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What Cracker Barrel can tell us about culture war
It's about more than just online comments. It's about control.
Earlier this month, Cracker Barrel announced on Facebook that it had added a new meatless option to its menu.
“Discover new meat frontiers. Experience the out of this world flavor of Impossible™ Sausage Made From Plants next time you Build Your Own Breakfast,” read the caption of a photo of two sausage patties (complete with a little “Impossible™” flag), a small pile of hash browns, and a couple of scrambled eggs.
Cracker Barrel joins a number of other fast-food and fast-casual restaurants such as Burger King, Red Robin, Umami Burger, White Castle, and Cheesecake Factory in offering Impossible™ meat alternatives. Now, am I ever going to actually order one of these products the next time I find myself in one of these places? Probably not. But I’m sure enough people out there will order these items (and do order these items), as they wouldn’t be on the menu otherwise.
There’s a deeper story in the comments section, and it’s about control.
Glance at the comments and you’ll quickly notice a theme: threats of boycotts and accusations of “wokeness.”
“I just want to know why all these companies feel that they have to follow the leader on all of this crap,” wrote a man named Barry. “Cracker Barrel is a great company and they got great Without Woke Meat. Get the message most people don’t want this crap. You are only appealing to a small percentage of people. I still love Cracker Barrel but please stick to your roots.”
“Once you go woke, you go broke,” wrote Stephanie.
“Read the room and understand your base,” said Tiffany. “It’s not that there are options, it’s that yet another woke company will bite the dust with this one.”
“Nope not joining the woke, eat plants crowd,” wrote Todd. “That cult doesn’t eat at CB anyway. What the heck are you thinking CB. They are not going to. save your restaurant chain. All your doing is driving away your base. Good luck with that.”
You hear that, everyone? Offering a vegetarian option is “wokeness,” or something, and that might necessitate a a boycott because… I don’t know, reasons. It’s not as though plant-based meat substitutes are replacing anything. It’s not as though they have a strong smell or something else that would ruin your dining experience if you just happened to be sitting near someone else eating it. It’s simply an option that Cracker Barrel is offering because there is apparently enough of a demand for it that it makes sense to stock. These people are angry that other people might choose to eat something they personally would not. It’s that simple. And this is the common thread in a lot of the “wokeness” discourse that happens on the right and in the center.
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But hey, these are just random commenters, and I’ve written several times before about why media outlets shouldn’t write stories based just one what a bunch of random people think. So let’s move on to something more substantial. The thread remains the same.
Most “cancel culture” and “wokeness” complaints seem to emerge from right-wing upset about other people being allowed to live their lives as they see fit.
Last month, I wrote a piece in response to a truly braindead New York Times column from Pamela Paul, in which she argued that “even the word ‘woman’ has become verboten.”
Nowhere in that piece does Paul cite a single example of the word “woman” being abandoned by any single person or organization. In fact, there’s not even an example of someone going, “Erm, excuse me, can you please say ‘people who can become pregnant’ instead of ‘women?’” Nope! The closest thing that Paul or opinion-journalist-pretending-to-be-a-reporter Michael Powell could come up with was this:
Last year the Biden administration put out budget documents that reflected the gendered discourse of progressives and referred to “birthing people.” Conservatives pounced.
But this month, when word leaked of a potential Supreme Court turnabout, President Biden was unequivocal and practiced in his language choices. “I believe that a woman’s right to choose is fundamental,” he said. “Basic fairness and the stability of our law demand that it not be overturned.”
Whoa-ho-ho! You’re saying that nobody of consequence has done this, and yet here is the president of the United States doing this! Yeah, except for the fact that the second paragraph illustrates exactly how the Biden administration has always spoken. It wasn’t some about-face. In fact, let’s go back and look at the budget document (which Powell did not link to, which is itself pretty telling). From the section titled, “Investing in Public Health Infrastructure,” found on page 18 (emphasis mine):
Reduces Maternal Mortality Rate and Ends Race-Based Disparities in Maternal Mortality.
