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Thursday, May 01, 2014

Eating with a Conscience in Congress

U.S. Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., yesterday announced that he and his staff are participating in Meatless Mondays in both his Washington, D.C. and San Fernando Valley offices, to raise awareness of how food choices impact public health, the environment, and animals.

“Eating right is a good way to encourage a healthier worker and a healthier working environment,” said Cárdenas. “All good nutrition choices begin with moderation and I think skipping meat one day each week is a great way for my staff and I to send a message to the Valley that smart choices can be made anywhere.

Black bean, mango, and avocado salad.

“The environmental impact of curbing meat consumption is important as well. It should come as no surprise that factory farmed animals create more carbon and methane than vegetable and fruit production. No one who is concerned about climate change should be able to accept the status quo, where our agribusinesses and food consumption are concerned.”

It’s a great example of leadership by Cárdenas on an issue that is important to so many Americans. And it’s especially welcome in the wake of what can only be described as intolerance and dogma by other members of Congress on the issue. Just last year, when Capitol Hill cafeterias promoted more meat-free options on Mondays, Big Agribusiness groups protested and killed the program. Ag state lawmakers similarly complained when the U.S. Department of Agriculture mentioned Meatless Monday in a newsletter.

These are the same Big Ag groups that talk about consumer choice and options in the marketplace, but in their view, having a few hearty vegetable dishes available for government staff is the worst thing to happen in a dining hall since the Red Wedding. They say they want no regulation and want the government to stay out of their business, yet they are more than happy to hold out their hands for millions of dollars in federal subsidies, and force their own ideology on government cafeterias and agencies. When it comes to labeling and transparency about their products, they want to keep consumers in the dark.

But it’s a conversation we should be having, as more Americans are thinking about their food choices and deserve the opportunity to make informed decisions in the marketplace. Per capita meat consumption is higher in the U.S. than virtually any other nation, and even the American Meat Institute recommends USDA guidelines for healthy and balanced eating that would mean 130 pounds of meat per year per person—a 35 percent reduction from the current average of 200 pounds per person per year. The high demand for meat is unsustainable, forcing animals into inhumane confinement in factory farms, and driving family farmers out of business and off the land.

There is so much that lawmakers and opinion leaders can do to help drive this public discussion around eating with a conscience. We hope they will join Rep. Cárdenas in promoting Meatless Mondays, and get involved in other ways, whether it’s supporting farmers who provide a good living environment for their animals, promoting transparency in agriculture and information-sharing in the marketplace, or advocating for public policies to curb the worst abuses by Big Ag.


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