I have a poster in my office that reads: “Vegan, an old Indian word for bad hunter.” The dictionary describes it as “the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals.” There is a joke that goes, “How can you tell a person is a vegan? Don’t worry they will tell you.” This is certainly true for a good number of those who have adopted a vegan lifestyle. They are very evangelistic an alerting the world to their choice, typically with a note of condemnation to those of us who remain carnivores. As a movement, they have been very aggressive in supporting policy that limits meat consumption by everyone else. Recently, however, the vegans ran into some serious pushback from the food industry and the government.
The first setback came when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) proposed Domino’s Pizza add vegan cheese and meat to its topping options. The pizza maker responded by saying bite me. Well, what they actually said was “We’re constantly looking at consumer trends and new things. There has been no sign of consumer demand.” What makes this even more of a stinging rebuke is that PETA owns 39 shares of Domino’s. This move was also significant because it is one of the few national chains that have had the guts to stand up to radical activist groups.
Another blow to the meatless movement came when the USDA refused to tell Americans to stop eating meat in its revised dietary guidelines. An advisory panel had recommended to the USDA that strict limits on meat consumption be included in the guidelines. But that was not the case in the final set of guidelines — a fact that sent anti-meat activist groups into orbit. “Eating less red meat is good for all of us and good for the planet,” said Erik Olson, Senior Strategic Director of the Health Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. The advisory group had recommended that the USDA tell people to stop eating meat because it felt livestock agriculture was bad for the environment.
Not only did the USDA guidelines not tell people to stop eating meat, it lifted its suggested restrictions on eggs, acknowledging the overwhelming scientific evidence that eggs do not impact cholesterol levels. Also, for the first time, the guidelines gave approval for coffee consumption saying “moderate coffee consumption” can be part of a healthy diet. But don’t put any sugar in that coffee. The guidelines came down hard on sugar consumption recommending that “added sugars make up less than 10 percent of their daily calories.” However, feel free to add milk to that cup of joe. The guidelines said that more than 80 percent of the U.S. population is not consuming the recommended amount of dairy. The government recommends that a healthy eating pattern include three servings a day of fat-free or low-fat dairy foods such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. This was another thorn in the flesh for vegans, many of whom see dairy products as a meat product because it comes from a cow.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which advocates a vegan diet, announced that it was filing a lawsuit against the government over the recommendations. Activist and industry groups both praised and panned the report depending on whose ox got gored. While these recommendations will have an impact on school lunches and federal food programs, they will have little impact on most people’s dietary decisions. They also show that sound science does not support a vegan lifestyle and that, despite how cool they think they are, vegans do not represent a significant segment of the consuming public.
By Gary Truitt