Something funny happened at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) last week. In an online newsletter to employees, published once a quarter, the advice dispensed was to embrace Meatless Mondays in USDA cafeterias:
One simple way to reduce your environmental impact while dining at our cafeterias is to participate in the “Meatless Monday” initiative http://www.meatlessmonday.com/. This international effort, as the name implies, encourages people not to eat meat on Mondays. Meatless Monday is an initiative of The Monday Campaign Inc. in association with the John Hopkins School of Public Health.
….there are many health concerns related to the excessive consumption of meat. While a vegetarian diet could have a beneficial impact on a person’s health and the environment, many people are not ready to make that commitment. Because Meatless Monday involves only one day a week, it is a small change that could produce big results.
However, within minutes of its publication, the newsletter was removed from the USDA website. The beef industry would not have any of this silliness, and issued a statement to that effect:
“Unfortunately, ‘Meatless Monday’ is an activist campaign against cattle producers and all livestock producers, so we were pretty shocked to see the one department that’s out there supposedly representing us actually being against us.”
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack apologized profusely for the unauthorized publication. The USDA even tweeted this:
USDA does not endorse Meatless Monday. Statement found on USDA website was posted w/o proper clearance. It has been removed.
Did we mention funny? we actually meant sad.
The USDA, celebrating 150 summers this year, is tasked with two opposing missions:
1. Supporting US agriculture
2. Providing nutrition programs and education for Americans
In the past, these two tasks aligned well with each other. Millions of Americans did not have enough food to eat, and programs were set up to aid the poor and hungry through food stamps and support for women infants and children (WIC). The USDA spent part of its budget educating consumers on nutrition, including the famous Food Pyramid (RIP), which has since been replaced by MyPlate.
While production capabilities increased dramatically, humans still need need only 2000 calories a day on average. This creates a tension, because we don’t need to eat so much. But our farms keep manufacturing more and more cheap meat, dairy, soy and corn. The USDA has to help offload all these commodities into the food system.
What to do with all the surplus? How about ignoring nutrition science that’s telling us too much red meat is unhealthy?And that’s why the USDA will never endorse Meatless Monday.
It’s simple. The National Beef Cattlemen Association want us to eat more beef. It’s understandable, that’s exactly what this organization is all about. The USDA should help them, that’s what this government office was founded for.
But please, someone take away the nutrition services and put them under the Department of Health, together with the FDA, or as a separate entity.
What do you think?