While the U.S. Fights Over How Much Meat to Eat, This Country Is Recommending Tofu

The meat lobby is pushing back against environmentally friendly dietary guidelines.

Fried tofu. (Photo: Flickr)

May 20, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

There’s a war going on over what the government tells people they should eat. The first shots were fired in February, when a panel responsible for updating the Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years said that it would consider the climate impact of food choices in setting the new standards.

Which, in short, would mean telling people to eat less meat. Globally, livestock accounts for 14.5 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

That possibility has spurred a furious response from the meat industry, which spent more than $4 million on lobbying in 2014 and has long wielded political influence over federal dietary guidelines. Back in 1977, meat producers were able to switch a planned health- and environmentally friendly federal guideline to “decrease consumption of meat” to a recommendation of two to three servings of meat daily. It’s an about-face the industry is trying to repeat today.

Meanwhile, in barbecue-loving Australia, the new dietary pyramid released Tuesday features a food that’s anathema to the meat lobby: tofu.

It sits alongside fish, steak, eggs, and other plant-based proteins, such as lentil and beans, but in light of our domestic battle, it appears like a tiny revolution.

A public comment period on the guidelines wrapped up on May 9, and a significant effort was under way to dilute what was announced in February. The committee received a letter from 30 senators—including 29 Republicans—questioning the science behind their recommendations. Which, to be clear, only said to eat less meat.

While it’s highly unlikely that tofu will be popping up on MyPlate (the dietary graphic that replaced the food pyramid in the U.S. in 2011) anytime soon, the market shows signs of realigning diets on its own. According to a recent study by the market research firm Lux, “alternative” proteins—such as tofu, insects, and other protein-rich foods that aren’t derived from traditional livestock—could account for more than a third of the market by 2054.

We’ll know that we’ve arrived in the post-meat era when crickets pop up on federal dietary guidelines.

(Chart: Courtesy NutritionAustralia.org)