CONSUMER CHOICE MEETS MEATLESS MONDAYS

Consumer choice is important, just look (really look) at all the choices your local supermarket has to offer. From organic to conventional, fat to low-fat and non-fat, whole milk to 2 percent and 1 percent and skim… the list goes on and on. Agriculturalists value our ability to meet your needs and we value your ability to make the choice that is right for you. As long as that choice is a knowledgeable choice.

Being a knowledgeable consumer is tough. With all those choices it becomes all the more difficult to make the best choice for you and your family and depending on how many people you talk to, with however many different opinions, it becomes even harder.

That is why it is important to talk to the right people who have the right knowledge to make you more knowledgeable. Makes sense, right? So that’s what I did.

I talked to people who have chosen not to eat meat on Mondays because they feel there are environmental and health benefits to limiting one’s consumption of meat. I talked to a dietitian about the importance of beef in the diet and I spoke with a beef producer-because producers do know their product.

What I learned about Meatless Mondays:

  1. Supporters say reduced meat consumption leads to reduced carbon footprints, reduced climate change and improved health.
  2. United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the meat industry is responsible for almost one-fifth of man-made greenhouse gases.
  3. Proponents of the campaign state the health benefits include: increased lifespan, improved diet, obesity avoidance and reduced risk of heart disease and cancer.
  4.  “I would like to encourage everyone to learn about the food that they eat,” Meatless Monday proponent Melissa Dion said. “Ignorance is not always bliss.” Dion said she saw lots of improvements in her health and lifestyle since beginning this eating lifestyle in 2008. “I feel really great and I have more energy.”

What I learned from a dietitian:

  1. “I think food fads, generally, are untested in terms of their long-term effects,” said Dietitian and Professor of Food Science M. Susan Brewer.
  2. Heart disease and cholesterol are dietary issues. Brewer said it’s not just meat, it’s all that fat and the French fries that create these problems.
  3. Animal products provide the only source of B12, Brewer said. While vegetables contain iron, especially dark leafy vegetables, it is not the most absorbable form and plant materials bind up the iron making it unavailable compared to iron from meat, Brewer said.
  4. Anemia, iron deficiency, is primarily a problem facing teenage girls and young women in their reproductive years. Brewer said is hard to get enough iron on a regular basis without removing meat from the diet once a week.
  5. Vegetables do not provide complete protein that supports growth and reproduction with the right amino acids in the right proportions, Brewer said. “That isn’t to say you can’t put them together from this category of vegetables and that category of vegetables and come up with a complete protein, with a complete amino acid profile,” Brewer said. “You can do that. But you do have to know what you are doing.”
  6. According to the American Dietetic Association, the correct portion is the size of a deck of playing cards. Portion size, choosing leaner cuts of meat and leaner preparation methods of meat and are important considerations in lieu of removing meat from the diet, Brewer said.

What I learned from a beef producer:

  1. Beef has 29 lean cuts. Trevor Toland, president of the Illinois Beef Association and producer of 41 years said you don’t have to consume large amounts of fat to enjoy beef.
  2. A 154-calorie, three-ounce serving of lean beef has 51 percent of the recommended daily value of protein, 38 percent of zinc, 37 percent of vitamin B12, 26 percent of selenium, and 14 percent of iron, Toland said. There is a lot of value in a simple three-ounce serving of lean beef, he said. 
  3. To equal the amount of zinc in a three-ounce serving of steak, a person would have to eat 13 three-ounce servings of salmon, Toland said. Likewise, one would have to eat seven skinless chicken breasts to equal the amount of B12.
  4. Practices like Meatless Mondays cost the family “considerably more” than a three-ounce serving of beef with nutritious side dishes, Toland said.
  5. “I just want people to know that cattleman really care about this country and the food we provide,” Toland said. “We want to protect our land because that is what makes it possible for us to make a living and market a safe, wholesome, nutritious product that we are really proud of.”

So there you have it, three perspectives on one important dietary issue. If these answers raised more questions the best part is that you can keep asking those questions and gaining more knowledge. If you feel like an informed consumer you can stop by your supermarket and pick up a few steaks for the grill tonight—or not, the choice is completely, 100 percent yours. And that is the beauty of consumer choice, at the end of the day you decide what is best for you.

Claire Benjamin
University of Illinois student &
author of the Rural Route Review

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