Commentary: Worst essay ever

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Back in June, the specter of Meatless Mondays raised its ugly head—of all places—in the Longworth Cafeteria. 

Typewriter For those unfamiliar, that’s the official dining room of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. The cafeteria is operated by the Compass Group, a mega-foodservice company that has allied itself with several sustainable food production initiatives—which, I hasten to add, is a good thing.

But Meatless Mondays? Different story.

MM is a thinly disguised campaign to promote the vegetarian agenda by demonizing producers, meat-eaters and by implication, livestock themselves. If it were merely about healthier eating, the so-called movement would be tolerable as merely another choice to consider among the wealth of diets, nutritional plans, menu choices and culinary options available to modern consumers.

Unfortunately, Meatless Mondays makes meat the enemy and animal agriculture the bad guy.

But you already knew that.

So when “somebody” displayed a sign touting Meatless Mondays in the Longworth Cafeteria—sources at claim it was just a single employee who may not even have had authorization to do so—animal ag groups under the banner of the Farm Animal Welfare Coalition fired off a letter to the House Chief Administrative Officer pointing out that “Meatless Mondays is an acknowledged tool of animal rights groups and environmental organizations who seek to publicly denigrate U.S. livestock and poultry production.”

I’d substitute “devastate” or even “destroy” for “denigrate,” but other than that, the FAWC letter was right on target.

I got your ‘tiresome trolls’—right here

The incident prompted a response from Huffington Post columnist Andrew Gunther, which I nominate for Worst Essay of the Week.”

Maybe longer.

Here’s how he starts out:

“Talk about paranoia: I’ve just read that the catering company which runs the various cafeterias on Capitol Hill is stopping its promotion of ‘Meatless Mondays.’ The reason? An intensive meat-industry front group, the entertainingly named Farm Animal Welfare Coalition, has pressured the catering company to cease supporting Meatless Monday on the basis that the promotion is actually an ‘acknowledged tool of animal rights and environmental organizations,’” Gunther wrote.

“To say I am outraged that the intensive meat industry lobby has successfully managed to stop promoting Meatless Monday because it’s supposedly a campaign run by animal rights activists would be an understatement. And before any of Big Ag’s tiresome trolls try to dismiss me as some vegan fundamentalist, let me make it clear that I am a former poultry farmer and now work as Program Director of one of the country’s leading high-welfare, sustainable farming programs.

“I also love eating high-welfare, sustainably produced meat. And eggs. And dairy products, too.”

Okay, that statement is uncomfortably close to the “I’m not a racist—why, some of my best friends are minorities” defense that crops up way too often. From racists trying to pass themselves off as enlightened.

Worse, Gunther rolls out a ridiculous reason why the industry should be tolerant of a campaign that blames those in the business of raising livestock for everything from global warming to heart disease and cancer to starvation in the Third World.

“The truth is Meatless Monday isn’t some sinister vegan-driven plot to convert us all into herbivores,” he wrote. “Meatless Monday actually first came into being during World War I (well before the heady days of industrial livestock farming, cheap meat, and epidemic heart disease as we know today) when the United States Food Administration first coined the terms ‘Meatless Monday’ and ‘Wheatless Wednesday’ to encourage Americans to reduce their consumption of these key staple foods to help the war effort.

“Sounds like nothing more than plain-old common sense to me.”

Oh, please.

The current incarnation of Meatless Mondays has absolutely nothing to do with the national war effort a century ago. To even raise that (alleged) connection is the height of absurdity.

Virtually every opinion piece, commentary and web post touting Meatless Mondays these days refers to the “Big Three:” Climate change, chronic disease and world hunger—and blames them all on American and European appetites for animal foods, which, of course, can only be satiated by environmentally reckless industrial agriculture.

Sure, plenty of partisans throw in animal abuse and the immorality of slaughter, and maybe a reference or two to the Holocaust, but those are appeals to the already converted, a message from the pulpit to the front-row pews, so to speak.

The real traction of Meatless Mondays isn’t to reinforce the biases of diehard vegans, it’s to convince otherwise mainstream Americans that sitting down to a serving of beef, pork or poultry ought to provoke feelings of guilt.

Guilt that you’re endorsing the use of grain as animal feed, in effect stealing it from starving African children.

Guilt that the infrastructure to raise, process and market meat is responsible for wrecking the global ecosystem.

Guilt that every bite of animal foods brings you and your family one step closer to debilitating sickness, if not an early grave.

Mr. Gunther can pretend all he wants that his support of Meatless Mondays is merely cover for promoting “sustainable,” rather than conventional production options.

But he can’t make that same claim about the other 99.99% of the proponents of the program. 

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.

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corrine wynne    
July, 16, 2013 at 10:05 AM

I agree, i raise alot of cattle, horses, grow thousands of acres of vegatables and hay. I EVEN think YOUR becoming a paranoid industry. We, our family has made millions in farming and we are not scared of meatless mondays, whats the crazy about? You people are just cpmpletely insane, my husband and i are beginning to think Big Ag doesnt like farmers because they have temper fits about vegetables or fruit consumption for one day. And i now firmly believe you against animals having rights, proper care and such. You people are crazy.

red meat rancher    
Nebraska  |  July, 16, 2013 at 10:25 AM

Corrine - I'm confused about which side you are on. You "make millions" in ag but you consider others to be BIG AG. Since you raise vegetables, I guess you are a fan of meatless Mondays. While I like veggies and fruits, I have to agree with Dan. This is opening the door to future Meatless days. This is an elitest ploy to try to make everyone who eats and/or raises meat look like an abusive thug shoving meat down the throats of the masses. Thousands of people in this country are food insecure or just plain starving and we are trying to demonize the most nutrient-dense foods raised by the farmers and ranchers of this country. If you don't believe that this is just the beginning, take a long hard look at the food system in Europe where they import far more than they can produce for their own people. We don't need to go there. We raise healthy, high quality products from meat to vegetables, dairy and grains. We don't encourage people to have veggy-less days so why support meatless Mondays? Don't bite the hand that feeds you and that applies to food producers like yourself too!