The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed nations, with an unacceptably high mortality rate for Black, American Indian/Alaska Native, and other women of color. To help end this high rate of maternal mortality and race-based disparities in outcomes among birthing people—and in addition to the investment in maternal health included in the American Families Plan—the Budget includes more than $200 million to: reduce maternal mortality and morbidity rates nationwide; bolster Maternal Mortality Review Committees; expand the Rural Maternity and Obstetrics Management Strategies program; help cities place early childhood development experts in pediatrician offices with a high percentage of Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program patients; implement implicit bias training for healthcare providers; and create State pregnancy medical home programs.
The word “maternal” appears four times in that short paragraph; “maternity” appears once; “women” appears once; and yes, “birthing people” appears once. In fact, the word “women” appears in the budget document a total of 20 times. The fact that THE NEW YORK FREAKING TIMES cited a document where the word “women” appears 20 times as evidence that the word “woman” has become “verboten” is just mindblowing.
There are all sorts of reasons to not just use the word “women” in that particular line of the budget. For instance, is that line referring just to women? No, it’s not. It’s probably for the best if we don’t start referring to, say, a 10-year-old girl who were assaulted and needed an abortion as a “woman,” as that really obscures the horrors of Republican anti-abortion policy. But in any case, that is the big example of the word “woman” being banned? A single word choice in a lengthy document that repeatedly refers to women using the word “women?” Lol, okay, then.
That Paul wrapped up her opinion piece by talking about trans women, who have nothing to do with this discussion at all,1 really shows just how unbelievably clueless she is. “We can respect transgender women without castigating females who point out that biological women still constitute a category of their own — with their own specific needs and prerogatives,” she wrote, cluelessly.
It’s utter ignorance, but it’s exactly what the Times wants right now (and why you probably won’t see my byline there anytime in the near future, for better or for worse).
Another example of this playing out can be seen in the exchange between Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and law professor Khiara Bridges. During a hearing about abortion access, Bridges mentioned “people with a capacity for pregnancy.” Hawley, despite knowing exactly what she meant by this, jumped in to go, “You’ve referred to people with a capacity for pregnancy — would that be women?” Bridges went on to explain that in addition to women and girls, this also included transgender men and some non-binary people. She was deliberate with her words, but Hawley (who when asked for his definition of the word “woman,” responded, “Someone who can give birth to a child, a mother, is a woman. Someone who has a uterus is a woman. It doesn’t seem that complicated to me.” — this definition, it should be noted, excludes a lot of cisgender [non-trans] women, so great job, Hawley) wanted to play the role of language police, and turned it into a whole thing. Notice that it wasn’t Bridges who chastised Hawley for saying “woman,” but the other way around. At its core, that’s what this is about: policing language and dictating how others live their lives, how others speak, and how others act. It’s fascistic nonsense.
The Daily Beast’s Justin Baragona captures these moments of culture war BS on Twitter, sharing screenshots of right-wing media outlets and their outrage-of-the-day. “What are we outraged about today, folks?” he’ll tweet, along with a screenshot of Fox News throwing a tantrum about the existence of a pregnant man emoji, the bangability of the Green M&M, polls showing that 71% of Democrats wouldn’t want to date Republicans, the way Kamala Harris pronounced the word “the” one time, a Superman comic storyline, the Rolling Stones’ concert set lists, the suggestion that cars should be tested with various crash dummies so we know that they’re safe for people of all sizes, and, well, you get the idea.
It’s just non-stop grievance-mongering. It’s obnoxious, and it’s not really any different than the people yelling in the comments of Cracker Barrel’s post. The right wants to dictate how you live your life, decide what you should be allowed to eat, determine what words you need to use, and what medical procedures you should be allowed to have. Somehow, they manage to do this in the name of “freedom.” It’d be funny if it wasn’t so harmful.
The next edition of the newsletter will deal more with this topic. It’ll also be for paid subscribers only. If you enjoy my work and want to support it, please consider purchasing a paid subscription. It’s how I pay the bills and why I’m able to dedicate so much time to my writing while keeping most of the content I produce free.
As I wrote in last month’s piece, this is about trans men and non-binary people who can become pregnant not wanting to be referred to as “women.” This has absolutely nothing at all to do with trans women.