I’m sure many of you are familiar with Meatless Mondays, an international campaign to encourage people to refrain from consuming meat one day a week in order to curb their environmental impact. Overall, I think this is a pretty good initiative–it tends to get people who would otherwise never consider eating vegetarian more frequently to forego the meat just one day a week. It’s been implemented in many schools, universities and workplaces around the world and has been effective in educating many about the effects of meat consumption. Giving up meat one day a week can, for some, be a stepping stone to realizing that meat is not all that difficult to give up and may encourage vegetarian or even vegan eating beyond Mondays.
Meatless Monday is by no means a radical move. And it is nowhere near enough, even if we’re talking in purely environmental terms. It does not condemn meat eating more generally or talk about the implications of eating meat six days a week; it says nothing about reducing dairy or egg consumption. The Meatless Monday campaign suggests eating grass-fed, hormone-free, local meat when meat is consumed. And interestingly, the Meatless Monday discourse says nothing about the animals. Reasons for going veg are frequently pitched in terms of a tripod–for your health, for the environment, and for the animals. Meatless Monday talks about the environmental and health impacts without advocating for the animals.
Nonetheless, this type of campaign makes important strides to mainstream and normalize the idea of foregoing meat and it is working on a broad scale. While one day a week may not seem like a lot to some who are used to not eating meat or dairy more often than that, for folks who eat meat for every meal, this would be a big step in the right direction.
The New York Times reported a bit of news this week, which makes clear that Meatless Monday is viewed as a threat to the meat industry. When the USDA sent an internal newletter to its employees recommending their participation in Meatless Mondays, meat producers and republican lawmakers from the Midwestern states were outraged:
Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, for one, had this to say: “I will eat more meat on Monday to compensate for stupid USDA recommendation [about] a meatless Monday,” Likewise, Sen. John Thune, offered his take: “Who at USDA thought ‘Meatless Mondays’ was [a] good idea? Anti-[agriculture] agenda at USDA is irresponsible, even for a day.” ~Slate
USDA endorsement of Meatless Mondays and vegetarianism more broadly would have been a huge step in the right direction, particularly because of their involvement in drafting the nation’s dietary recommendations. Instead, the USDA retracted their statement that Meatless Mondays were a good idea and said that the recommendation had been made ‘without the proper clearance.’
There’s some great stuff written on the politics of the meat industry’s relationship with the USDA. The USDA and industry leaders have been in bed with each other for decades, resulting in dietary recommendations that have the industry’s interests (and not consumer health) in mind. Marion Nestle’s book, Food Politics, explores in great depth the politics of government legislation and recommendations and industry interests.
We can see that for some Meatless Monday is seen as a highly radical move—the reaction of producers and legislators involved with the meat industry is an example of this. The level of defensiveness is amazing against those who are trying to make a healthier, kinder, and more environmentally sound choice just one day a week. That its seen as ‘un-American’ and ‘anti-agriculture’ is an interesting embodiment of carnist ideology in action.
Just a little food for thought (pun intended?!) for the weekend. Happy Friday!