A Meat Lover Says Yes to Meatless Monday

If the meat industry can't meet demand in a healthy, responsible way, then maybe we should be taking a day off from it

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I generally work on these columns on Monday morning before sending them in to my editors. And it’s rare that I do so without at least some bacon or sausage fueling my efforts. But today I am on straight coffee. I don’t know how long that’ll last, but as a thought experiment, I am going to try to make it through the day on cheese omelettes and Adderall.

Because I think Meatless Monday is a good idea.

(MORE: Ozersky: How the Roast Chicken Conquered Fine Dining)

I love meat more than the next person. I founded Meatopia. I’ve written of my philosophy as a “carnist,” and generally done all one man could to impact cattle futures. But when the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently made a tepid, timid suggestion in an internal newsletter that Meatless Monday might be a good idea in their own cafeteria — you know, with a nightmarish drought going on and corn going for $8 a bushel — farm-state politicians went bonkers. Republican Representative Steve King of Iowa tweeted that even the suggestion of a Meatless Monday was “Heresy!” and he would have “double rib-eye Mondays instead.” Two legislators in the upper house went him one better, ordering up a photo-op feast from Washington’s Hill Country BBQ restaurant (which is where I would have done it too, by the way).

This political theater is enjoyable enough (it was an especially nice touch that the Senators chose Hill Country, whose barbecue is sold by the pound and served on brown butcher paper), but really, such meat pushing makes no sense even from the point of view of their constituents, not to mention their agribusiness contributors and lobbyists. The meat industry can’t meet demand as it is, which is why we see things like pink slime come into being. Every year it gets harder to feed the world American meat, especially at the rock-bottom prices we have come to expect. If demand would get just a little lighter, the production cycle might be able to catch up without resorting to unspeakable expedients like putting ethanol by-products and bonemeal into feed. And it’s not like we can keep up the supply indefinitely. There are twice as many people in the U.S. as there were in 1950, the period from which our current ideal of round-the-clock meatitude dates. (Meat was carefully rationed during the war, and the Depression was a time when steaks and chops were special occasions for most Americans.)

(MORE: Ozersky: Pink Slime and the Problem of Viral Campaigns)

Good meat — of the kind I really like — simply can’t be made in huge volumes. But cheap meat is not good for us, and it’s getting worse. Aside from sustainability issues, there are the invisible costs attached to it: exhausted soil, underpaid workers, the inevitable salmonella and E. coli recalls. (If you want to know more, Bryan Walsh wrote an excellent piece for TIME in 2009. He also has an interesting take on the subject here.)

(MORE: Ozersky: Carnist Challenge: Making Meat-Eating Cruelty-Free)

Critics of our food system like Walsh and the New York Times’ Mark Bittman feel that we, as a country, eat too much meat, but I think it’s more that we eat too much bad meat. So maybe it’s not so crazy to push down demand just a little bit. It’s not that the producers ought to lose money; if demand were artificially depressed for one day, wouldn’t it be possible for them to charge a couple of cents more and stamp a “We Support Meatless Monday” tag on their products? Or try to make meat in better ways, like avoiding antibiotics and stressful environments for animals?

The reality of the meat business, like the fish business, is that it can’t go on forever the way it is. There’s an old story from the bad old days of the USSR. It’s said that a Soviet functionary went to a productive dairy farmer and asked him if his cows could produce more milk. “Certainly, comrade,” he replied. “60% more?” “Yes, comrade.” “70%?” “Yes, comrade!” “What about 80%?” the apparatchik asked the farmer. “That would be too much. Then people would start to notice the water.”

If Meatless Monday brings us more meat and less water, I’m all for it.

MORE: Ozersky: What Would a Test-Tube Hamburger Taste Like? 

34 comments
DenisKhan
DenisKhan

'A painless method , khoj

özeeri ,is practiced by the inhabitants of the

Siberian taiga, near  Kyzyl, the

capital of the Republic of Tuva, in the Russian Federation.Incidentally, the word khoj

özeeri  is untranslatable in English

or Russian; khoj özeeri is the Tuvan method of killing a sheep. Reaching

through an incision in the sheep’s hide, the slaughterer severs a vital artery

with his fingers, allowing the animal to quickly slip away without alarm, so

peacefully that one must check its eyes to see if it is dead. In the language

of the Tuvan people, khoj özeeri means not only slaughter but also kindness,

humaneness, a ceremony by which a family can kill, skin, and butcher a sheep, salting

its hide and preparing its meat and making sausage with the saved blood and

cleansed entrails so neatly that the whole thing can be accomplished in two

hours in one’s good clothes without spilling a drop of blood.'

