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Chef Eric Watson assembles the burger layers in the Rustica kitchen in Moorhead, Minn. W. Scott Olsen / Special to Forum News Service

You have a right to choose a cheeseburger

I stand with cheeseburgers. It's the most political statement I'll make in this column all year. Food choices abound in America. A leading Democratic presidential candidate, California Sen. Kamala Harris already made headlines for her comments on how she loves cheeseburgers from "time to time" but if elected she would drastically change the food pyramid and dietary guidelines, with a goal of reducing red meat consumption.

As a cheeseburger eater, this sounds terrible. As a food choices advocate, I try to listen first before I react. But then, I get frustrated and I eat a cheeseburger.

I love meat (and the dairy like a cheese slice I add to my burger.) I respect and care for food animals and have a deep understanding of the animal agriculture industry. I have read and listened to farmers, ranchers, researchers and experts for decades in my agriculture communications career to know and trust our food system and the choices we have.

My position is, if you want to eat a lentil patty that someone is trying to pass off as "fake meat" or a processed plant-based burger look alike, it's your food choice. Lentils are a farm-raised product and a food choice I love. I add lentils to soups or side dishes. I choose to not replace lentils for meat in my diet or my family's diet.

Like Sen. Harris, most of us enjoy cheeseburgers. The vegetarians and vegans are the minority.

According to a 2018 Gallup poll, fewer than one in 10 Americans are vegetarian or vegan. It's about 5% of Americans are vegetarians and 3% vegans.

Animal rights activists and groups have made in-roads with political leaders and national media with messages about limiting or eliminating red meat and animal protein, more regulation or bans on specific production methods of food animals, and the list goes on. To me, increased food regulation limits food choices and makes food more expensive. It's unnecessary in the most regulated food system in the world, the United States, and not a topic I think presidential candidates need to be addressing. Banning food choices? It is for food elitists and not for those who want to feed all kinds of people with a bounty of food choices.

The moveable middle, that's a majority of us, need to keep eating cheeseburgers and stand up for our meat-eating, dairy food choices. Americans eat 50 billion hamburgers a year which is 800,000 miles worth of burgers, circling the earth 32 times.

Should we incorporate more whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables into our diets while eating our average of three hamburgers a week? Yes. By the way, I don't eat three hamburgers a week. But clearly some of us are eating more than others. But it's our choice in America to eat what we want. Don't let a political candidate spew out that we need to limit, regulate or ban any form of animal agriculture which leads to limiting food choices.

Plant-based or a meat-based diet is a choice to celebrate. You decide your food choices with how you spend your food dollars. Let's share what we stand for instead of what we're against, maybe the political candidates will take note and listen to the people who eat 50 billion hamburgers a year. This fall, I will be grilling up burgers for football tailgating, celebrating food choices and will continue to stand with cheeseburgers.