Commentary: Truth and Consequences

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It was merely symbolic—yet still disturbing—when the Los Angeles City Council last week declared every Monday to be Meatless Monday and urging all city residents to participate in a weekly day of vegetarianism.

In reporting on the vote, Los Angeles NBC affiliate Channel 4 News noted that Los Angeles has now become the largest city to embrace the Meatless Monday campaign, which the station’s news team characterized as “a nonprofit with the goal of cutting down on meat consumption for health and environmental reasons.”

That statement is getting uncomfortably close to conventional wisdom.

Neither city officials nor law enforcement will be allowed to force residents not to eat meat, according to a story in the Los Angeles Daily News.

Really? How reassuring.

Instead, the newspaper quoted Councilwoman Jan Perry stating that the resolution is meant to encourage residents to not eat meat once a week in the hopes of “starting a city-wide trend.”

Perry, who previously pushed for a ban on new fast-food restaurants in South Los Angeles, said the resolution is part of a “good food agenda” for the city.

“We can reduce saturated fats and reduce the risk of heart disease by 19%,” Perry told the LA Daily News. “While this is a symbolic gesture, it is asking people to think about the food choices they make. Eating less meat can reverse some of our nation’s most common illnesses.”

The proposal was developed by the Food Policy Council, an organization with the goal of “creating more and better food jobs” and encouraging the success of smaller food companies as part of a larger mission to encourage consumption of healthy foods in Los Angeles.

Although the council promotes a number of positive initiatives, such as supporting backyard and community gardens, reducing packaging waste and improving access to locally grown foods, the group buries one of the most important food-related mandates at the bottom of its top ten list: Cutting down on sugar-loaded beverages.

Sorry if anyone out there is holding significant stock in PepsiCo or Coca-Cola Company, but the consumption of soda is one of the worst public health problems in America. Obesity? You think guzzling several hundred empty calories a day might be a problem? Diabetes? Perhaps drinking the equivalent of 30 teaspoons of sugar in every can of soda might be considered a link to one’s inability to properly process simple carbohydrates? Environmental impact? Anyone want to calculate the carbon footprint of bottling, shipping, storing and disposing of billions of containers of soda every week of the year?

As ridiculous as it gets

Let me be blunt about making Meatless Mondays the centerpiece of a so-called healthy foods movement: The idea that eating less meat is some sort of “solution” cannot be allowed to stand.

If the leaders in both the animal agriculture and meat processing industries care about the long-term viability of animal foods, the idea that everything from medical conditions (diabetes) to environmental challenges (climate change) to economic progress (creating jobs) could be improved by skipping a day of eating beef, pork or chicken must be properly labeled as utterly ludicrous.

In football, there’s a term called “running downhill.” That’s when your team has the lead, the opponents are back on their heels and the running backs can simply blast into the holes and run straight ahead.

The opposite situation—when your team’s trailing, the clock is winding down and the pressure mounts with every play—often degenerates into a self-fulfilling nightmare in which the team is forced to scramble, plays break down and nothing seems to go right.

Without a doubt, there are significant issues related to food production, dietary choices and nutrition-linked health problems this nation needs to face.

Pretending that a weekly dinner of meatless analogs, spaghetti without meatballs or a pile of fried tofu is the way to deal with those issues is wrongheaded, misguided and ultimately useless.

It’s past time for industry to start running downhill and make that argument loudly, forcefully and effectively.

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


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