Wellness, Memes, and Ox Hearts: Inside The Raw Meat Movement
A deep dive into the cursed food trend that counts Heidi Montag and Jordan Peterson among its followers.
Earlier in the year, reality TV star Heidi Montag made headlines after she was photographed casually snacking on a raw Bison heart on the streets of LA.
Without being given any context, it’s a confronting sight. But for Montag’s Instagram followers, she was at the zenith of a journey that had been taking shape for months.
— Content Warning: This article contains images and footage of raw meat and people consuming raw meat. Please tread carefully. —
In January 2022, Montag posted an Instagram Reel of her tentatively eating some small, freshly sliced portions of raw liver, and can be heard quipping she’d heard the health benefits would “help her get pregnant”.
Another video the following month shows Montag nibbling thoughtfully on raw bull testicles, before recoiling at the texture of one particularly large nut. Montag’s confidence peaks later that month, filming a piece to camera about the virtues of the “carnivore diet” as she bites into a raw liver.
“You definitely get used to it,” Montag says between bites.
While weird celebrity diets are nothing new, Montag’s appraisal of the so-called “raw meat movement” is one of many endorsements for a community united by a dedication to consuming raw meat. The members of this group are a broad church, and count bodybuilders, hardcore nature influencers, and even Jordan Peterson among their followers.
A radical offshoot of the carnivore diet, followers of the movement claim a number of sometimes paradoxical benefits from the consumption of raw meat, including increased libido, greater muscle gain, and the alleviation of skin conditions such as eczema.
While the trend has horrified health professionals — who emphatically stress that there are no health benefits from consuming raw meat — it equally fascinates and attracts people who claim they have been equally alienated by extreme vegan diets.
Eat Meat Everyday: Chris Erm’s Story
Chris Erm is a curious member of the raw meat online community. He’s a gentle, soft-spoken man who seemed at least moderately self-aware about the absurdity of his crusade, which is — as outlined in his Instagram bio — to eat “raw meat at Whole Foods every day until I die from bacteria”.
On his Instagram page, Erm films himself consuming a range of raw animal products outside of his local Whole Foods store. He can be seen washing down sheep brains and buffalo kidneys with unpasteurised “raw” milk, adorning the footage with philosophical and comedic captions.
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Like many in the movement, Erm had experimented with his diet before. Speaking on a podcast, he explains that prior to his experiment he lived on a plant-based diet for approximately ten years, believing that the “gurus of veganism” could help with his longstanding health problems.
In the same podcast, Erm claims that he started two separate Instagram and Facebook pages titled Doggos Doing Things and Cats Doing Things early in his career, eventually selling them both to a media company. The experience running several wildly successful meme pages is clearly evident on @rawmeatexperiment, which at the time of writing boasts over 150,000 followers. Despite the page’s popularity, Erm is clearly beloved by his community, who consist of people who appear to be either ‘in on the joke’ or frustrated by prevailing dietary norms.
“People ask the same questions every day… do I feel better, do I poop okay, do I get sick?”
“People ask the same questions every day,” Erm wrote in a post outlining the rationale for his project. “Do I feel better, do I poop okay, do I get sick? The answer is everything is improving. My health issues are gone when I eat this way; my bowel movements are splendid. The purpose of me experimenting with food, was because I always felt worse after eating, and bad most of the time.
“Like many other people I’m just looking for a way to eat food without feeling like shit, and I [definitely] wouldn’t have ended up here without health issues. I went down many rabbit holes and this is what makes sense to me right now. Like always, if [your] diet works for [you] keep it up, I’m just sharing a possibility that isn’t very popular.”
The first comment below Erm’s heartfelt post is a reply that reads: “Bruh I literally just got e-coli from eating a cooked “grass-fed” burger, my body must be weak”.
Despite All My Rage I Am Still Eating Meat In A Cage
Chris Erm’s inspiration for his raw meat diet came from a 39-year-old Nebraska resident Weston Rowe. Weston proudly claims in interviews to have been practising his raw meat diet for over four years now, and despite eating “hundreds of pounds” of raw chicken and raw eggs, he says he is yet to contract salmonella.
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Compared with Erm, Weston’s stance within the movement is much more serious, to say the least. He even offers his online community private consultations, and his digital following consists of a much smaller but dedicated flock of raw enthusiasts, who lap up the multi-hour interviews and AMAs that Weston posts to his YouTube channel.
Weston isn’t just a hardcore believer in eating raw meat, he’s also extremely wary of the modern world. Fears of health risks he says are present in mobile phone, Wi-Fi, microwave and radio waves have troubled Weston to the extent that he now sleeps in a custom-made Faraday cage. The homemade “EMF darkroom” resembles a wooden adult cot, skirted with chicken wire. His belief in the prevailing power of a “natural” way of life also appears to extend to modern medicine. In an Instagram post reacting to reports of children being kept in “dilapidated” US immigration facilities being forced to eat undercooked food, Weston stated, “Based Biden feeding kids raw meat”.
“Aajonus Vonderplanitz reported kids fed on raw meat that had never got their “shots” were the brightest kids he’d ever seen,” Weston continues in the post. “Learning multiple languages, reading before the age of four. Children deserve to be raised on raw diets without medications to maximise their growth and intellectual potential.”
While Weston and Erm’s social media presences are wildly different, they both capitalise on a community that is has had enough of modern life, revelling in an imagined pre-industrial world unbridled by technology and meaningless labour. A return to a “natural” world where meat is simply eaten raw, instead of being packaged and processed with carcinogens.
And nobody pushes this fantasy to its breaking point like ‘The Liver King’.
