The meat and dairy industry is once more showing the power it has over American politics. On July 23rd, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its monthly newsletter. The letter contained a brief and moderate suggestion: to take part in Meatless Monday.
One simple way to reduce your environmental impact while dining at our cafeterias is to participate in the “Meatless Monday” initiative http://www.meatlessmonday.com/. This international effort, as the name implies, encourages people not to eat meat on Mondays. [...] While a vegetarian diet could have a beneficial impact on a person’s health and the environment, many people are not ready to make that commitment. Because Meatless Monday involves only one day a week, it is a small change that could produce big results.
While well-meaning, the innocent suggestion was still a direct jab against the meat and dairy industry – after all, these livestock-based companies have nothing to gain from vegetarian initiatives.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCSA) responded quickly with a stern press release. Questioning the validity of the health benefits of a vegetarian diet, they also noted the recent and ongoing changes to their environmental policies. According to the NCSA, they were making more meat products using less carbon emissions and with less cattle.
The dairy industries was quick to follow suit, alongside other livestock companies. In fact, two Senators – Sen. Chuck Grassley and Sen. John Thune – chimed in with their own pro-meat tweets, adding to the list of voices against the USDA’s newsletter. Suffice to say that the USDA retracted their Meatless Monday suggestion, with a statement saying that it was an unauthorized publication.
I am not here to argue whether or not a vegetarian lifestyle is better for everyone. Rather, I question why this backlash happened at all. The USDA has characteristically shown support for vegetarian and pescetarian diets. The Meatless Monday initiative pales in comparison to the ISDA’s slew of published studies, brochures, and recommendations. In fact, the only difference Meatless Monday has against the USDA’s usual publications is that, instead of passively promoting vegetarianism, it actively goes against the meat industry.
If anything, the reaction done by the meat and dairy industry was a show of power – of the influence it has over American politics, and of the American consumer’s reliance reliance on livestock industries. Meat is here, and it’s here to stay.
And yet, what does this imply about our future and our policies? Frankly, it means we are less able to experiment with greener alternatives than we realize. If we cannot even promote Meatless Monday, which simply asks for a modest change in diet, how are we able to properly support much larger initiatives? Projects such as the replacement of livestock factories with organic fields suddenly seem even less likely to come to fruition.
If we want an honest effort to shake off our unsustainable habits, we need to be able to support even these small environmental initiatives. Stifling them like this only promotes stagnancy within our industries and within our mindsets, and prevents us from embracing a greener lifestyle.
Photo by Andrew Allio