The USDA is arguably best known for providing dietary recommendations for Americans. They’re the ones who put out the ever-changing food pyramid, MyPyramid, and now the new MyPlate. Ironically, the two latest and greatest have the least amount of information yet! The food pyramid needed to be updated for sure – thank goodness someone was bright enough to realize 6-11 servings of bread and cereal a day could be problematic. However, the evolution isn’t much more informative. In fact, looking back at the history of food guidelines, it seems that as we learn more, the guidelines become less specific. It almost seems like they don’t want to state what they know, for fear of offending anyone.
However, when you step back for a minute and remember that the USDA is the United States Department of Agriculture, you start to wonder exactly why they still maintain the right to create our food and nutrition guidelines today. In fact, according to the USDA’s own National Agriculture Library, “In a three-month span in 1862, Lincoln signed into law three important pieces of legislation that would have a profound and lasting impact on U.S. agriculture and society. An Act to Establish a Department of Agriculture – Established the Department’s basic mission “to acquire and diffuse among the people of the United States useful information on subjects connected with agriculture in the most general and comprehensive sense of the word.”
Today, the department’s mission is: “We provide leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, and related issues based on sound public policy, the best available science, and efficient management.” Vague much?
Call me crazy, but both mission statements focus on agriculture and omit any obligation or responsibility to the American people to focus on health. Without even trying to disguise it, the USDA is very much a trade organization organized to protect the best interests of agriculture, not the people. Yet we place upon them the trust to tell us what we should eat. And we listen thinking we’re eating healthy! It’s as bad as letting the pharmaceutical industry coming up with recommendations on how many supplements we need to take daily, or the tobacco industry deciding how many cigarettes we should smoke for maximum effect.
Ok, so USDA supports agriculture – now we know they’re supposed to. But what’s the big deal? You would think that supporting agriculture would mean that they support all agriculture. All the talk about rural America and the ‘countryside’ referenced in recent press releases about budget allocation would indicate they support the local farmer making a living selling fruits and vegetables to the public. Sadly, you would be wrong. Their support and funding goes to major corporations and members of giant industries, primarily meat, poultry, dairy, and egg producers. Sure, they support soy, corn, and wheat crops, but typically only those grown for animal feed. That’s not hard to do since 60% of the corn and 47% of the soy gown in the US goes to livestock feed. As a result of the government subsidies on these particular crops, factory farms enjoy a 7-10% discount on their operating costs.
The USDA made history last week, making a public announcement in support of Meatless Mondays. This was historic, groundbreaking, visionary, and promising. Finally they are seeing the light and making recommendations on food that will benefit our health, not only the health of the corporate bank accounts. The USDA posted an article in their own USDA Greening Newsletter encouraging weekly reduction in meat consumption, and describing the general benefits a vegetarian diet has on health and the environment. They promoted the tasty Meatless Monday options in their own cafeteria. They even tweeted about it!
Within days, phone calls from the National Cattleman’s Beef Association resulted in the USDA retracting their recommendation. Obviously, the meat industries rely on us consuming meat seven days a week, preferably 3-4 meals a day, so taking one day off could have dire consequences. It might make people question their eating habits on the other 6 days.
Fortunately for all of us, the USDA made remarkably clear – we can no longer count on their recommendations to be based in fact or science or in our best interest. A lot of people are upset about the USDA retraction of the Meatless Monday endorsement. Me? I’m thrilled. They raised a giant red flag that tarnishes their own murky reputation. Where once there may have been doubt, there is no more!
If you want to eat healthier, you’re going to have to forget about everything you learned in school. You’re going to have to learn a little on your own, and you’re going to have to question everything that’s been recommended to you your whole life. You’re going to feel free for perhaps the first time ever. Thank you USDA for bring Meatless Mondays to national attention and then letting us know precisely whose side you’re on. We needed that wake-up call. It was the best service you’ve done in decades.
Oh, and happy Monday everyone! Best day of the week 😉