The NY Times recently featured Aspen, Colorado’s Meatless Mondays campaign (here). Allegedly, this all got started with Michael Pollan’s assertion that if all Americans went meatless one day a week, it would remove the greenhouse gas equivalent of 30-40 million cars a year. And if you know anything about Aspen, you know it’s crawling with treehugging do-gooders with too much time and money on their hands. Now don’t get me wrong, I am, myself, a treehugger. Some of my best friends are treehuggers. But I’m going to explain why this is wrong-headed, and not just because I happen to enjoy meat three times a day.
- The fact that these campaigners thought it would be appropriate for the City Council to give it a “public resolution of support” offends everything in me that is American. It is not the job of our government to throw their support behind dietary ideologies. Besides, look how well our government’s support of dietary ideas has gone so far. I would feel the same way if a Paleo-inspired campaign was up for debate.
And what do they replace meat with? “In the public school system, which embraced Meatless Monday two years ago, whole grain pancakes, dubbed ‘breakfast for lunch,’ are a popular Monday rotation in the elementary and middle schools.” Great. Good luck bringing down childhood obesity rates with pancakes.
- They are framing this as a health measure: “This month, the cardiac rehabilitation unit…began urging patients to patronize Meatless Monday restaurants in town.” Since when was meat unhealthful? Show me the study, and it better not come from a large nation that starts with C. They say it’s not about health. Well, then, why get the schools and the hospital involved? Lying liars from Liarville.
- “Vegetables, in addition to having less impact on the planet than meat in energy and water usage, are much cheaper as an ingredient.” The NY Times repeats this drivel without any qualification, as though it is a well-known fact. Yes, on the surface, this is true. But you have to analyze the entire chain of impacts. To what are we comparing? Nobody I know is suggesting that we eat meat that comes from polluting, disgusting, industrialized feedlots. I am surrounded by beautiful ranches with cattle, pastured pigs, bison, sheep, chickens, and goats. Nobody’s complaining about the environment around here. Plus, if you eat more nose-to-tail, you’re eating in a more sustainable—and healthful—manner. If you’re one of those lucky folks who hunt or fish for your meat, you already know that there is zero environmental impact. All meat eating is not created equal. They probably feel superior about their hybrid cars too.
- I’m going to call complete bullshit on this one: “Nobody is saying, ‘go become a vegetarian,’ ” said Martin Oswald, a restaurateur who led the effort in signing up Meatless Monday participants among his food-industry friends. Mr. Oswald said he thought the dynamic that made Aspen such a prime place to expand Meatless Monday was not philosophy or health, but rather the cutthroat economics of the restaurant business — keeping up with the Joneses for fear of being left out.” There is so much inherent judgy-judginess in this whole campaign because it sets up a dynamic of opposites. What’s the opposite of meat? Vegetables. Or so they think in their simple view. Little do they know that vegetables are actually tasty complements to healthy meat. Besides, they contradict themselves by saying it’s about restaurant economics when a few paragraphs later they say vegetables are a cheaper ingredient. How can it be about economics when a veggie dish can’t come close to fetching the $58 price tag of the osso buco?
- There is an unspoken, but present, undercurrent here. It’s a thinly veiled Feed-the-Whole-World-with-Grains argument. That somehow meat shouldn’t be eaten because not everyone can eat it and we can’t feed the whole world with it. What do they want, the entire world to live on a suboptimal diet of grains that endangers our physical, mental, and emotional health? Just so we can have more unhappy, unhealthy people? No thank you. We need to begin to think about feeding the people we have properly.
Of course I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with vegetarianism for ethical purposes. And I love vegetables, especially next to my steak. But I won’t force jerky down your throat if you won’t shove tofu down mine. Agreed, Aspen?