like Houellebecq's Tisserand, except they give up the fight. In a sense, the fate of the "herbivore men" is another step in the evolution of society. A welcome one, in fact, because it is hard to imagine a more acquiescent response to uselessness. But where will it go from here? One interesting implication is that monogamy is probably on the way out, as the ratio of women to sexually viable men becomes ever-higher. We will observe doubling-up, and then tripling-up. (This doesn't literally have to take the form of non-monogamy, it could take the form of serial monogamy at greatly increased velocity.)

Another question is whether this will be good or bad for products and activities that tend to make men less sexually viable. Will men get more obese or less obese? More interested in science fiction or less interested? Richer or poorer? The example of the herbivore men suggests that we may see a sub-population that opts out of the struggle entirely, which in turn suggests an increased market for things like science fiction. On the other hand, this might "ghettoize" science fiction even further, as non-herbivores struggle to identify themselves as such by shunning all signs of herbivory. In fact, the herbivore/non-herbivore boundary may become an interesting cleavage since each group would probably be intent on distancing itself from the other.

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