I’m going to begin with a caveat: Beef magazine is a real thing and it is perfectly safe for work.
Yesterday, Beef (“the nation’s leading cattle publication,” meaning about cattle, not by) reported on a tempest in a Crock-pot: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was suggesting people not eat meat.
Now, to clarify, they weren’t saying everyone shouldn’t eat meat, nor were they saying that people shouldn’t eat meat all the time. The agency simply posted an interoffice newsletter that suggested, for purposes of reducing one’s environmental footprint, that employees consider having a “Meatless Monday.”
Meatless Monday is an initiative undertaken in association with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. (Er, sorry: the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.) The effort suggests that Americans give up meat one day a week for a variety of reasons: health, weight loss, and, yes, the environment. Beef (the food, not the magazine) is a massive source of carbon emissions. Some innocent employee in the USDA read that fact somewhere, or got a press release, and added Meatless Monday to the “Greening Headquarters Initiative” section of the agency newsletter.
Cue outcry. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (link safe for work) represents an industry that is clearly on the brink of extinction. So they saw the USDA’s internal newsletter as an existential threat, suggesting that it “calls into question USDA’s commitment to U.S. farmers and ranchers.” The NCBA’s allies on Capitol Hill got into the act, with famed-Twitter-user Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) writing:
I will eat more meat on Monday to compensate for stupid USDA recommendationabt a meatless Monday
— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) July 25, 2012
@ChuckGrassley: see you on Thrombosis Thursday!
— Archie Moore (@ArchieMooreBye) July 26, 2012
The USDA quickly backtracked, suggesting that the inclusion of a sensible, smart tip in a list of ways to reduce one’s environmental impact was “posted without proper clearance.” Proper clearance presumably involves presenting internal newsletters to all major lobbying groups for sign-off before being issued internally.
To be fair, the newsletter did note the scale of environmental impact: the contributions of beef production to climate change and the massive resources required by cattle. So it wasn’t just a recommendation that employees drop their meat consumption 14 percent, it explained why they should do so. But the outcry was around the idea of Meatless Monday, that Communistic idea that eating slightly healthier might be a good idea — and now, thanks to the Streisand effect, thousands more people have heard of the climate impact of beef and the idea that taking a day off from eating it might make sense. Nice work, everyone.
Full disclosure: I’ve been a vegetarian since the early 1990s. I include this detail primarily in hopes that I will be the focus of a scathing editorial in Beef magazine, because that would go right in the ol’ scrapbook.
Get Grist in your inbox