Meatless Mondays Get the Axe on Capitol Hill

Congress caves to the livestock industry, stops promoting weekly vegetarian menu options.

Meatless Monday Ends on Capitol Hill

Say farewell to Meatless Mondays on Capitol Hill. (Photo: GMVozd/Getty Images)

Jason Best has worked for Gourmet and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Have you signed on to the whole Meatless Mondays campaign? If so, you might as well be a commie.

Is that a stretch? Well, let’s look at what happened last week when the livestock industry basically hogtied the House of Representatives quicker than the calf-ropers at your average rodeo and “forced” them to abandon Meatless Mondays in House cafeterias on Capitol Hill.

I say “forced” because although various accounts have inevitably used the word “bully,” all the coalition of livestock groups did was send a letter. Hardly a march up the Hill with pitchforks and branding irons.

But it didn’t take much convincing for the House Administration Committee to cry uncle. And it wasn’t like Restaurant Associates, the company that operates a number of House cafeterias, was refusing to serve any meat on Mondays. No, it just had the audacity to post signs promoting its vegetarian offerings and explaining some of the myriad benefits of cutting back on meat (gasp!) one day a week!

For that, the Farm Animal Welfare Coalition sent the committee that oversees House administration a strongly worded letter.

But wait a minute—let’s quickly double back here. The “Farm Animal Welfare Coalition”!? This is a coalition of groups that represent an industry dedicated to raising animals to slaughter them. The moniker is the equivalent of pesticide-makers coming together to form the Happy Bee Initiative, wouldn’t you say?

Here’s what the letter said, in part, as quoted by E&E Daily: “ ‘Meatless Mondays’ is an acknowledged tool of animal rights and environmental organizations who seek to publicly denigrate U.S. livestock and poultry production, alleging we provide unhealthy foods, while contributing disproportionately to climate change and environmental damage. Both claims are offensive to us and wrong.”

To anyone who’s followed the wrangling on Capitol Hill over the Farm Bill, it probably comes as little surprise that a bunch of politicians whose campaign coffers no doubt benefit from Big Ag largesse would beat a hasty retreat.

But not so for Meatless Mondays supporters. Robert Lawrence, director of the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, calls the decisions “gutless.”

“It’s another example of the meat industry’s influence on government in a way that holds the public’s health in disregard and ignores the growing scientific evidence of the health-damaging effects of the typical high-meat American diet,” he writes on his blog.

Sasha Lyutse of the Natural Resources Defense Council writes on the Huffington Post, “[T]he conventional livestock industry knows it has something to worry about when it comes to American consumers… public trends speak for themselves,” noting that Americans are estimated to consume 12 percent less meat and poultry in 2012 than they did five years ago.

The fact that the Farm Animal Welfare Coalition is in denial isn’t shocking—again, Farm Animal Welfare Coalition, for crying out loud. And trying to rebut their outrage over the fact that, (1) eating meat really isn’t very good for you, and (2) raising billions of animals for human consumption takes a heavy environmental toll, seems tantamount to getting into one of those endless Red-Bull-fueled back-and-forth exchanges in the comment section on, say, the website of Fox News.

(Just Google, “eating meat and health” or “eating meat and environment”—the, oh, 52 million search results should provide enough ammo.)

But having just wrapped up watching season six of Mad Men myself, the livestock industry’s position seems like a total throwback—either that or a dogged continuation of a status quo it’s stuck to for decades. Those “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner” ads that launched in the early 1990s, featuring the rousing swell of Copland’s Rodeo—that seemed like something Don Draper would’ve come up with back in 1967, back when the Marlboro Man still ranged across the pages of Life. Nothing was more American than a Coke or a Chevy, and few people could imagine that a world of farting cows might actually help melt the Arctic.

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