Not 'meatless' for other six days

After 10 years, despite claims to the contrary, Meatless Monday has turned out to be a non-message that's increasingly getting ignored.

I ADMIT, the years are slipping by ever more quickly (a sure sign of age). Confirmation of that reality just occurred as the Meatless Monday campaign marked its 10th anniversary. It seems like the campaign got started just a few years ago.

Most important, though, the Meatless Monday commemoration provides a good opportunity to assess what it all really means.

Amidst the various news stories surrounding the anniversary, one headline particularly caught my attention, proclaiming, "Meatless Monday Growing in Schools Across the U.S." However, the article provided no supporting facts or details to back up such a claim; it was based merely on several anecdotal examples.

The absence of particulars from proponents who support and promote Meatless Monday isn't really surprising. After all, the campaign itself follows a similar strategy.

For example, the Meatless Monday website proclaims that 43% of Americans participate in Meatless Monday on an occasional basis.

At first glance, that's an impressive statistic, but what does that really mean? Qualifiers such as "participate" and "occasional" are highly elusive, leading respondents down a fairly squishy path.

Accordingly, Meatless Monday's 10-year mark also generated fact checking regarding some of the campaign's claims. Survey results from the Animal Agriculture Alliance indicated that some of the Meatless Monday claims are misleading (Feedstuffs, Oct. 21).

The alliance's headline on the issue ran like this: "Meatless Monday Campaign Dishonest about Number of Participating Organizations — Animal Agriculture Alliance Investigates, Finds Glaring Discrepancies."

Highlights of the alliance research included:

* Out of the 56 K-12 schools Meatless Monday promoters say are involved in the program, 64.2% are either no longer participating or never did enroll.

* Out of 155 colleges and universities, 43.2% either no longer or never participated.

* Out of the school districts listed as participating, 57% no longer do.

* 35% of the restaurants and 47% of the foodservice providers no longer participate.

That sort of evidence certainly draws attention to what's really going on out there.

For instance, on many college campuses, the Meatless Monday commitment is marginal, at best. Foodservice offerings on Mondays never really changed; plenty of meat options remained available to ensure that students (who are customers) could still get whatever they wanted.

In that context, Meatless Monday was nothing more than an institutional obligation to conform for the sake of seeming relevant.

That's customary for Meatless Monday; the campaign seems to rely on conformance.

It is underscored by the promotional verbiage: "Need more of an incentive to take the Meatless Monday challenge? Celebrities are doing it. Here's the short list: President Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres and Rev. Al Sharpton and athletes like Carl Lewis, Venus Williams and Tony Gonzalez."

Since when did celebrity status mean we should all do likewise? In fact, many parents would argue that it's often the reason NOT to do something.

Most puzzling, Meatless Monday's logic is self-defeating in that there's certainly a potential list of other celebrities who aren't Meatless Monday advocates.

Furthermore, there's The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) promotional line for Meatless Monday that goes: "People who eat fewer animal products can have lower rates of weight gain, dementia, arthritis, high blood pressure, kidney disease and other health problems than people who eat a typical American diet (that includes meat)."

That's all strange coming from HSUS. Wouldn't it make more sense for the organization to stick to its specialty? But when it comes to meat, anything goes.

No doubt, the Meatless Monday campaign would argue that the discrepancies aren't important and that Meatless Monday was established to "raise awareness" about all of the negative aspects associated with eating meat.

None of that matters if it proves to be nothing more than a feel-good, politically correct diversion (which seems to be the case). It's like saying that, on Mondays, we'll avoid meat to make a statement and assuage our conscience, but never mind all that during the other six days of the week.

After 10 years, despite claims to the contrary, Meatless Monday has turned out to be a non-message that's increasingly getting ignored.

Over time, people figure out the authenticity of the claims. IF the claims were really true and important, then we'd all be compelled to follow the campaign's advice all day, every day.

*Dr. Nevil C. Speer is with Western Kentucky University and serves on the board of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, a national organization devoted to engaging livestock producers and livestock health professionals in developing solutions for issues in the livestock industry.

Volume:85 Issue:44

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