Should politics dictate what federal employees are allowed to eat in agency cafeterias? Recently introduced legislation wades into that debate by ensuring that the government cannot place restrictions on serving meat in their dining halls.
In an effort to ban “Meatless Mondays” in federal agencies, Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) has introduced the Telling Agencies to Stop Tweaking What Employees Eat Act of 2021 (TASTEE Act) (S. 1082). The bill would prohibit agencies from establishing policies that ban serving meat to federal employees in their cafeterias.
The History of USDA’s “Meatless Mondays”
So what’s the backstory on this bill?
In 2012, the Agriculture Department issued a newsletter in which it encouraged its employees to go without meat one day a week. It was pitched as a way to help the environment:
The meat industry was not pleased. The suggestion to drop meat one day a week quickly drew backlash on the grounds that an agency which is supposed to be helping farmers was promoting an activity that would do the opposite.
Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) said at the time, “Never in my life would I have expected USDA to be opposed to farmers and ranchers. American farmers and ranchers deserve a USDA that will pursue supportive policies rather than seek their further harm.”
He added, “I have requested that Secretary Vilsack let me know if it is now USDA’s official policy to discourage the consumption of American grown meat. It is my hope that the USDA has not abandoned farmers and ranchers in pursuit of policies best left to the Environmental Protection Agency.”
The blowback caused USDA to quickly retract the Meatless Mondays idea. The agency said in a statement that it had been posted without proper clearance. A tweet from its press office read, “USDA does not endorse Meatless Monday. Statement found on USDA website was posted w/o proper clearance. It has been removed.”
USDA still has a posting on its website which says that it does not endorse Meatless Mondays:
What is the United States Department of Agriculture’s position on the Meatless Monday campaign?
The Meatless Monday campaign is not endorsed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Rather than prescribing how and what one should eat, the USDA, like other Federal agencies, follows the science-based recommendations of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans , which promote flexible eating patterns chosen by the individual based on the food patterns in the guidelines. The current Dietary Guidelines are derived from an intensive, in depth review of the most rigorously vetted scientific evidence. Further, the guidelines suggest that cultural and taste preferences also be considered in effort to choose healthful foods across all food groups that are more nutrient-dense and lower in calories from added sugars and solid fats, and lower in sodium. The Dietary Guidelines can be found at https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/current-dietary-guideline.
The Meatless Monday initiative is not new, even in 2012. According to it website, “Meatless Monday is a global movement that encourages people to reduce meat in their diet for their health and the health of the planet. The campaign was started in 2003 by Sid Lerner, the Founder of The Monday Campaigns, in association with the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.”
Senator Ernst has not forgotten about the USDA incident and wants to ensure agencies cannot restrict their employees from eating meat at agency dining halls.
Meat on the Table Month vs. MeatOut Day
Ernst also introduced the bill to coincide with “Meat on the Table Month,” a declaration that Iowa governor Kim Reynolds issued for April. Reynolds issued the proclamation to contradict one issued recently in Colorado by Governor Jason Polis encouraging people to stop eating meat for a day.
Ernst said in a statement about the bill, “Our federal agencies shouldn’t be encouraging people to ban agricultural products at the expense of America’s hardworking farmers and producers. Congress needs to make its intention known that we should get ‘Meatless Mondays’ and other types of activist bans against agricultural products out of our government dining halls.”