Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) has beef with the idea of military personnel participating in “meatless Mondays,” and last week introduced amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act that would ban the initiative from military cafeterias.
The idea of meatless Mondays -- forgoing meat one day a week to promote the health and environmental benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle -- has been gaining traction throughout the U.S. and has earned support from organizations including the Humane Society of the United States.
The U.S. military does not currently participate in meatless Monday, nor has there been any evidence that any branch intends to enforce it anytime soon.
The U.S. Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut started a meat-reduction program several years ago, and recently began working on the initiative with the HSUS. Several veteran-affiliated organizations have embraced the meatless Monday idea in the last few years as well, including the Veterans Health Administration and New York state's Veterans’ Wellness publication. The Norwegian military adopted meatless Mondays in 2013.
But Ernst wants to make sure there will never be a formal program barring Monday meat-eating at U.S. military establishments. She told agricultural consulting business Pro Ag that meatless Mondays are “misguided,” according to Politico. She contended that “our men and women in uniform should have the option to consume the protein they need, including meat, on a daily basis.”
Her amendments are scheduled for a vote in the Senate on Tuesday.
Ernst served in the Army Reserve and National Guard for 23 years, and grew up on a farm. Her state is a leader in meat production -- which makes some people question if Ernst’s opposition to meatless Mondays is about a different kind of pork entirely.
“This whole issues makes me wonder is Sen. Ernst is putting Iowa agribusiness interests over our interest in our military,” Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm-animal protection for HSUS, told The Huffington Post.
Ernst received almost $200,000 from agribusinesses during her 2014 senatorial campaign.
Ernst cites the 2015 federal dietary guidelines to support her argument that members of the military need meat-based options to fulfill their daily protein requirements. However, those dietary guidelines contradict themselves when it comes to recommending how much meat a person should eat.
They do not explicitly limit a person’s daily recommended amount of red meat or processed meat, but they do point out that lower meat consumption is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
The Coast Guard Academy has cut its meat consumption by 10 percent in the last three years but began officially collaborating with HSUS last year, according to Shapiro. The organization paired up with the academy’s executive chef, Michael Cummins, to create meals with meat alternatives: For example, substituting beans for chicken in burritos and serving spaghetti with marinara sauce instead of meatballs.
More people making such substitutions could held combat the country's “too fat to fight” issue, Shapiro suggested -- currently, 1 in 3 young people in the U.S. are reportedly too heavy to serve in the military.
A plant-based diet is often cheaper than one that's meat-based, so practicing meatless Mondays could have financial benefits as well, Shapiro said.
Shapiro is skeptical that Ernst’s amendments will pass the Senate, although he was hesitant to make any predictions.
“I’ve learned that it’s bad to predict, but I think that this is such a wacky proposal that I have a feeling that it won’t go far," he said.
Ernst’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
UPDATE: 6.14 -- The Senate did not vote on Ernst's meat amendment Tuesday, but did pass the NDAA by a vote of 85 to 13.