“I eat seafood once a week with my tribe, every Wednesday: skin-on, bone-in sardines, and if you can’t do that, you can do what a bear does. Go straight for the source and get the eggs,” a swollen, barrel-chested man explains to the camera, before handing a raw, dead salmon to his wife, who spawns the eggs directly into his mouth as he shouts through the roe, “More! More!”
Although he is not the only carnivore influencer, the Liver King may be the most pervasive. In his kingdom, TikTok, his content has gained notoriety for promoting a lifestyle dedicated to returning to the primacy of the ancient man. For Liver King, whose real name is Brian Johnson, the ancient man is defined by a masculinity formed through raw meat consumption and intensive workouts. As the self-designated “CEO of Ancestral Lifestyle”, Johnson’s videos are structured around a set of “ancestral tenets” that bring modern followers closer to what he refers to as primal ancestors. According to Johnson, these ahistorical masculine fantasy figures were proficient hunters, rejected food preparation in favor of raw animal organs and lived in line with vaguely Christian traditional values.
Almost always outside, shirtless and facing the camera, his videos are a combination of lifestyle evangelism, inane feats of strength and raw meat consumption, each ending with the phrase “Liver King out!” Since beginning the account in August of 2021, the Liver King has amassed a following of over 2.5 million followers on TikTok. His persona draws in alienated men who look towards an imagined cultural past to identify a retrofitted place in the now which they perceive as misunderstanding them. By casting himself as living as close to a primal life as possible, the Liver King presents a lifestyle that is a preformed guide to primacy, a convoluted reversion of maleness which rejects modernity and embraces the carnivorous.
At the center of his construction is the raw meat diet. Despite its fringe origins, the diet has seen a surge in popularity within recent years. Heidi Montag from The Hills follows the diet, in part as an attempt to enhance her fertility. Some celebrities, such as James Blunt, have even landed themselves in the hospital after failing to maintain their nutritional balances as a result of their adherence to the diet. Pioneered by Weston A. Price, a dentist in the 1930s, the raw meat diet is founded on a colonial fascination with indigenous cultures and food. Price’s research, which laid the groundwork for holistic dentistry, focused on the high presence of fat soluble vitamins found in people adhering to “traditional” diets opposed to people who followed a “modern” diet of processed and high sugar foods. The Weston A. Price Foundation, which serves to advance their namesake’s nutritional claims, highlights Price’s 1939 research on differing dental vitamin and mineral levels between “indigenous” and “modern” subjects. What gave these indigenous subjects healthier teeth, according to Price, was their routine consumption of animal fats which have high concentrations of vitamins A and D. Later research added in claims about the capacity of heat to break down these essential nutrients and enzymes past 115° F. Adherents have claimed it’s ability to cure stomach illnesses, gastro-intestinal issues, and increase your sex drive. Some will even consume rotten meat as a probiotic.
the underpinning habits of the raw meat diet may have more in common with the futuristic depiction of a meal in a pill than it does with the supposed primal’s post hunt feast
Alongside a resurgence of interest in holistic medicine, the carnivore diet has seen a recent increase in interest and popularity. Influencers in the raw meat community, both men and women alike, have popular followings on YouTube and Instagram. Many of these influencers approach the diet as an opportunity to break away from a modern lifestyle, to get in touch with a human need for these nutrients and deepen the satisfaction in their lives. Validity aside, the diet’s primary influences tend to conflate the modern diet they reject with contemporary society. Celebrated raw meat nutritionist Aajonus Vonderplanitz, who advocated for the consumption of specially fermented raw meat called high meat, penned essays which reflected on Jim Crow America as a simpler time. In videos not focused on meat, the Liver King makes claims about estrogen laden perfumes and destroys wifi routers. It’s hard not to conflate their stances with other conservative American men, whose longing for a simpler time is a thin mask over a patriarchal stance.
Myths about the feminization of men and biological need for masculine aggression are presented against a vegetarian strawman. The need for meat serves as an implicit extension of the common male perception of the vegetable as a feminizing food, often fixated on the estrogen boosting capacity of soy when consumed in high quantities, lending to a deep suspicion of plant-based diets. In the diet’s contemporary iteration, colonialism also takes on a different form, with raw meat purists turning to other cultures to reinforce the myth of the primal man. Vonderplanitz claimed that raw meat could extend our lives, claiming that Eskimos lived until around 105 years old, compared to an average age of 138 years old in Samburu culture which he explained by the consumption of frozen foods in the tundral winter. Rites of passage, like Maasi lion hunting and Spartan Crypaetia are appropriated and recreated through simulated hunts, ice baths and barefoot living. Rituals of hardship and achievement are held up as proof of primalness, of a forgotten universal culture where men were valued for their capacity for provision and perseverance rather than their ability to contribute to a society beyond themselves. These examples are cherry-picked to reinforce the values which their influencers live by. In doing so, they ignore the historical foraging of the hunter-gatherer, the bicuspid and molar teeth which remain in our mouths, the 790,000 year old tradition of cooking with fire.
In rejecting food preparation as an indicator of the decline of human civilization, the raw meat diet is anti-designed.Videos of carnivorous meals often present an aesthetic homage to the constructed primal ancestor: butchered cuts of red meat are separated in unceremonious piles highlighting the bounty and variety of the local meat-market. Their arrangement calls to question if food can be anything more than nutrition, the possibility that eating can be anything more than a chore. Of course, the alpha-male’s existence is a chore within itself. Like anything ideological, the raw meat diet has a purpose for its proponents— raw meat influencers advertise proprietary nutritional supplements, designed to reinforce the benefits of their diets and generate secondary income.
Some of these supplements are created with complex chemicals, and are intended to address the possible nutritional imbalances created by the diet. Others, like the Liver King’s, are composed like a macabre nootropic. Pills with stacks like testicle, heart, liver, and bone marrow promise to increase and enhance one’s masculine performance. Intended to allow these men to pursue their anti-designed diets, they rely on contemporary nutritional science and are created with the diet’s shortcomings in mind. It’s a perverse sort of medium adjustment to nutrition created to facilitate the aesthetics of their homogenous meals. These supplements conversely resemble the most sophisticated iteration of the ‘nutrition as a chore’ mindset. Their pills and powders bring to mind products like Soylent or Huel, meal substitutes designed to streamline nutrition into a nondescript sip. Instead of facilitating efficiency as those products do, these supplements facilitate aesthetics; allowing carnivores to pretend their bodies exist beyond traditional and intentional food preparation. In truth the underpinning habits of the raw meat diet may have more in common with the futuristic depiction of a meal in a pill than it does with the supposed primal’s post hunt feast.
In a since deleted video, with his raw meat spread bountifully before him, the Liver King promotes his supplemental powder which sits floating at the top of a glass of water, he’s forgotten how to mix his drink, how to prepare his food. He lifts up a bull testicle, exclaiming “Why eat vegetables when you could eat testicles!” before taking a bite. I don’t know how the video ends, I looked away with horror.