Recently, the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) made a recommendation in its regular newsletter to its employees, to consider participating in the Meatless Mondays initiative, which advocates going vegetarian one day a week, citing the health and environmental benefits. The advisory explained that the USDA cafeterias now contain plenty of meatless options to enjoy. The recommendation concluded, “So you can really help yourself and the environment while having a good vegetarian meal!”
But within just a couple of days, the USDA had caved into pressure from the cattle and meat industry, and had retracted the message, claiming that it had been made without proper clearance. It was promptly removed from both the newsletter and their website.
The message seemed reasonable enough, coming as it did from the federal agency tasked with promoting sustainable agriculture and dietary health. And while part of the agency’s mission is to promote the agricultural industry, crop farmers were quick enough to point out that they are part of that industry too. It’s troubling that the USDA would cave in and give priority to the meat industry over the health of its employees and environmental sustainability. Also, we can’t think of another industry that would dare to react with such misplaced self righteous indignation as the meat industry did last week. What if the energy lobby freaked out every time the Department of Energy told consumers how to cut back on their consumption?
There is a silver lining however. Meatless Mondays is an initiative of the nonprofit Monday Campaign Inc. and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health that has shown a measure of success. Across the country, there are now thousands of corporate cafeterias, restaurants and schools who have embraced the idea of skipping meat on Mondays in favor of vegetarian options. Perhaps even more significant is that we now know that there are at least some elements within the USDA who understand the many benefits of a vegetarian diet. We hope they will try again.