 

Elsa Lindhe
Elsa Lindhe

Nice article. 

Rather than looking at "Meatless Mondays" as a sacrifice, how about using it as an opportunity to try a lot of the different vegetarian dishes that different cuisines in the world have to offer? It'll be a lot easier if you look at it in a positive way. You'll most likely still be looking forward to your next trip to the BBQ place you mentioned, but maybe you'll find a lot of other dishes to look forward to as well. 

Shams Aci
Shams Aci

Why 'yes' to only one day, Monday as meatless day, why not at least two days, Monday and Tuesday meatless days as it is in Pakistan and probably in some other countries of the world! The suggested theory of two days meatless days would serve some beneficial purposes.

Firstly,  humans stomach would get rid of much of animal foods that consist some injurious materials harmful to body system creating resistance when in-taken daily as per authoritative say of many  physicians.

 Secondly, more population of eatable animals would be rescued to live more sometime on earth adding to beauty to the lovely world that would be cruelly slaughtered (killed) just to load the human bellies.

Whereas, vegetables, fish etc. are popularly acceptable foods that are simple to intake giving adequate calories if cooked and taken carefully and wisely.  

"The least and the simplest food one intakes, the healthier, lengthier and happier one lives."

- A.R.Shams's Reflection - Press amp; Online Publications.

http://arshamssreflection.blog...

Saba Siddique
Saba Siddique

When I was a kid in North India, all meat eating families had to go without meat on Tuesdays-- it being the day of God Hanuman, when all slaughterhouses and meat retail would be closed by law. In any case, Indian families rarely eat meat EVERYDAY. The week's menu is generally interspersed with veggies, lentils, beans or fish. We have always known that too much meat is bad for you.   

notsohappycow
notsohappycow

People think vegans are extreme? What is so extreme about compassion.  Choosing to eat meat isn't like choosing a color for your car.  Choosing to eat animals means that your tastebuds are more important than anything and ANYONE (especially the one you're eating ). And to people who really care about animal suffering, that is not acceptable. Animals matter, they feel pain, fear, loneliness, and even die the same way we do.  Vegetables don't. Please evolve to a plant-based diet for the earth, the animals, and even human kind.

Emily Bert
Emily Bert

Thank you, Mr. Ozersky, for writing this piece. That took some guts. 

I just wanted to chime in to pose the question: Should we not also be thinking about what the majority of world citizens can afford? Should they have to feel shame for buying the products they can afford?

If you are advocating only grass-fed organic beef, etc, for the rest of the week, (not to mention the expensive organic "cage-free" eggs and organic, "humanely" produced cheese you will be eating instead) doesn't that leave out a huge segment of the population that cannot afford such "luxuries"? Is this truly sustainable, either? 

Again, I applaud your efforts and your introspection, but in the future I hope you will find it in your meat-loving heart to investigate the beauty, bounty and downright deliciousness of plant-based cuisine and consider promoting meat as a small part of a bigger picture. Although there are expensive plant-based ingredients, many of the staples such as whole grains and legumes are cheap. For a truly sustainable future, and in order to provide the environment necessary for small family farms to survive, I truly believe we will need to embrace plant-based meals and those who want to continue to eat meat in a more conscious manner will need to start thinking of it as an occasional "treat" or condiment as it is in much of the rest of the world. I certainly wouldn't have thought I'd be writing these words 2 years ago.. but life is a journey! Cheers!

ordway
ordway

So instead of meat on Mondays, we'll eat genetically modified vegetables. Seems like a no win situation to me. We are so far removed from from how, why, where, and what our food is and how it's produced that these giant corporate farms can do what ever they want, be it with animals or vegetables.

