I was a strict vegetarian for 10 years. Now I’m a sort of sometimes-meat-avoider: my wife and I keep a meatless kitchen but eat whatever when someone serves it to us and sometimes when we’re out. As I’ve written before, the virtuous identity marker “vegetarian” is less important to me than it used to be. But I still think eating way less meat is the single biggest bit of lifestyle “greening” most Americans could do.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines restrict their official purview to nutrition; they don’t address the other considerations that go into food choices. But last week, AP reported that this year’s update to the USDA guidlines might include a focus on environmental sustainability—specifically, as a reason to eat less meat.
Well, not if the beef industry’s lobbyists have anything to say about it. And in Washington, they have a lot to say and powerful contacts to say it to. Last month, lawmakers attached a “congressional directive” to the Cromnibus spending bill, expressing “concern” that “agriculture production practices and environmental factors” might figure into nutritional guidelines (put out by the federal department in charge of agriculture). This wasn’t legally binding on the USDA, but some combination of pressure from legislators and directly from lobbyists appears to have made the feds stand down. The new guidelines will be, as usual, just about nutrition.
Is eating less meat more nutritious? For a given individual, it’s hard to say. It depends (just for starters) how much meat you’re eating now, what kind, and what you’d be likely to replace it with. But for Americans collectively, there’s little question. We just eat tons of the stuff, despite what we know about the health risks.