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

Commentary: Worst essay everFor 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.