Iowa  |  July, 16, 2013 at 10:17 AM

Why not offer a meatless entre or two every day? That should keep all happy. No one appreciates something forced on them. As Rodney King would say, "Can't we all just get along?" I'm guessing the sale of meatless dishes are not big sellers so to make them price competive it is necessary to force people to buy them. By the way any family that farms "thousands of acres" is Big Ag.

montana  |  July, 16, 2013 at 10:57 AM

If we as producers moved towards more pastured animal production, we would simultaneously improve the health value of our meats (higher omega 3's & CLA's), and be able to remind everyone where open space originates- on farms. Our love Montana valleys full of pastures and hay fields? Animal based agriculture. Fields covered with perennial crops which do NOT contribute to soil erosion like grain based annual agriculture?? Planted for and used by animals. Also, major examples of sustainable practices, since the animals can harvest food and grow without any petroleum inputs- they just graze. Modern Vegans are the least sustainable of consumers- their primary soy proteins seldom come from their own "foodsheds", and are often grown in foreign lands on former perennially forested lands. Also, meat animals can often grow and thrive on land that would endanger a tractor driver's life. How much of the Earth is flat and irrigated, how much is steep and requires a grazing animal to harvest its bounty? How many of us have seen enormous mountains of molding harvested corn rotting uncovered in the sun & rain at harvest season? Don't those molds and mycotoxins make it into corn syrup?? Don't we keep better care of the meat that we raise, as it travels from field to consumer table? Meat is also a concentrated, efficient food, what requires far fewer petroleum calories and travel space to travel from field to table, for efficient human food.

Robin S.    
Washington DC  |  July, 16, 2013 at 11:24 AM

The industry appears reactionary when it gets itself in a snit over Meatless Mondays. Why not be creative and suggest that Meatless Mondays make us all look forward to Tenderloin Tuesday!

SD  |  July, 17, 2013 at 06:23 PM

The Meatless Mondays campaign is a well organized movement to end consumption of meats. I view that no less a threat to the health of people, as well as a 'taking' of freedom to choose by consumers , than a threat to the way I make a living. Further, beef, the meat my family produces, is actually a health food due to the excellent nutrient profiles compared with the calorie content. AND, much, probably most, of beef produced in the USA truly is raised in pastures for at least half to two thirds of its life. EVEN in a feedlot, cattle feed is largely hay (grasses which have been harvested and stockpiled), with some grains added, and the time span in the feedlot is generally from three to six months of a twenty month life span. AND many beef cattle have never been in a feedlot, grazing pastures for their entire life. Often those pastures are natural, native grasses planted by nature, or man.

AZ rancher    
AZ, duh  |  July, 19, 2013 at 09:58 AM

Bingo! Robin S. nails it. Counter with something better rather than fighting about a gimmick that most people aren't going to pay attention to or wouldn't hurt them to try. Meatles Mondays - meh - overreacting makes the industry look as stupid as a pETA campaign. Speaking of which - to the "farmer" up thread, corrine wynne: animals can have regulatory protections and rules regarding their care, but RIGHTS are a legal construct reserved for human beings. You give your agenda away by such views.

Corrine Wynne    
July, 19, 2013 at 10:11 AM

The consumer. The consume everything. Iam angered by the fact farming is shoved to itz knees as many vegans do not consume soy based items alone. Noting how much meat case product is tossed out of tge store csse shows are over poroducing and therefore shoving it down consumers throats. Big Ag is Not just the finNcial but the poor attitude. One day in one cafeteria wifhout meat probably makes people want it more. Smd with horse meat coming to erica, we r happpy to farm, have orchards, and be preparex for the big beef rebellion because of horse meat scare. We have bred good cattle including Angus for decades, but we know whats coming with the attitude Big Ag is taking on days like this. While ypu are busy showing your a$s we are busy allowing people to decide what to eat, its increased are bdef sales, so we think it makes this article even more ridiculous.Besides your fight against activists is driving your cistomers to our farm markdt, orchard, because your scaring them away from mass produced, pushed on them beef.

OK  |  July, 19, 2013 at 02:59 PM

"Big Ag" is anyone who is larger than you. At least, that's how it always seems.

OK  |  July, 19, 2013 at 03:08 PM

No one is shoving beef down consumer throats, and the fact that there is product to throw away means that no one is being forced to eat it. You comment is utterly ridiculous. They also throw away lots of vegatbles. Does that mean we should stop growing veggies and fruit, too? Are we shoving those down consumer throats too? If the price charged for meat is too high and consumers stop buying the meat, it will cause the price to fall. The lower price will force producers to either change their production system or go out of business. It's called the free market and it works. There are always meatless choices. We don't need to designate a day to go meatless unless we're pushing an agenda of eating less or no meat.

kansas  |  August, 20, 2013 at 04:56 PM

Keep up the good work and hold them to the fire - "Truth To Power"! Huffers are massive suckers for Lying Liars who Lie like Gunther. He is Dishonest and he knows he's being Dishonest and he correctly calculates that the typical Huff reader is deeply ignorant of ag, history and most anything else outside their immediate urban environment. Additionally, his readers are besotted with their own self-congratulatory certitude that they are Morally and Intellectually superior to we rubes here in FlyOverLandia. Sadly, through some twisted bi-furcation of their tiny little progressive brains, they believe they support "real" farmers... as represented by the Hollywood and pop/rock stars of Farm Aid. Pathetic and worthy of nothing but scorn.


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