We should’ve expected this. As soon as Gov. Jared Polis proclaimed March 20 Colorado’s MeatOut Day, a long-running national event that encourages people to eat only plant-based foods on the first day of spring, the meat industry and its supporters pushed back. The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) declared a MeatIn Day on March 20, counties in Colorado (and the state of Nebraska) said they’d join in. Lawmakers called it a “war” on rural Colorado, ranchers and the meat industry. The CCA is even using it as a fundraising effort, calling for $200 to support the local ag industry (with 25% going to feeding kids, to be fair).
(Responding with a MeatIn Day is kind of like advocating for an international men’s day or white history month or straight pride — we don’t celebrate the status quo, folks.)
All for one day of eating vegan. But, again, we should’ve expected it: Big Meat has pushed back against calling plant-based milks “milk” and they’ve pushed states (with success) to call meat substitutes anything but meat.
Cutting meat and animal-products out of one’s diet, even for one or several days of the week, can have a big effect on curbing climate change, not to mention benefits to health and animal welfare. Animal agriculture contributes more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than cars, planes, trains and other transportation sources combined — raising livestock contributes to 15% of the total GHG emissions on the planet. A recent study in The Economist found we could cut carbon emissions by about two-thirds if two out of our three meals a day were vegan.
The Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM), the first animal rights group in the U.S. which worked to get Polis to declare MeatOut Day in Colorado, advocates for cutting out meat, eggs and dairy immediately. But the all-or-nothing approach vegan evangelists often espouse turns some people off and so Eric Lindstrom, FARM’s executive director, says his personal views have shifted over the years — even if he is one of those vegans who shifted from meat to plant-based overnight.
“My own perspective and ideology on this is that any little bit helps,” Lindstrom says, “any opportunity to open the dialogue, to start a discussion, about what people are eating, to make them think about what they’re eating. Meatless Mondays. Is that enough, for people to give up [meat] one day a week? Well, it certainly is because that could trickle into Try-Veg Tuesdays. So people do their vegan journey at their own pace. That’s something the entire movement has been strongly considering and promoting recently, not to be so dug-in-the-heels about it, to be like, do what you can.”
And so MeatOut is a way to “start the discussion” with vegan skeptics and those curious about the diet and lifestyle. Lindstrom is realistic about the effects of one day of veganism, regardless of the “outrage” from the meat industry.
“Being able to start the discussion is really what our goal is anyway at this point,” he says. “We’re not going to change the state of Colorado overnight. MeatOut itself is not going to adversely impact the revenue of the meat industry within the state of Colorado in 2021. We’re simply asking people to consider taking meat off the plate for one day.”
And the time is right for reconsideration. As we move the needle toward addressing climate change in a variety of society’s institutions, the immediate impact of changing the way we eat can help accelerate our efforts to save the planet. In turn, retailers and food producers have created a bevy of plant-based products that make the switch to veganism not so daunting anymore.
“We need to get a handle on this, we need to address human health and address the health of the planet, and ultimately save animals,” Lindstrom says. “There’s no excuse now for not trying a vegan diet. Anything you’ve eaten in the past now has a comparable vegan version, which we didn’t have in the past.”
Still, food is personal for many. It provides comfort, connects people to their pasts, and provides an opportunity to share some of themselves with others. But Lindstrom says with the animal-product substitutes available, those considering veganism needn’t switch out much to accommodate those who are following a plant-based diet.
“When someone says, ‘We have vegans coming over for dinner, what do we make?’ my answer is, ‘What would you make them if they weren’t vegan?’ Chicken piccata or spaghetti and meatballs? I’d say, ‘Make them that, but trade out ingredients.’ There’s nothing you can’t make vegan.”
But getting people to eat more, or only, plant-based foods is still an uphill climb, and this MeatOut-MeatIn kerfuffle is evidence of that.
“The reaction has been pretty intense,” Lindstrom says. “We’re very impressed with how committed the ranchers and poultry farmers and cattlemen are within the state about how they feel about this. I think they feel personally attacked. Maybe the writing is on the wall for them.”
Find recipes and more info at meatout.org.