Oprah celebrates Meatless Monday
Talk show host Oprah Winfrey may have just encouraged a large segment of her 30 million viewers to join the Meatless Monday movement following her latest show which gave us a rare glimpse into where some of our meat comes from.
The Meatless Monday campaign’s national awareness has more than doubled in the last 2 years. An FGI Research survey found that 30 percent of Americans are aware of the public health campaign. My guess is that following Oprah’s very public backing and the announcement last month that the food service company Sodexo implemented Meatless Monday national and global awareness is going to sky rocket!
The episode, entitled “Oprah and 378 Staffers Go Vegan: The One Week Challenge” featured celebrated “veganist” Kathy Freston and journalist Michael Pollan, best known for his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” A large chunk of the show followed Freston encouraging sometimes belligerent but mostly willing Oprah Show staff members to eat a vegan diet for one week and their testimonials on how they did. A few employees said the experience helped them lose weight and become healthier. Following her experience, Oprah decided, quite enthusiastically, that her studio’s café would do Meatless Monday every week.
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Center for a Livable Future helped launch the national Meatless Monday campaign back in 2003. The campaign’s primary focus is to reduce America’s saturated fat consumption by 15%, following the recommendations of the Healthy People 2010 report issued by then U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher in 2000. Key recommendations from the recently released Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 reiterate the message that we need to reduce our consumption of solid and saturated fats.
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“We put faith in our government to protect us, and we’re not being protected at the most basic level,” strong words from a mother whose two-and-a-half-year-old son died just days after eating a hamburger tainted with E. coli O157:H7. Barbara Kowalcyk’s personal fight to ensure that the food we feed our children will not endanger their health or their lives, was just one of the many powerful stories told in the soon to be released documentary Food Inc. The hard-hitting film takes a critical look at the industrial food production system and the many risks it poses on society from public health threats and environmental degradation to social injustice.
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Washington State University alum and former WSU regent, Bill Marler, has offered to foot the bill to bring author Michael Pollan to the school’s campus. WSU said it will take Marler’s offer to pay the speaking fee for the author of “Omnivore’s Dilemma’ and will reinstate the school’s Common Reading Program. According to WSU, the Common Reading Program had been suspended due to financial concerns and not because of pressure from the agriculture industry. In recent days, the land grant University has faced a barrage of criticism over the suspension of the program.
We believe Washington State University has worked hard to reach its status as a leading national research institution (its College of Agriculture is ranked second in the nation in plant science by the Chronicle of Higher Education). There is, however, the continued concern that large agriculture interests have undue influence over WSU and other land grant universities which conduct important research in areas surrounding food production and its effects on the environment and public health.
Congress could alleviate these concerns by committing federal dollars to help WSU and other land grant universities and remove the potential conflict of interest by receiving financial support from Big Ag. Imagine where we would be if the biomedical research community did not have support from the National Institutes of Health and had to rely on the pharmaceutical industry for exclusive support?
We’re looking forward to Michael Pollan’s visit to WSU and the discussion of his book. He told the New York Times that he is pleased the program was restored. He said it’s especially important that it’s taking place at a land grant university, “because we are in the midst of this national conversation about the future of food and agriculture, and land grant universities have a critical role to play.”
It isn’t easy being a land grant university these days, especially when your Ag School depends so heavily on industry money for support. Sadly, fear of losing funding from their biggest money stream is limiting the types of research many scientists are undertaking at agriculture schools across the country. Now there are accusations that the funding fear may have crept its way out of Washington State University’s Ag School and has taken hold in, of all places, WSU’s Common Reading Program.
Months after WSU’s Common Reading Committee selected “Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” by Michael Pollan as this year’s thought provoking book, the university announced that it decided not to hand out the nearly 4,000 copies it had already purchased to its incoming freshman during WSU’s orientation sessions and cancel the reading program altogether. The first official reason offered earlier this month was, “given the circumstances currently facing our institution, changes must be made to the program.” Through an email sent to faculty yesterday, WSU’s president, Dr. Elson Floyd, and his provost, Dr. Warwick Bayly, stated that those “circumstances” are the university’s financial woes. The email goes on to say:
This is just one of scores of hard decisions that have been made in recent weeks to address the $54 million cut in our biennial state appropriation. As you well know, this austerity has forced us to reduce or eliminate a number of programs and positions. Reducing the scope of this program — including not bringing the author to campus and avoiding speaker’s fees and travel, facilities, and event costs — will save an estimated $40,000.
However, faculty members were quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education questioning the fiscal excuse:
Jeff Sellen, an instructor at the university who sat on a committee in charge of implementing the reading program, says members of that panel were told “we could not call it a ‘common reading.'”
“I think that was important because it would be less official and would maybe fly underneath the radar,” he says. “It was obvious that it was political.”
He says that there was never a substantial budget for events around the book—certainly not enough to bring in Mr. Pollan as a speaker—so he dismisses the idea that there was a financial rationale for the changes in the program.
For those of you who don’t know, Pollan’s book reveals the serious problems that our broken industrially based food system poses for the environment, our health and our own morality. It looks like the book may have hit a little too close to home for one of WSU’s Board of Regents. The Spokesman-Review quoted Regent Francois X. Forgette as saying his fellow Regent Harold Cochran “had read the book and raised concerns.” According to a release from Governor Chris Gregoire’s office, Cochran is a third generation wheat rancher and is a member of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers and the Walla Walla County Wheat Growers.
Regardless of what led to the decision, the ensuing controversy has spotlighted serious concerns regarding the influence Big Ag has over large public institutions that are entrusted to further academic research in food and agricultural sciences. I witnessed this influence first hand while serving as the communications director for the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (PCIFAP). Read More >
In a piece published in Ethicurean yesterday, blogger and part-time farmer Bob Comis railed against the common argument that food from local, non-industrialized producers reflects the “true cost”—which includes environmental impacts, government subsidies on commodity crops, etc.
Comis argues that small farmers are making too much profit for meat production because they are “unwilling or unable to scale up to reasonable production levels.” He doesn’t say they are striking it rich—that is hardly the case. He does think they just need to scale up production to make themselves more competitive with the industrial model, who really have cheap production down to a science. Read More >