As a sure sign of its wide-reaching impact, The Meatless Monday movement is getting a surreptitious yet steady attempt at discreditation by the meat industry. Not really a surprise. In fact to me, it signals success, a sample of which follows.
MM has now made the Washington Post, as in "Meatless Mondays, a movement that has legs."
Every week we hear about famous people, school districts, cities or even countries that have signed on to the movement.
Famous chef Mario Batali, described as "famously rotund and infamously gluttonous" by the Washington Post, restaurateur and star of cooking shows, now offers two vegetarian entrees – highlighted by the "MM" logo - every Monday at his 14 restaurants.
Across the Bay from San Francisco, whose school district is meatless on Mondays, the Oakland Unified School District is also on board, serving vegetarian meals to its 28,000 K-8 students on Mondays since January 2010. "According to ABC News, Meatless Monday has been a “real hit” with Oakland’s kids. Another healthy side effect- principals report that the new, nutritious school lunches help students remain settled and focused in their afternoon classes." They report the health benefits for childhood obesity, fiber increase, and lower fat. Environmental benefits they cite include reducing their carbon footprint and water consumption. PETA calculated that the Oakland School District in one year of Meatless Mondays saves 50, 000+ animal lives, 168 million gallons of water and 955,000 kg. of carbon emissions. Now that's education!!
On April 26th, Japan became the latest country to embrace Meatless Monday! College students are leading the charge in monthly Veggie Monday parties to encourage the country to try more plant-based options. Students and supporters meet at a local restaurant to share meatless dishes and learn more about plant-based options. Reportedly, party-goers are impressed when they discover how delicious plant-based options are and often invite friends to come along next time.
Students are taking action on the campuses, making their universities aware of the growing interest in plant-based options. Veggie Monday was well-received at Japan's Veggie Festival in Kyoto.
What all this plant munching has sparked is a concerted effort by lobbying groups of the American Meat Institute, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the National Pork Board and the Farm Bureau, targeting institutional Monday promoters – such as the Baltimore City Public Schools - and meat purchasers -such as Wal-Mart - and policymakers, such as the FDA, whose high-profile Food Pyramid is slated for revision this Fall.
Tony Geraci, the director of food service for Baltimore City Public Schools, has received a raft of what he calls "cease and desist" letters from meat industry lobbyists. Geraci recognizes the industry's panic: "If Baltimore does it, then what happens?"
Healthcare Without Harm, the nonprofit group that is urging hospitals to serve less meat, has received stern letters from industry officials.
The meat industry's approach stresses science. "We're scientists here. We're not going to step out of line on the facts," said Ceci Snyder, a registered dietitian and vice president of marketing for the National Pork Board.
"Science or 'science-based' are code words for 'there's something at stake here," said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University and a frequent critic of industrial food producers. "People eat very complicated diets. And they know the science will never be strong enough to make unequivocal recommendations about what people should eat."
So, to public-health advocates, they wax about meat being a complete protein, where beans are not. This is an urban legend, propagated by the meat industry and loudly echoed by my mother.
To environmentalists, they challenge the 2006 UN Report, "Livestock's Long Shadow," where animals raised for slaughter are reported to contribute more to greenhouse gas production than the transportation sector. The error in calculating comparative emissions is in undercalculating emissions produced by the transportation sector, making in actuality that figure higher than listed in the U.N. report. There have been no challenges to the emissions produced by animals raised for slaughter, so even if the transportation sector's contribution is higher, what we learned from that seminal report is the huge deleterious environmental impact of the meat industry.
Need we mention that the research challenge to the U.N. report was funded by the Beef Industry?
Lobbying for the upcoming dietary guidelines is among the most urgent efforts. The guidelines are the basis for the USDA's food pyramid, which recommends daily intakes for food groups including meat, grain and dairy products. I remember being taught the Food Pyramid every year in elementary and middle school. I took it as gospel fact. In actuality, it is largely propaganda.
Let's look back a little at the meat industry's "recommendations" to the USDA over the years, as reported in the Washington Post article.
In a recent letter to the USDA, the American Meat Institute voiced concern that policymakers were overemphasizing plant-based food as the foundation of a "healthy" diet for Americans. "The Carbohydrate and Protein subcommittee appears to be actively seeking a link between adverse health outcomes and animal proteins," the letter stated. "AMI strongly recommends that the Committee evaluate its data based on sound science and a scientifically based risk assessment, not nutrition publication bias."
Professor Nestle, who served on the advisory committee in 1995, said the language in industry letters suggests a level of concern about the Meatless Monday campaign, but that the industry is not truly threatened: "There's no reason for them to raise their voice. They've always gotten what they wanted from Washington."
In case after case, she said, policymakers have refrained from suggesting that Americans eat less meat. A 1977 Senate select committee led by Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.) was forced to beat a hasty retreat after it initially recommended that Americans could cut their intake of saturated fat by reducing their consumption of red meat and dairy products. Its revised guidelines suggested choosing "meat, poultry and fish that will reduce saturated-fat intake." (McGovern, whose constituents included many cattle ranchers, lost his seat in 1980.)
In 1992, when the USDA planned to recommend reduced meat intake in its new Food Pyramid, the meat industry howled again. It created a public-relations nightmare for the agency. Under intense media scrutiny, the USDA could not change its recommendations. It did, however, redesign the chart so that the two to three servings of meat that it had suggested as a maximum serving looked like a recommended amount.
I think it's time we take government recommendations with a huge cup of salt, and see them for what they are: political manipulations. Listen to your body instead. If you've tried forgoing meat, how do you feel? Listen to a wide range of "experts", including especially those deemed "alternative". I find they are often on the cutting edge of truth. Those with less financial investments in delivering information can usually be counted on to be more in our best interests.