Ready, fire, aim

By 
Paul King, Editor

Everyone knows that the federal government moves at the speed of a super slo-mo video. Government lobbyists, on the other hand, can attain warp speed whenever they need to.

Employees of the U.S. House of Representatives who eat in the Longworth cafeteria saw political activism in, well, action in June when someone got the idea to promote Meatless Mondays. One day in early June, a sign appeared at one of the stations in the cafeteria servery. According to published accounts, the station was touting some new vegetarian options. 

Within days, the Farm Animal Welfare Coalition (FAWC)—a lobbying group that represents beef, chicken and pork ranchers and producers—fired off a letter to the House Administration Committee and to Restaurant Associates (RA), the management firm that runs foodservice in the House. Complaining that Meatless Mondays is a “tool of animal rights and environmental organizations who seek to publicly denigrate U.S. livestock and poultry production,” FAWC demanded an end to the program.

That was that. Meatless Mondays closed faster than a Broadway flop. United Press International quoted Dan Weiser, spokesperson for the House Administration’s Chief Administrative Office, as saying that the cafeteria was never going to go meatless. RA was just seeking to promote vegetarian and vegan options in the cafeteria.

“It was one sign, one station, one day,” Weiser said.

A lobbyist for FAWC, Steve Kopperud, told Politico.com that the group isn’t against vegetarian food; it was the use of the term Meatless Mondays to which FAWC objected.

This is not the first time the federal government has felt the wrath of the meat industry over Meatless Mondays. Last year, a similar attempt was made at the USDA cafeteria, in the employee newsletter. USDA officials quickly apologized, saying the newsletter article had not been approved. But that didn’t stop two congressmen from venting their spleens. Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Steve King, both Republicans from Iowa, took to Twitter to denounce the idea.

“I will eat more meat on Monday to compensate for stupid USDA recommendation abt (sic) a meatless Monday,” Grassley tweeted. King followed that with, “USDA HQ meatless Mondays!!! At the Dept. Of Agriculture? Heresy! I’m not grazing there. I will have double rib-eye Mondays instead.”

I’m not sure how I feel about Meatless Mondays. On the one hand, it is a catchy way to call people’s attention to the fact that man does not live by beef—or pork or chicken—alone, and I know of several institutions where Meatless Mondays have been embraced. On the other hand, why can’t foodservice providers come up with a way to simply promote the consuming of a wide variety of foods, both plant- and animal-based? That’s how I try to approach my dining habits. 

But if the Longworth/RA effort was in fact designed to promote vegetarian choices and not a plan to remove all meat from the café for even one day, wasn’t FAWC just a little too quick to pull the trigger and fire off its missive to the House? 

There should be some middle ground here. Aren’t fruit and vegetable farmers constituents too? Why shouldn’t we be advocating for their products as well? What we need is dialogue, not demagoguery.