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The Recession Takes a Bite Out of Meat Consumption

Cash for Cheesedogs?

by MARTHA ROSENBERG

The recession is having one positive effect. The national cholesterol is going down.

More than half of Americans have cut back on meat, many becoming "recession-bred flexitarians," says Gourmet magazine–people who use meat as a condiment not as a meal anchor.

Even the doyenne of taste and nutrition, Martha Stewart, broadcast a vegetarian Thanksgiving show last week.

A small drop in meat exerts big consequences on your health says Katherine Tallmadge of the American Dietetic Association because red meat is the "primary source of saturated fat, which can boost levels of bad LDL cholesterol and inflammation."

It is no doubt the reason death from heart attacks goes down not up during recessions as Christopher Ruhm, an economist at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro reports.

Unfortunately, it also has a big effect on meat producers for whom the droves of flexitarians are equivalent to Atlanta and all its suburbs going vegetarian. And that’s before you consider the effect that the swine, sorry H1N1 virus has had on the pork industry.

To address the low demand emergency, the Washington DC-based National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) has a kind of Cash for Clunkers plan.

Funded by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act revenues, its Meat the Need proposal would increase the amount that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients receive in food assistance if they use it for animal products. Recipients would either get a separate electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card or earmarked vouchers.

"Product purchases will quickly reduce the oversupply on the market while additional funding to SNAP for meat purchases will allow low-income families access to more nutritious meals," says the NASDA proposal.

The government purchase program makes so much $ense to producers with unwanted products, 16 businesses expressed their support in Missouri alone including the Missouri Dairy Association, Missouri Dairy Growth Council, Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, Missouri Egg Council, Missouri Pork Association, The Poultry Federation and ag oriented bankers.

But there are some wrinkles.

What good is a temporary program if the changes Americans have made in what they eat, spend and drive become permanent after the recession? What if, after our austerity, a consuming, go-go lifestyle no longer appeals?

Is it really conscionable to dump products that the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and almost every other health group say to limit on poorer people because no one else will eat them? To boost the economy? Because they have less choice? Especially when the products include processed meat, known for its carcinogenic potential?

Aren’t people with lower incomes who receive food aid disproportionately plagued with diabetes, obesity, heart disease, metabolic disorders, high blood pressure, gallstones, fatty liver and obesity-related cancers already?

Is dumping food no one wants on the least fortunate any different than the nice venison hunters offered to food pantries two years ago except that it might be contaminated with the mad cow like Chronic Wasting Disease and lead? (The pantries refused it.)

Or the plan in Illinois to "harvest" the Canadian geese that live at so many subdivisions and corporate parks for the poor to eat? We’re not that hungry food pantry recipients said.

Doesn’t dumping high calorie, high fat, high cholesterol food undermine government wellness and school lunch programs which emphasize vegetables, fiber and exercise?

Finally isn’t the hallmark of a capitalist versus command economy demand? When it’s there you become a Bill Gates and when it’s not, an AOL?

Isn’t an oversupply of milk, pork or beef the market’s own rejection slip? As in 8 track tapes and pantyhose?

No NASDA’s Meat the Need program which it admits "promotes the policy of providing nutritious meat and dairy products to families while clearing excess inventory of those products," is just an industry-first-public-second initiative which makes the poor into a client state.

Why not create a program called Light Their Need giving cigarette vouchers to the poor? Tobacco farmers probably need assistance too.

MARTHA ROSENBERG can be reached at: martharosenberg@sbcglobal.net