Politics & Policy

My Conservative Beef

I hold a "liberal" belief.

I hold a liberal belief. Don’t worry, it’s just the one, and I think I can handle it. It’s not my first. In fact, are you ready for a confession? Please sit down. I voted for Jesse Jackson in the 1984 California primary. Yikes! I know. But hey, my first presidential campaign, chalk it up to the dizzying excitement of the successful Los Angeles Olympic Games. I saw Mary Lou Retton coming out of Prince’s Purple Rain a few nights after those perfect tens, and I don’t know, I was all out of whack that year.

Which doesn’t explain 1988, when I voted for Jackson again. What was I thinking? I guess I felt all that Rainbow Coalition stuff… made sense. It rhymed! That should count for something. (Actually, nothing annoys me more than when people assume “rhyming” is equal to “clever.” “Joshie’s turning 6 today / At Chuck E. Cheese’s we will play.” Come on, Moms, you’re better than that!) The truth is, I was a left-wing wacko, a closet Communist, a card-carrying (or at least card-misplacing) member of the ACLU.

Please forgive me, Mr. Buckley. I was so young.

Anyway, I turned 30, started making some serious coin, had some kids, read some Dennis Prager (for starters), and got my head screwed on straight. I have made amends for my liberal misdeeds and banished those bizarre thoughts deep into the California night. I am thoroughly conservative in ways that strike horror into the hearts of my Hollywood colleagues. I support a woman’s right to choose what movie we should see, but not that other one. I am on the Right, in every way. Except one.

As if the curse of the Rainbow Coalition is to never let me truly go, there is one leftist notion still banging around in my head. This thing I believe is vaguely pro-environment, sort of anti-big business, and it’s backed up by articles in the New York Times. Its liberal cred is so unassailable, I could reach across the aisle and hug Nancy Pelosi, and I would, except this is a new shirt, and that sort of thing leaves a stain.

Ready?

I am against the modern food industry. I think industrialized food, especially beef, is a menace to our way of life. I stand athwart the checkout line, shouting “Don’t eat that crap!” The weird thing is, this is a fairly new belief. When I was 21 and voting Crazy Insaneson for President, my favorite food was a snack of my own brilliant design called Fri-Nuts–take a bag of Fritos and a jar of Planter’s, mix, enjoy. My left-ward progress regarding food began with a 2002 New York Times Magazine article by Michael Pollan called “This Steer’s Life.” After that, it was Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, and then some other books and articles, all leading me to the same conclusion–food as big business is a disaster.

Let me first clarify what my position is not. It’s not an animal-rights issue. Aside from a certain adorable Goldendoodle puppy who had me up this morning at 5:45, I don’t give a flip about animals. Cows? What have they ever done for me? I love steak and wear leather. It’s also not about the number-one killer of Americans, obesity. (Or is it the number-26 killer? Ask the CDC if they’ve decided yet.) It’s certainly not anti-globalization or anything like that. One of my most fulfilling moments recently was ordering a Coke from McDonald’s on a touchscreen in the checkout line of my local Wal-Mart. (You can see the joy on the faces of the people ordering three Big Macs for themselves without having to say a word!)

Here’s what it is: The profit motive of the food industry drives them to do two things: They need to make food cheaper, and they need to make it taste better. This couplet of motives is not in itself bad, but one of the outcomes is the feedlot system of raising cattle. If you want details, read the sources I’ve cited, but the goal of the cattle farmer is to feed a cow as much corn as possible as fast as possible and then slaughter the cow just before eating all that corn kills it. The corn diet causes diseases in the cow, so bring on the antibiotics. The corn also makes the meat more fatty, what we beef-lovers call marbled, and this is why the phrase “corn-fed beef” is still used to mean a top-quality steak. It really means “cow that was poisoned” and double up on that Lipitor.

Now this doesn’t mean no steak for Warren. No no no. Grass-fed steak is available from New Zealand in supermarkets like our beloved Whole Foods. There are also American farmers selling fine grass-fed beef on the Internet. There’s buffalo steak, which I particularly like. And, full disclosure, I will still have a transcendently yummy corn-fed steak every now and then in a restaurant. But we try to avoid it when we can.

Why? Because food should be natural. I’m not saying that all natural things are good, and unnatural is bad–for instance, Pamela Anderson is fine by me. But food is a thing found in nature, and the food industry has turned it into Food, a scientifically derived substance found in your supermarket. Cookies are made from flour, sugar, and butter (and a few other mystery things–what is baking powder?). So why do the major brands have those other 42 ingredients? Well, one makes the cookies stay crispy even after a month on the shelf. Another makes them that awesome rich color. Another dozen or so are the hydrogenated oils that create truly unbeatable taste–that make cookies taste better than cookies! This witchcraft is the inevitable result of the “Better Living Through Science” ethic of the post-WWII generation, and what has it caused? Generation upon generation of Americans conditioned to eat only the zestiest, new and improved, nacho cheez crème-filled food-like product substances. Real food is dull in comparison.

Hey, wait a second. Follow me here. I am against the modern food industry. I prefer more natural foods, cows the way they used to be raised, cookies the way they used to be baked, real food without science’s “progress.” When it comes to food, I am a…traditionalist. And isn’t that actually more conservative at its core? Has the curse of the Rainbow Coalition finally been broken? After all these years…

I am all Right.

Warren Bell is a 15-year veteran of the sitcom business and a not-so-secret conservative. He lives just outside Los Angeles with his beautiful wife, two amazing sons, and adorable puppy. He is barely even noticed anymore.

Warren BellWarren Bell was nominated June 20, 2006, by President George W. Bush to be a member of the Board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for the remainder of a ...

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