Colorado Gov. Jared Polis wanted residents to go a day without eating meat, but instead he spurred a stampede to the steakhouses.
The Democratic governor’s “MeatOut Day” proclamation encouraging Coloradans to skip saturated fats on March 20 has backfired spectacularly, feeding resistance with a “Meat In Day” that has carnivores vowing to outdo themselves in celebration of the state’s livestock industry.
“I think this is a wake-up call,” said Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, which launched the Meat In Movement in response to the gubernatorial proclamation.
At least 26 of the state’s 64 counties have issued “Meat In Day” proclamations since Mr. Polis made his declaration last month, while more than 100 restaurants and vendors are offering specials and sales on burgers, bratwurst and barbecue.
Neighboring states also have a beef with Mr. Polis. Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon took a dig at his Colorado counterpart after a Saturday ceremony in Cheyenne to proclaim that March 20 would be “Hearty Meat Day” in the Cowboy State.
“I stand by our ranchers and farmers, who feed the world and help manage our natural resources,” Mr. Gordon tweeted. “I also invite @GovofCO and Colorado citizens to join us in this celebration.”
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts declared March 20 “Meat on the Menu Day,” saying Wednesday it was “important to push back against the anti-science, anti-agricultural radical activists like PETA that are pushing this meat-out agenda.”
“Meat is part of a healthy diet. It’s part of our foods security here,” Mr. Ricketts said on “Fox & Friends.” “And of course here in Nebraska, the livestock industry is our number-one industry, and so it would really devastate our way of life here.”
Mr. Polis’ office has sought to downplay the proclamation as one of many nonbinding ceremonial documents issued each year while quipping that the governor is “thrilled that he has helped start a grassroots movement of support for cattlemen and the beef industry.”
“Governor Polis is enthusiastic about how his proclamation is drawing needed attention and support for our ranchers and agriculture economy,” Polis spokesperson Shelby Wieman said in a statement to Colorado Politics.
Not laughing was Republican state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, who accused the governor of “a stab in the back to agriculture,” the state’s second-largest industry, about 60% of which is based on the livestock business, according to the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association.
“He could have done that many different ways: encourage you to eat more vegetables, fruit, nobody’s going to have an issue with that,” Mr. Sonnenberg told the Colorado Ag News Network & FarmCast Radio, “but obviously this governor chose to stick his finger in the eye of agriculture and have a meat-out day. And interestingly enough, agriculture and all of rural Colorado has woken up.”
In what may not be a coincidence, Mr. Polis issued a proclamation last week declaring Colorado Livestock Proud Day on March 22, praising ranchers and farmers for producing “nutritious, affordable protein for families across the state.”
The Colorado Livestock Association called it a “step forward in setting the record straight concerning the misinformation perpetuated about the livestock industry’s impact on the environment, human nutrition, and animal welfare.”
MeatOut Day has a history: It began in 1985 with the Farm Animal Rights Movement, which urges people to go meatless every March 20 as part of its campaign to promote “an ethical vegan lifestyle and vegan diet.”
Mr. Polis isn’t the first governor to issue a MeatOut proclamation — former Gov. John Hickenlooper declared a “Great American MeatOut Day” in 2011 — but rural Colorado has reason to be uneasy about the current administration.
In 2019, Mr. Polis urged the state Agriculture Department to promote crops that support plant-based meat products, punctuating his point by eating a soy-based Burger King Impossible Whopper and describing meatless meat as a food of the future.
“Quite frankly, his actions over the last two years, his systematic attacks toward agriculture, his appointments to boards and commissions … have not been helpful to agriculture, have not been helpful to rural Colorado,” Mr. Sonnenberg said. “We have a governor who obviously has given Colorado a national reputation that agriculture isn’t welcome here.”
While Mr. Polis says he eats meat, his partner, first gentleman Marlon Reis, is a longtime vegan and animal-rights advocate.
“I consider my role as one that advocates for the animals we keep as pets; those with whom we share the planet; and, particularly, those we raise for food,” Mr. Reis said in a 2019 interview with Mercy for Animals, which seeks an end to “the exploitation of animals for food.”
The governor’s office pointed out that Mr. Polis also has issued proclamations for Agriculture Day, Colorado Farm Bureau Day and Truck Driver Appreciation Day, and yet nothing has captured the imagination of rural Coloradans like a day devoted to meat.
In addition to beef-eating, Meat In Day features fundraisers to benefit the Future Farmers of America, the Colorado 4-H Foundation and food banks, and “Eat Beef” swag by Cheeky’s Brand that includes “The West Wasn’t Won on Salads” tees.
“We responded that we wanted to feed the hungry and patronize restaurants and restaurant workers on the 20th, and it ran away from there,” said Mr. Fankhauser. “It’s cool to see Colorado communities pull together for good.”
He said restaurants are rehiring staffers who lost their jobs during the pandemic shutdowns to keep up with the anticipated surge in demand.
“We’re really encouraging people to help the workers because many of them were laid off,” Mr. Fankhauser said. “They’re actually bringing workers back and allowing them to capitalize on this event if they can. We want to see that happening. They expect a big crowd, so they can afford to pay them for one day, give them a little boost.”
Vegans may want to steer clear, but otherwise Mr. Fankhauser sees Meat In Day as a rare win-win.
From what he has seen, the planned events are “well done, they’re safe, they’re feeding people, they’re raising money,” he said. “I can’t think of a better story.”