The CEO Of The Jungle
The Liver King’s mission, set out to his one million Instagram followers, is “to put back in what the modern world left out”. But really, to know the full extent of Texas local Brian Johnston’s commitment to returning to a “primal” world, you only have to gaze upon him.
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Johnston is the raw meat movement writ large. Johnston’s social media presence inflates the supposed palaeolithic roots of a raw meat diet into a caricature, dubbing himself “The CEO of the Ancestral Lifestyle”. Aside from eating raw animal organs, which he does in abundance, Johnston is a zealous believer in the nine tenants of his “Ancestral Lifestyle” which says are: sleep, eat, move, shield, connect, cold, sun, fight, and bond.
Johnston films himself conducting extreme exercise routines, including “strong jaw pulls” where he pulls a 60-kilogram sled with his teeth to simulate the “ripping, tearing, and chomping” ancient humans used their jaw muscles for.
He has filmed himself hunting with the Machiguenga people of Peru, and the Maasai people of central Africa who chant “liver” as Johnston prepares to throw a wooden javelin at a target. There’s also footage of him drinking an “ancestral Bloody Mary“, meaning a glass of warm blood.
But unlike the relatively small communities of other raw meat pages, Johnston’s work seems to attract just as many detractors as it does followers. In one video Johnston assembles his two children — who he calls his “liver boys” — to smash an assortment of Wi-Fi routers with baseball bats.
“They don’t need to be told twice to destroy the technology that inhibits the best version of themselves,” The Liver King writes in a caption accompanying the video.
“Was this video posted with smoke signals?” one user replies. “You’re literally on a tech-driven app posting about your brand DAILY,” another astutely adds.
Aside from his kids, Johnston frequently posts videos that feature his wife, the ‘Liver Queen’. Her lack of enthusiasm for the primal lifestyle is something that is routinely made fun of by Liver King’s followers.
“She looks scared and confused,” one user comments on a video of Johnston bench-pressing his wife. “Poor woman, liver queen blink twice if you’re being held hostage!” another writes on a video of Liver King and Queen being submerged in an ice bath, supposedly their ideal date activity.
No Scientifically Proven Health Benefits For Eating Raw Meat
Accredited Dietitian Genna Anderson was understandably confused when approached for comment on this story. She told Junkee that the scientific claims that raw meat enthusiasts make, like how important nutrients and vitamins present in raw meat are lost after cooking, are completely false.
“The nutrients and vitamins in meat are very resilient to heat, so we’re not losing vitamins or nutrients through cooking — apart from a little bit of fat rending off the meat — which people would say is a good thing,” Genna explained. “There’s absolutely no science to claim that eating raw meat can clear up skin conditions at all.”
“There’s absolutely no science to claim that eating raw meat can clear up skin conditions at all.”
While the NSW Food Authority acknowledges that eating raw meat in certain dishes is an important part of many culture’s diets — including kibbe, carpaccio, and raw liver — Anderson says that diets that involve the consumption of large amounts of raw meat, as well as ‘carnivore’ diets are dangerous.
“Consuming raw meat is absolutely not safe in terms of the food safety perspective but consuming only meat as part of a carnivore-based diet gives us a diet that’s really lacking in other vitamins and minerals. We’re missing a lot of nutrients that we would get from our other food groups, like our grains food groups, dairy, fruits, and vegetables.”
Anderson says that this logic extends to the other extreme of raw vegan diets. “I guess any diet where we’re cutting out food groups is going to put us in a position where we’re missing nutrients,” she said.
12 Rules For Meating My Teenage Daughter
A controversial figure within the alt-right, Jordan Peterson recently committed to a “beef only” diet after supposedly witnessing his daughter recover from a range of medical ailments after adopting the diet.
Despite telling Joe Rogan on his podcast that his diet produces some violent consequences, claiming that drinking apple cider “produced an overwhelming sense of impending doom” which caused him to miss 25 days of sleep (a writer from The Atlantic helpfully points out that the official human record for sleep deprivation is 11 days), Peterson claimed that his extreme carnivore diet cured his depression and cleared up his gum disease.
Later, Peterson would drop off grid for almost a year, after being placed in a medically induced coma in a Russian hospital to treat a Benzodiazepine addiction. Peterson’s daughter would also later quit the diet, yet continue to spruik its benefits on social media.
Diets, like ideologies, can be seen as ways of understanding the world which presupposes moral “goods” and “evils”. In many ways, they’re easier to understand than complex philosophies and have tangible impacts on our physical bodies. Much like Peterson’s book 12 Rules For Life, which posits a problematic framework for those struggling with capitalist modernity, the raw meat movement presents a “natural” fantasy world that seems predominately designed for physically fit, straight, white men.
But, to quote another lonely shade in the alt-right — Ben Shapiro — “facts don’t care about your feelings”. Even if people feel a “truth” that eating raw meat every day connects with you an ancestral lifestyle that brings meaning to your life, it’s also true that the diet increases the odds that you’ll ingest Salmonella, E. coli, and Yersinia: bacteria responsible for the deaths of over 3000 Americans per year. Despite how the raw diet makes people feel, it’s ultimately not very good for them.
Back on @therawmeatexperiment, people are egging Erm on in the comments section, rallying against ‘Big Pharma’ and ‘McDonalds’ as he takes another bite from a raw chicken thigh. One mortified spectator asks Erm why he just doesn’t eat the same food, but cooked.
“Do you think eating the same exact foods, but only cooked, have close to the same benefits?” the commentator asks.
“It could be pretty close,” Erm responds.
Charles Rushforth is a staff writer at Junkee. Follow him on Twitter.