Jennifer Moffett
Jennifer Moffett

I like the part about avoiding stressful environments for the animals. That is a big concern for most ppl who  avoid meat is the way the livestock is treated during it's shortened life. with all the pressure on the industry, corners must be cut, and unfortunately, the welfare of the animals is what usually gets neglected.

Kate Sannicks-Lerner
Kate Sannicks-Lerner

Many people believe that the sacredness of the cow in India is directly related to religion/morality/ethics.  Actually, although it came to be related to those reasons, the   real issue was SUSTAINABILITY.  You see, it was too dear and costly for a family that was barely surviving to share what little they grew, and what little water they had with a cow, when they could be drinking the water and eating the vegetables.

Yes, vegans can be a rabid and contentious group, and so I don't allow myself to get involved with, nor be guided by them.  I am a vegetarian (and yes, I sometimes eat fish, other seafood, and eggs) because that is the sustainable choice for this planet.

AngeliqueChao
AngeliqueChao

Like the article. However, you're not doing a "thought experiment," you're doing a real experiment. 

Talendria
Talendria

I watched the movie White Squall a few years ago, and the thing that really struck me was the restaurant scene in which one of the wealthy fathers eats a small, thin steak one tiny bite at a time.  It occurred to me how much our eating habits have changed in the past half-century.  It seems we're eating ourselves into oblivion.  This is why I'm willing to pay the extortionate prices at Whole Foods.  I trust them to stock sustainable fish and meat that hasn't been polluted or artificially enhanced.

minstrelmike
minstrelmike

Food production is the most basic technology we have. We need to make it work as well as possible. It too eat meat but know the difference between good and bad food whether meat or vegetable.

The opinion and facts are dead-on. While the business of America might be business, the job of government is to ensure the long-term success of the nation over a period of generations. And despite the claims of some of the rabid vegans, sustainable agriculture will require raising meat, good-tasting grass-fed meat, on the ranch land in the West that is not suited for farming vegetables or grains.

Nathaniel M. Campbell
Nathaniel M. Campbell

Roman Catholics and some traditional Anglicans have been going meatless one day a week for centuries: they can be found to abstain from meat on Fridays.

MVKaz
MVKaz

The way the USDA backed down on this relatively simple request is quite strange and disconcerting.  There is so much data to show not only that the per capita consumption of meat in the US is extremely high (in comparison to even the consumption in other affluent meat eating countries), and growing year over year. 

The inordinate demands and resource consumption from the need to sustain and nurture this industry are having tremendous impact on the environment.  Indeed, the US meat industry is probably the single largest contributor to the greenhouse gases seen around the world, far outstripping the impacts from the automobile industry, and is the primary source of the warming trends seen around the world over the past several years.

Coupled with this is the high degree of cruelty in the industrial farms with some recent examples from some factories in Iowa showing that very little has changed in this respect over the years. 

And lastly, there are several diseases and illnesses which are meat-borne and can be reduced by the reduction in the consumption of meat.  When you think of the American people as being more scientifically trained than people from other countries in the world, it is a small wonder as to why this data coming from doctors and nutritionists is ignored for the most part.

This is a very timely article and I congratulate you for the courage to write this.  I know you will catch a lot of flack from those who see things differently. 

However, I do think that you have misrepresented and perhaps tried to soften the statements of  Mark Bittman of the NY Times here - I have read his columns often, and he has clearly come out on more than one occasion saying that US meat consumption is very high and it is not necessarily tied to the meat being of poor quality.

In my view, there is increasing evidence that, in order to lead healthy lives, a diet formed of plant-based food is not only sufficient, but also provides for the rich variety of foods that we yearn to eat and enjoy.   I look forward to the day when we not only have meatless Mondays, but meatless weeks.  And I know that this statement and position of mine is going to get everyone really riled up!

r41510
r41510

Buy Local.  Go to farmers markets.  Its in alot of cases cheaper!  Buy Tuna from trusted sources.  Spend an extra buck or two on occasion.  Your dollars will begin to speak volumes eventually.  I even try really hard to buy good beer like Lagunitas or the arrogant bastard stuff or whatever local type things.  Things like Blue moon and alot of the other beers have sold out to the big coprorations.

