The climate change debate has reached America’s hamburgers.
For a whopping seven hours, 10 Democratic candidates for president on Wednesday outlined what they would do to address the earth’s changing climate.
One issue that sizzled: Beef production.
Why? The farming and resources needed for the beef to make burgers is notoriously bad for the environment. Livestock are responsible for more than 14% of greenhouse gas emissions – and of those, cows are responsible for 41%. The issue also drew attention recently when cattle ranchers, encouraged by Brazil’s president, set fires in the Amazon, destroying large swaths of rainforest, in order to make room for more meat production.
Many of the 2020 Democrats specifically touched on cattle production in Wednesday’s town hall – and railed against the government’s role (or lack thereof) in regulating what people eat.
Cory Booker, a vegan who has eaten vegetarian since he was in college, suggested that the beef issue is being used to motivate people against making necessary strides to tackle the climate crisis.
“‘Booker wants to take away your hamburger!’ – that is the kind of lies and fearmongering they spread,” Booker said. “Freedom is one of our most sacred values. Whatever you want to eat, go ahead and eat it.”
Elizabeth Warren had a similar take. “This is exactly what the fossil fuel industry hopes we’re all talking about. That’s what they want us to talk about. This is your problem, they want to be able to stir up a lot of controversy around your lightbulbs, straws, and cheeseburgers.”
Beto O’Rourke said he rejects “any notion that we have to radically or fundamentally change how we eat or what we eat,” but added that “we have to be more responsible in the way that we do it.”
Kamala Harris said she would support smaller-scale changes to Americans’ daily lives, such changing dietary guidelines to reduce the consumption of red meat.
Republicans responded by arguing that the 2020 Democrats were overstepping, trying to regulate everything from red meat to plastic straws.
The Trump campaign sent an email blast, detailed the “10 Eye-Popping Moments from Democrats’ Green New Deal Town Hall,” saying Democrats were tripping over themselves to push more regulation.
RNC Chair Ronna McDaniels said, “Democrats’ answer to everything is more government control,” including that they “want to control what you eat.”
Much of the Republican criticism referenced Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s initial rollout of her Green New Deal plan to radically tackle the climate crisis. Critics seized on a line that mentioned cow flatulence as a problem. Her staff later walked back the document, but Republicans have focused on the “cow farts” line.
Earlier this year, one group of Republicans even held a press conference in front of the US Capitol, biting into hamburgers and sipping on milkshakes in front of cameras, while saying if the Green New Deal is passed, foods like that will be outlawed.
The camera-friendly stunt had staying power.
The Point: In any issues debate, framing is critical. Even when it’s oversimplified to be all about the government taking away your hamburgers.