Meat Week is a grassroots festival, starting on the last Sunday in January, that pays tribute to barbecue. It was founded by two Floridians in 2005, and this year meat enthusiasts in 15 cities around the country are gathering eight nights in a row to eat “pork, ribs, brisket, barbecued chicken, and anything else you can smoke and smother in sauce.” Meat Week has T-shirts, an Instagram account, and a slickly designed website. Unlike many other meat-promoting campaigns, Meat Week doesn’t advance the idea that it’s tough or manly to eat meat—indeed, many of the participants appear to be women—nor does it shame people who don’t eat meat. One of its FAQs encourages vegetarians to “come for the camaraderie,” and a Meat Week blog post states, “we love our veggie friends who come along for the sides.” Regardless of how you feel about meat consumption, Meat Week seems pretty inclusive and respectful of differences of opinion.
Enter the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine—a nonprofit whose apolitical-sounding name belies the fact that it’s an animal rights group. Some brilliant schemer at PCRM decided that the best way to educate people about vegetarianism was to start a disingenuous campaign to change Meat Week’s name to “Erectile Dysfunction Acceptance Week.” Their claim is that eating meat causes erectile dysfunction. As the PCRM punningly put it in an open letter to the founders of Meat Week, “Your event is the perfect opportunity to send a clear message to men across the country: It’s not you, it’s meat.” They’ve also released the charming poster you see above.
It’s a bit of a stretch to suggest that all, or even most, impotence is caused by meat consumption. Yes, a meat-heavy diet can cause erectile dysfunction, by affecting blood flow. So can many other factors, including everything from smoking cigarettes to basic stress. But even if you accept the PCRM’s claims on their merits, the “Erectile Dysfunction Acceptance Week” campaign is a total dick move.
Western culture largely spares men the scrutiny applied to women’s bodies, but society does send men the message that their masculinity depends on their ability to get it up. As a result, many men feel insecure about this facet of their sexual performance. To exploit men’s sexual insecurities for any kind of PR campaign is odious. If an animal rights group made the (totally made up) claim that eating meat causes women’s breasts to shrink, right-thinking people would call that superficial and sexist, because women are already encouraged to equate their worth with their cup size. I don’t see how “Erectile Dysfunction Acceptance Week” is any different.
The PCRM campaign also implicitly insult’s men’s intelligence by buying into the old canard that the only way to get dudes to care about anything is to make it about sex. There are lots and lots of good reasons for men (and women) not to eat meat: concern about the environment, a desire for better health, not wanting to contribute to animal suffering. To make ED the centerpiece of a vegetarianism campaign is to buy into the offensive idea that men are selfish boors who are only interested in satisfying their carnal appetites.
Granted, the pervasive idea that real men eat meat is dumb and offensive and warrants mockery. But with “Erectile Dysfunction Awareness Week,” the PCRM doesn’t subvert sexist tropes—it exploits and reinforces them, all while undermining vegetarianism. Given a choice between the open-minded guys behind Meat Week and the organization that came up with the mean-spirited “Erectile Dysfunction Acceptance Week,” I sure know with whom I’d rather break bread.