Meatless Monday was an unlikely place to find a pig farmer.
But, that’s where Missourian Joe Maxwell stood, in front of an attentive crowd hiding from the rain, asking people to eat less meat.
“We just can’t sustain our current system, and every time you go to the grocery store, you vote with your diet,” he told the crowd.
Maxwell is the director for rural development and outreach for the Humane Society of the United States. At one time, he was the Lieutenant Governor for Missouri. But, he’s always been a farmer, and so have the previous three generations in his family.
His argument is that if you’re going to eat meat, at least know its origins.
Meatless Monday is a global movement to encourage people to eat 1/7 the amount of meat they do, by cutting it completely from their diet one day a week. Studies show that a decrease in meat consumption can reduce risk of chronic preventable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. And, it’s good for the environment, reducing fossil fuel and water use — both of which are precious resources but required in large amounts to grow and process meat.
In Aspen, participants in the Meatless Monday movement gather at the Aspen Club. Each brings their own vegetarian meal or dessert option to share, and there’s often a speaker or themed conversation. This past week, the table was peppered with dishes like soba noodle veggie stir-fry or quinoa with walnuts, pineapple and apple. Throughout town, many restaurants also take part by promoting--or simply including for the first time--a meat-free option on their menu.
Nearly nine billion animals are killed each year in the United States for food, according to Maxwell and the Humane Society. By cutting meat from one’s diet just once a week, this number could be dropped to seven billion, he adds, which is more sustainable in terms of resources and creates better conditions in which these animals are raised.
“There are things going down on the farm that we can’t be proud of,” he says.
Maxwell’s own family farm sells Global Animal Certified-pork to Whole Foods and other markets. He advocates humane practices and healthy raising of the livestock.
One of the largest feedlots in America sits in Colorado’s Yuma County, he says. Per day, its takes 30 gallons of water to raise a single cow on these lots, from actual drinking needs to waste disposal. In some places, this is causing “small towns to dry up and blow away,” especially in a severe drought-stricken years like 2012.
So, how does a pig farmer sleep at night knowing he’s advocating against his livelihood?
He’s a flexitarian. The word, which just made its way into the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary this month, describes a vegetarian who occasionally eats meat. In Maxwell’s case, this means only meat that is humanely, sustainably and locally grown.
That’s one choice. Another way to support a meatless market is to encourage speciality crops at a congressional level. Currently, corn, soybeans and cotton receive the bulk of agriculture subsidies from the government, but public pressure has the potential to change this.
Aspen, Maxwell says, is a leading place with the influence to make a difference.
What would it take for you to eliminate meat from your diet once a week?
Christine Benedetti is a pescatarian who has a serious crush on Palisade peaches right now. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.