Efforts to Ban Meatless Monday from the Military are Misguided and Ignore Science
Jun 15, 2016
Recently, freshman U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) threatened to legislate the removal of Meatless Monday from military menus, suggesting that soldiers and military personnel would not be able to meet protein needs if they cut out meat one day a week. The senator is misinformed about human nutrition, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines (DGAC) and the Meatless Monday campaign.
The 2015 DGAC recommend that for people who consume 2,000 calories per day, the ideal amount of “protein equivalent foods” to consume daily is 5.5 ounces. Protein equivalents include beef, pork, lamb, poultry, seafood, eggs, tofu and soy products, beans, legumes and nuts. According to the Dietary Guidelines, which are revised every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, protein needs can be adequately met with a variety of foods, including plant-based proteins such as the above-mentioned tofu, soy, beans, legumes and nuts.
The Meatless Monday campaign encourages people to forgo meat one day a week. This amounts to approximately 15 percent reduction in meat consumption. Many institutions incorporate Meatless Monday programs into their weekly menus by highlighting vegetarian options, offering vegetarian specials and encouraging customers to choose plant-based entrees on Mondays.
It is more than feasible for a person to remove meat from his or her diet one day a week and still easily meet the Dietary Guidelines recommendations for protein. The Guidelines present recommendations in the form of three distinct “healthy eating patterns.” In the case of the “Healthy U.S.” eating pattern, the recommended meat consumption is 26 ounces of meat, poultry and eggs per week, for a daily average of 3.71 ounces per day. If this number—26 ounces—is rationed out over six days instead of seven to accommodate a Meatless Monday effort, the recommended daily meat consumption is 4.3 ounces. Given the estimate that Americans eat between 4.4 and 5.9 ounces of meat each day it is very likely that forgoing meat one day a week will still easily result in 26 ounces of meat per week. (In fact, according to chapter 2 of the 2015 Guidelines, teen boys and adult men consume more than the recommended amount of meat, poultry and eggs.)
Furthermore, removing meat one day a week will actually help Americans meet additional components of the Guidelines, particularly recommendations for increased vegetable consumption and a reduction in saturated fats. According to the Guidelines, Americans do not eat enough vegetables. Emphasizing vegetables and plant-based proteins would be a step toward meeting these recommendations. Red meats and dairy are the largest source of saturated fat in the American diet. Going meatless once a week is a simple, effective way to achieve the recommended reduction in saturated fats.
Observing Meatless Monday in Department of Defense dining facilities could improve the health and well-being of our soldiers, and it has the potential to contribute to reduced food costs and fewer environmental and climate impacts.
According to Health.gov, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is the “go-to” source for nutrition advice. The recommendations are updated every five years and are designed to help Americans make health nutrition choices and provide the foundation for U.S. nutrition policies and programs. Given the facts, the Senator’s concerns are unfounded.
Media contact for the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future: Natalie Wood-Wright at 410-502-7578 or firstname.lastname@example.org.