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Why PCRM Is Bringing the Government to Court-Again

“Why are people so slow to change?” Anyone who’s adopted a plant-based diet—and sees what other people are still putting on their plates—must ask that question 10 times a day. Whether you consider the animal suffering, the cost to the environment, or the toll in human illness, a meaty diet makes no sense.

Certainly, more people than ever have taken animals off the menu. But if the issues are so obvious, why doesn’t everyone change? The answer is that logic does not direct human behavior, at least not for the most part.

Picture this: You’re in a crowded movie theater, and someone yells, “Fire!!” What do you do? Do you race for the exit? No, you look around you. If other people appear calm and relaxed, you stay put. But if everyone else is racing out the door, you’ll join them in a flash. If you had to think through the likelihood that a dropped cigarette or a fault in the electrical system had actually caused a fire—well, you would be left behind while everyone else had evacuated. Similarly, an antelope is much safer charging off with his fleeing herd than staying behind to sort out whether that shadow coming over the hillside really is a lion.

Like it or not, a herd mentality is hard-wired into our brains, and for good reason. Logic is slow and deliberate; herd instinct is instantaneous.

So why doesn’t everyone change? Because the rest of our “herd,” so to speak, is eating less-than-healthy fare. We’re comforted in the thought that what most people are doing ought to be best for us, too.

So what can we do about it? The answer, of course, is to redirect herd mentality. With a consistent push in the right direction, people can and will change.

The federal government has so far shirked that responsibility. Loyal to agribusiness and surprisingly indifferent to health, the government gives only garbled hints about the risks of meat-based diets. The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans follow the familiar pattern. They are clear about the benefits of fruits and vegetables, but careful not to overtly criticize meat or dairy products. Instead, they couch any cautionary language in biochemical terms, like “saturated fat” and “cholesterol,” which are only loosely tied to specific foods in most people’s minds. The government’s policies are careful not to disrupt the herd mentality that keeps American beef, chicken, and cheese in grocery carts and on American dinner tables.

That’s why PCRM is again bringing the U.S. government to court. In our previous lawsuit over the Guidelines in 2000, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia agreed with PCRM that the Guidelines produced at that time had been concocted behind closed doors in a manner that violated federal law. Partly as a result of that litigation, the new Guidelines are better in many ways. They are the first to praise vegetarian and vegan diets and are thoughtful in many respects. But they are not remotely strong or clear enough to stop Americans’ headlong plunge into the disasters of obesity, diabetes, and other health problems. By law, the government must tell Americans forthrightly what science has shown, and we are demanding that it do so.

Redirecting herd mentality is not easy. But it certainly can be done, and we aim to ensure that it is.

Neal Barnard signature
Neal D. Barnard, M.D.
President of PCRM

Neal D. Barnard, M.D.
Neal D. Barnard, M.D.

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