Let's start with three separate but related developments: First, a popular chain (Starbucks) is offering discounts on vegetarian meals on Mondays through Jan. 25. Second, I've recently heard anecdotal reports that office workers (the ones not grounded at home) who eat meat on Mondays are ostracized by some co-workers. Finally, a new federal nutritional study reaffirms that sensible portions of meat have a legitimate place in healthy diets.

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Full disclosure is in order here. I grew up on a North Dakota cow-calf operation. In the past I owned a few beef cows. I've been in a barn late at night when heifers suffered through difficult deliveries. Now, I enjoy beef and other meat in what I try to make a healthy eating plan (one that also includes nonmeat proteins such as lentils and chickpeas). And I have no use for the zealots, both on the far right and far left, who work with indefatigable self-righteousness to impose their views on the rest of us.

In any case, there's no doubt that Meatless Monday has become popular. It clearly reflects society's growing concern that meat is suspect or dangerous or both. The Meatless Monday website calls itself "a global movement (started in 2003) that encourages people to reduce meat in their diet for their health and the health of the planet."

That kind of talk disturbs and even alarms folks who make their living from meat. I'm not fond of it myself. For one thing, I suspect some Meatless Monday supporters never have visited a working ranch and don't realize that its land is far better suited to raising livestock than crops.

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But I believe in freedom of choice. People who practice Meatless Monday have every right to do so and, in all honesty, some people should cut back on meat and eat more fruit, whole grains and vegetables. For health reasons, that is, not supposedly moral ones.

The same is true for Starbucks; it has every right to reward customers who make vegetarian choices. And I suppose people trying to limit or eliminate meat consumption have their rights, too. But based on reports I've heard (which to be fair may be exaggerated), some of the food police can be downright nasty to people with different beliefs and eating practices.

Solid nutritional value

So it was gratifying to see that the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines for Americans once again confirmed that lean meat has a legitimate role in a healthy diet The recommendations, issued every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, are the federal government's new, updated advice on healthy eating. Based on input from nutritional experts, the report provides the best information available — and its says eating meat in sensible portions makes nutritional sense.

Thorough Agweek readers will note that this week's cover package, which I wrote, covers the new nutritional guidelines. Read the new guidelines here.

My unsolicited advice to ranchers and others who make their living from meat: Acknowledge that Meatless Monday has a right to exist and that Starbucks has a right to give discounts on vegetarian food. Acknowledge that Americans have a right not to eat meat.

But also continue to do what many of you are doing already: Respectfully point out that lean meat has solid nutritional merit, as the new dietary guidelines make clear. And respectfully point out that people who don't eat meat, on Monday or any day of the week, are not morally superior to those who of us who do.

To read more of Jonathan Knutson's Plain Living columns, click here.