Fear of a Vegetarian Planet: Why the Beef Industry Is Freaked Out By a Kids' Contest

Last Updated Oct 14, 2010 11:17 AM EDT

In hopes of casting a more healthful glow on the much-maligned school lunch program, the USDA, along with Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign, has launched a contest encouraging people to come up with creative vegetable, bean and whole grain recipes for kids. A fun, harmless PR exercise, right? Not to the beef industry, which is up in arms over the exclusion of meat in the recipe categories.
Kristina Butts, director of legislative affairs for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, complained to Beef Magazine that the contest sends the wrong message.
By excluding meat from its healthy kids recipe contest, USDA continues to add to the misconception that meat is over consumed in the U.S.
The fact that Butts even bothered to address this non-issue reveals just how sensitive large meat producers are to not only the idea that people should curtail meat consumption, but to any suggestion, no matter how innocuous, that Americans eat more non-meat items that might somehow knock meat off the plate. Who knew lentils could be so scary?

Butts went on to urge NCBA members to submit beef recipes even though the contest doesn't call for them.

In its fear of all things vegetarian, the NCBA seems to be overlooking the fact that this is not a proposal for a rewrite of the billion dollar school lunch program. It's a cute contest. The USDA is offering no guarantees that the winning non-meat recipe (they don't even use the dreaded V word) will be included on any school lunch menus. The only thing the wining team can count on is that they will get to prepare their dish alongside White House chefs and receive a check for $3,000.

The beef industry has always been thin-skinned about anything that threatens to upend sales, and these days its members are even more on edge. In June, the USDA's Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which counsels the agency on its all-important dietary guidelines, had the gall to recommend that Americans "shift food intake patterns to a more plant-based diet that emphasizes vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds." It sounds like common-sense advice, but for the USDA, which has been a longtime loyal ally in promoting meat consumption, it's radical thinking.

Then there's Bill Clinton's revelation that he's gone from a devoted carnivore to a vegan and the growing momentum of the Meatless Monday campaign, two things the meat industry can't control. As to whether the NCBA and other meat groups still hold sway over at the USDA, we'll get a glimpse of that when the updated dietary guidelines come out at the end of the year.

Image by Flckr user bella lago
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