What could get GOP members of Congress more animated than Obamacare, gun control, or tax cuts? Why, “Meatless Mondays,” of course. A recent employee newsletter at the US Department of Agriculture dared to contain a suggestion for colleagues to go vegetarian for a day.
The memo noted the environmental impact of the relatively high levels of feed, water, fossil fuels, and pesticides needed to produce beef, and the links between excessive red meat consumption and heart disease and cancer. “Because Meatless Monday involves only one day a week, it is a small change that could produce big results,” the newsletter enthused. Instead, it got a big reaction from the meat industry and Republicans from beef-producing states. Within a day, the newsletter was taken down. Then, in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, 13 Republican senators announced that they had “serious concerns about USDA’s priorities,” because the newsletter had declared, “you can really help yourself and the environment while having a good vegetarian meal.” John Barrasso of Wyoming said the USDA was in the grips of “extreme environmentalists at the United Nations.” An “absolutely stunned” Mike Johanns of Nebraska said the USDA should be “the cheerleader for American agriculture.”
It’s an old, off-key refrain — how healthy lifestyles undermine good old American traditions like burgers and steaks. Still, it was dismaying to see the USDA cave in so quickly. And the senators should remember that the Heartland produces a lot of vegetables, not to mention all those amber waves of grain.