Monday, July 30, 2012

Meatless Mondays and the Department of Agriculture

Meatless Monday is a movement to get Americans to eat less meat and more veggies through the simple expedient of not eating any animal products one day a week.  It's a great way to segue into vegetarianism or even veganism, or just make a small but real difference in your health and the environment.  To that end, on Meatless Mondays here at Soy Chai Bookshelf I will talk about anything related to food and vegetarianism, from cookbook reviews to to recipes I've created (don't hold your breath) to bragging about the delicious vegetarian feast I just whipped up to discussing in a (hopefully) not-too-judgemental way why vegetarianism is a great choice.  I would also love to host guest posters on the topic, so if you're interested in being featured, send me an e-mail at jlmarck at gmail dot com.

You may have noticed that Meatless Monday has been in the news the past few days.  In the past week, the Department of Agriculture published a newsletter recommending that Americans go meatless on Mondays as means of reducing the environmental impact of meat consumption:
The production of meat, especially beef (and dairy as well), has a large environmental impact. According to the UN, animal agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gases and climate change. It also wastes resources. It takes 7000 kg of grain to make 1000 kg of beef.  (Read more

Sounds good right?  Finally we as Americans are getting some good information about the value of eschewing meat, even just one day a week.

Or not.

Apparently, "amid outraged Twitter messages by livestock producers and at least one member of Congress" (source), the USDA felt compelled to retract this recommendation, stating that the "USDA does not endorse Meatless Monday."

This brings up a whole slew of questions, not least of which is where are we getting our nutritional information?  It's clear to me that beyond the question of ethics, vegetarianism is often healthier than a diet emphasizing meat, but that's through personal research and experience.  Do average Americans research such things or do they just believe what they are told, possibly in school, but largely by the media?  I think it's usually the latter (though don't even get me started on the textbook I had to read for my undergraduate nutrition class which seemed to have been produced by the meat industry).  But if the media and the government itself can be so heavily influenced by big business, in this case the meat industry, can we really trust that information?  I think the answer is obvious.

Michael Pollan talks about this influence as well.  I have no citations for this as I'm pulling it from my memory of a talk he gave at my school, but he mentioned how food has been reduced to nutrients; for example, it is recommended that we avoid cholesterol, rather than meat, even though meat is where we consume most of our cholesterol.  Why?  Because of the influence of the meat industry that cares more about profit than health.  Don't mind the blurry vision - that's just the wool being pulled over your eyes.

Obviously you know my stance on meat consumption, but don't get me wrong.  Health-wise, I believe that meat can be a part of a healthy diet, when consumed in moderation and selected with attention to health considerations.  But for the government, who ideally should be trusted, to retract positive, sustainable, healthful recommendations to the nation - that is a problem.  We need to know where our food comes from, how it's gotten on to our plat, and where it will go from there in order to make truly healthful decisions for ourselves.  But clearly, as this incident demonstrates, finding those answers is not nearly so easy or straight-forward as they should be.

1 comment:

  1. While I'm an omnivore myself, I'm hugely interested in the politics of food, including why our government recommends certain things over others. I'm also a big proponent of eating less meat; we are definitely not that family that has meat with every meal. I'm excited to read your Meatless Monday posts; I'm always looking for new recipes and ideas for meatless meals.