Veggie activists, for all their ill-advised messaging, are very strategic as they go about their mission to demonize everything involved in animal agriculture and the consumption of animal foods.

They realize that their message has to be delivered in fan-friendly packaging, seeing as how 98% of Americans regularly include animal foods in their daily diets, and a blatant “Don’t eat any meat!” commandment won’t resonate with any substantial impact.

Their latest effort to induce people to go vegetarian is yet another evolution of the less is more notion. Now, it’s about “eating smaller portions” as an easier way to consume less of all those bad-for-you red meat products.

Exhibit A: In a recent story published in the Portland Press Herald (in Maine) unambiguously titled, “Cutting meat portions better for you and the planet,” the author waxes eloquently about how all the poor, deluded meat eaters out there can trick themselves into consuming less unhealthy beef and pork.

In case any readers might have been unsure exactly where the reporter stands on the consumption of meat, she confessed in the second sentence of the story that she’s “trying to understand why the new Dietary Guidelines released jointly by the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services last month don’t recommend that Americans eat less red meat.”

For the record, the Guidelines’ highlighted, bullet point recommendations that are most folks’ takeaway — if they even bothered to read anything about them at all — are about as noncommittal on the subject of meat-eating as it’s possible to be without actually condemning the entire category. Here’s what Americans were told they should eat — verbatim:

  • A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups — dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
  • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
  • Oils

Anyone come away from that list with the understanding that USDA and HHS are urging people to eat lots of red meat? Practically every other food choice gets listed first — vegetables, fruits, whole grain, dairy products and seafood — before “lean meats” even gets a mention.

And “seafood” gets positioned ahead of meat, poultry and eggs? Total U.S. consumption of all seafood is only about 15 pounds per capita per year, and about 4 pounds of that total is canned tuna. And more than two-thirds of the total is seafood served in foodservice locations, which means that only about 4 pounds, give or take, of seafood actually ends up on American dinner tables.

Yet the Guidelines are pushing seafood as the preferred choice for a meal-time, center-of-the-plate option. That hardly constitutes an endorsement of red meat, as so many new stories have tried to suggest.

Not to mention that fully 86% of all seafood consumed in the United States is imported, meaning that the profits go to foreign companies and foreign countries. That means that seafood, for all of its alleged benefits to health-conscious consumers, is the exact opposite of the “buy local, support family famers” mantra anti-industry activists are so fond of repeating.

Seafood is neither local, nor farmer-friendly, nor sustainable at current harvesting levels. Yet the clueless scientists who consider only a narrow nutritional analysis of the foods they recommend seems totally comfortable with pushing seafood over meat, without any recognition of the bigger picture economically and politically.

The arrival of a new tactic

One final word on the portioning argument. It’s part of an ongoing evolution of activist messaging.

For starters, you had strident activists urging everyone to go vegan. That positioning attracts a tiny sliver of the population, far fewer people than necessary to impact livestock production or dietary preferences.

Next, activists launched a “Just Cut Back” meme, pushing Meatless Mondays and other attempts to demonize red meat with faint praise by pretending that while eating meat’s not verboten, if you care about yours and your family’s health, you should try to consume as little as possible.

Again, let’s be clear: Many families were already preparing “non-meat-based” menus at home on a regular basis long before Meatless Mondays became a media obsession (mac ’n cheese, anyone?) Very few families eat beef, pork or chicken as the centerpiece of every single main meal every day of the week. And even when an entrée can technically be characterized as “meat,” it’s often a pepperoni pizza or another prepared product that can hardly be considered “eating meat” in the traditional sense of the phrase.

So now, get set for lots of media coverage of the “make your portions smaller and smaller” as the latest way veggie believers are going to push their message that “meat is morbid.”

Which the dictionary defines as “gruesome, grisly; causing or characteristic of disease.”

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that such an insistence will find far fewer adherents than even the most hard-eyed activists would be willing to predict. 

Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator