Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
April 24, 2014

GOP’s Beef With Meatless Monday

Mind you, we at HOH had almost gotten completely over Pizzegetable-gate. But Congress sucked us right back in with a totally ridiculous food fight that clearly demonstrated Midwestern Republicans revere stockyards above all else.

The dietary dissonance erupted Wednesday after lawmakers got a glimpse at an Agriculture Department interagency newsletter. The “Greening Headquarters Update” included a heads-up about Meatless Monday — an abstinence program developed in 2003 in conjunction with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health — and a suggestion that agency workers curb their protein consumption while dining in the cafeteria.

The three-paragraph plug, and we suspect this is what most stuck in lawmakers’ craws, also posited how passing on meat could help the environment (preserve water, fossil fuels, etc.).

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) fired the opening salvo on Twitter, accusing the federal food police of “heresy” and vowing to indulge in “double rib-eye Mondays instead.”

Thirteen minutes later, USDA officials caved, yanking the newsletter from circulation and issuing the following mea culpa via Twitter:

“USDA does not endorse Meatless Monday. Statement found on USDA website was posted w/o proper clearance. It has been removed // @FarmBureau.”

Yet the critics raged on.

“One has to wonder whether the Dept of Ag supports Iowa farmers since it is promoting ‘meatless Monday,’” Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley groused, arbitrarily dismissing everything else the federal agency oversees (you know, like produce). His rage somewhat abated, the Senator tried observational humor. “My local steak house serves nothing but vegetarian bc cows are vegetarian,” he told the Twittersphere.

Hours later, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) managed to crowbar in a four-minute tirade against the USDA between Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy’s momentous 14,000-vote victory lap and consideration of an evolving cybersecurity bill.

Cookbook author and Meatless Monday evangelist Kim O’Donnel was intrigued by the bicameral backlash but noted that the government has periodically proposed removing certain foodstuffs (Meatless Mondays, Wheatless Wednesdays) from the dinner table dating back to World War I.

“This is not some fringe idea. It may have been put to rest for a while … but there is a legacy here,” she suggested.

O’Donnel stressed that Meatless Monday advocates have no illusions about Americans going full-vegetarian — “That’s never going to happen,” she estimated — but will continue fighting to trim saturated fats from our national diet.

“What’s wrong with suggesting moderation?” she inquired.

Although disappointed by the USDA’s full retreat, Monday Campaigns spokeswoman Cherry Dumaual said the dust-up proves their message is slowly but surely breaking through.

“Someone inside the USDA had heard of us, understood the benefits and simply decided to share this idea of moderation with their co-workers. This is exactly what the campaign hopes to achieve,” she said.

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