Cutting back on meat is healthier for us and for the environment, but Republicans are more concerned about the health of corporate profits.
Not content to keep Congress from doing anything about climate change, the GOP showed last week that it will also go out of its way to keep anyone else from taking action. The USDA sent a tip to employees to take the Meatless Monday challenge, a one-day-a-week commitment to forgo meat. They explained that cutting back on meat is more healthy (true) and more environmentally friendly (also true) than the large quantities of meat Americans regularly eat. In no time at all, this newsletter was picked up by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which stated that the claims about cutting back on meat are false. And from there, the Republican spin machine kicked into high gear.
The NCBA release made it to Senator Jim Moran of Kansas and into a speech by Senator John Barasso of Wyoming. It even found its way into one of Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley’s more comprehensible tweets, in which he pledges to eat more meat to make up for “stupid USDA recommendation abt (sic) a meatless Monday.” They all claim it’s an attack on the rancher’s way of life, and disappointingly, the USDA backpedaled. To their credit, they kept it simple and only said that “USDA does not endorse Meatless Monday.”
This is an absurd controvery over such a small issue, but it highlights a larger problem: Republicans are once again burying their heads in the sand on science and health. So let’s start with the facts.
Fact #1: Meat production emits an outsize amount of greenhouse gases compared with crop production. In short, meat and dairy are, as a whole, a larger climate problem than other foods. Red meat in particular has a significant impact, followed by dairy. Switching a little bit of meat for a bit more grains, fruits, and vegetables will reduce the climate impact of anyone who participates.
(Graph from “Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States” – Weber and Matthews, 2008.)
Fact #2: Meat in moderation is far more healthy than the amount of meat typically associated with the American diet. Research continually confirms this. Cutting back on meat provides numerous health benefits, including a longer lifespan and reduced risk of illnesses like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
Fact #3: Skipping meat is not an attack on rural America as Cattlemen’s Beef Association is claiming. People don’t just stop eating entirely if they skip meat. Is my home garden an attack on ranchers? No. If we’re going to talk about rural America, then let’s note that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, crop production generates more economic output than livestock production. And while we’re at it, we might also note that crop production creates more jobs than livestock production. It’s not that one is better than the other, but by skipping meat, people are only switching from one very significant economic sector to another.
This attack on the USDA and Meatless Monday is ridiculous on every level. The recommendation appeared in a relatively small, internal newsletter for employees – they weren’t exactly screaming it to the world through a megaphone. What’s especially disappointing is that Meatless Monday is an apolitical organization. They aren’t advocating policy or suggesting that any of their recommendations be legislated. They make sensible recommendations for people’s health. They are not extreme in the least bit; they’re the very definition of moderation and are now being attacked by groups with extreme agendas.
One last thing – the cherry on top of this little manufactured controversy. Four United States presidents, including Franklin Roosevelt and others from both parties, observed meatless Mondays and encouraged the rest of the country to do so as well. It was seen as a sign of patriotism for all Americans to do their part. So when and how did we lose our pride and unity in the name of excess and industry profit?