During World War I, the U.S. Food Administration created several food-related campaigns to aid the war effort. Families were encouraged to minimize the use of key staples, and thus, Wheatless Wednesday and Meatless Monday were born.


The “Food Will Win the War” campaign was wildly successful and continued. Some 10 million families, 7,000 hotels and nearly 425,000 food dealers promised to curb consumption. According to a 1929 Saturday Evening Post article, “Americans began to look seriously into the question of what and how much they were eating. Lots of people discovered for the first time that they could eat less and feel no worse — frequently for the better.”


In 2003, health advocate Sid Lerner decided to reintroduce Meatless Monday as a public health awareness campaign. The initiative was backed by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future and endorsed by 30 schools of public health — and people across the globe have since adopted the habit as a way to improve health and diet, and to help the environment.


Even the USDA has hopped on board — until the ranchers stepped in, that is.


In a recent interoffice newsletter published on its website, the USDA recommended: “One simple way to reduce your environmental impact while dining at our cafeterias is to participate in the ‘Meatless Monday’ initiative.” The letter continued, "How will going meatless one day of the week help the environment? The production of meat, especially beef (and dairy as well), has a large environmental impact. According to the U.N., animal agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gases and climate change. It also wastes resources. It takes 7,000 kg of grain to make 1,000 kg of beef.”


The update noted the numerous health concerns associated with excessive meat in the diet, and said giving up meat one day a week "is a small change that could produce big results." 


Needless to say, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association was none too happy with the message. Following a round of outraged complaints by the livestock producers and a flutter of Twitter activity, Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran flew into action and the posting quickly disappeared from the agency’s site.


Moran wrote in a statement that, "American farmers and ranchers deserve a USDA that will pursue supportive policies rather than seek their further harm.” The senator also complained on the Senate floor about the newsletter, and asked Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to clarify whether it is USDA "official policy" to discourage consumption of "American grown meat." 

The USDA said that comments in the newsletter hadn't received proper clearance. USDA spokeswoman Cortney Rowe noted that the department does not endorse the "Meatless Monday" initiative.


U.S. Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, tweeted: “USDA HQ meatless Mondays!! At the Dept. of Agriculture? Heresy! I’m not grazing there. I will have the double rib-eye Mondays instead.”


Related on MNN:

USDA rescinds recommendation for Meatless Mondays
The agency bows to pressure from the livestock industry to backtrack on urging people to reduce their consumption of meat.