Grow a few vegetables kale, chard, lemons yourself if you have the space.  There is alot of things on facebook I "liked" in order to keep me on this good track. ie: grow food not lawns, occupy monsanto etc

notsohappycow
notsohappycow

There is a huge difference. Animals suffer and vegetables don't.

Talendria
Talendria

I agree with you.  The neighborhood supermarket has become a toxic wasteland.  My local grocer was bleaching the fish, injecting saline into the chicken, and putting "natural flavors" into the hamburger.  Now I have to spend $200/week at Whole Foods, and even there I have to avoid canned food that doesn't explicitly state "BPA-free."  I miss the good old days when I could eat a bowl of Fruit Loops in blissful ignorance.

Lisa Scharin
Lisa Scharin

Eating fish is no longer sustainable, nor healthy since most fish contain mercury'  especially big game fish like tuna, marlin, grouper and we know salmon is high in mercury too.  Also due to the numerous strains on our oceans from climate change and pollution, overfishing, etc. 90% of those big game fish are just about GONE! Fish "farms" are just as bad as factory farms for cows, pigs and chickens. These fish are fed unnatural diets and made to swim in high concentrations of their own feces, hence the need for more antibiotics.

You also have to realize ALL the "by-catch" from the trawling lines used to catch these fish, many, many turtles, dolphins, birds, seals and other marine life are captured in these huge nets and many drown or are killed when brought aboard. Being a vegan is a win-win for your health and the environment and NO harm was done to another living, feeling being!

Talendria
Talendria

I don't think we have to shun any particular food group but rather be more mindful about what and how much we eat.

Josh Ozersky
Josh Ozersky

This is so true....look at a picture of a chicken dinner from the 1930s. It looks like they're eating quail.

MVKaz
MVKaz

rabid vegans?  in comparison to gentle and loving meat-eaters?

mmill928
mmill928

 I have a lot of Catholic family and friends, and the only way most of them "abstain from meat" on Fridays is going out for fish fry for dinner. Breakfast and lunch are still full of red meat and poultry.

Also, they're not doing it for any of the reasons the author lists, they do it because the first Christians were generally fishermen and eating fish promotes that industry.

Adnan7631
Adnan7631

You know, few Catholics actually abstain from meat one day a week. 

I go to a Jesuit University. 

superpanther
superpanther

@notsohappycow You don't know that vegetables don't suffer. A recent study by British scientists at the University of Faisal actually proves that plants feel and react to touch and pain.

Nathaniel M. Campbell
Nathaniel M. Campbell

Lucky you to have a job that allows you to afford that $200/week grocery bill.  Some of us don't have that luxury...

minstrelmike
minstrelmike

The meat-eaters aren't trying to force anybody else to change their eating habits. When someone spits at me while yelling about the meat on my plate, I will use the word 'rabid.'

Ellen K. Holbrook
Ellen K. Holbrook

This is a very brave article Mr. Ozersky! I respect your honesty!..Madeafortune.blogspot.com

Talendria
Talendria

I don't actually feel lucky that I'm wasting $10,000/year on food.  It's obscene.  But the only way to change the marketplace (aside from legislation, which quite honestly I don't see happening in this country) is to vote with our wallets.  If we all boycotted the products that we know to be exploitative or unhealthy, the grocery store would stop stocking them, and the manufacturer would stop producing them.

alkg37
alkg37

 THANK YOU Jack Handy.  I'm a vegan.  I don't talk about it unless people want to learn more about it, and even then I point them in the direction of those wiser and more qualified to give health advice than I.  There are SO many times when I'm out to eat or at parties and people ask, "Why aren't you eating this/that/the other?"  When I tell them I'm a vegan, they always start in on me.  Where do I get my protein?  How to I get enough vitamins?  How in the world can I possibly be alive right now?  I just tell them it's my choice.  Most of the time they still push it.  Funny thing is, it makes me laugh inside when these same people are fat, have diabetes, high BP, etc.  Seriously?  You think you're going to give ME advice on being healthy?  Whatever...

Jack Handy
Jack Handy

I've found most vegans keep to themselves, while meat eaters constantly badger vegans on why they aren't eating meat.  Of course there are going to be radicals on both sides.  But in everyday occurrences, I've found the meat eaters to be the most vocal.