What was he thinking?
That’s the question that comes readily to mind when considering Gov. Jared Polis’ decision to declare Saturday “MeatOut Day.”
MeatOut Days were founded in 1985 by the Farm Animal Rights Movement to promote plant-based diets. Many states and cities have declared MeatOut Days since then.
But Polis could not have found an easier way to fuel existing cultural conflicts and further alienate the state’s livestock producers, including cattle ranchers who live in the Four Corners. Not to mention creating his own public relations disaster out of thin air.
As part of the FOCUS 2021 series (appearing in our sister newspaper, The Durango Herald), we’ve been talking about Healing the Rift: how we cross the many bridges that divide us as a community and nation, find common purpose again and leave behind the acrimony, distrust and fear that polarize us.
The governor has done exactly the opposite, ignoring the contributions of agriculture, particularly ranching, to our state.
According to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, sales of livestock and livestock products generate about $5 billion annually. Agriculture in total creates $47 billion and 195,000 jobs for the state.
The governor’s proclamation “makes our blood boil,” said Davin Montoya, who with his wife, Theresa, raises cattle on their longtime family ranch west of Durango near Hesperus. (It’s their property that boasts a sign reading, “I’d rather see a cow than a condo.”)
Montoya especially takes umbrage at some of the language in the proclamation suggesting that ranching harms the land.
“We develop springs and ponds, and that water provides water not only for our cattle but for the wildlife. We have elk and deer here most of the year, wild turkeys, bears and mountain lions, coyotes you can see from our house,” he said.
“We think there’s a lot of things we do that are good.”
Dan Huntington and his wife, Doneva, have long run cattle at their ranch, also west of Durango.
He feels that Polis’ proclamation threatens their livelihood and diminishes their way of life.
Dan Huntington is a fourth-generation cattle rancher; Doneva’s family also homesteaded in the area.
He and other ranchers don’t have time to educate the public and effectively counter the claims of groups that oppose meat production, he said.
Likewise, Jerry and Karen Zink have carried on their families’ ranching and farming traditions in a variety of ways. They operate a USDA-certified slaughterhouse, Sunnyside Meats, and Sunnyside Farms Market, both in Durango, to meet the needs of area ranchers. Sunnyside Meats makes possible the direct marketing of fresh and frozen locally produced meats sold through stores, restaurants and at farmer’s markets.
Since the advent of COVID-19, the meat business has been booming, as people looked to local sources when major retailers’ cold cases were nearly emptied by shutdowns in the “big four” meatpacking plants. The Zinks’ plant serves small- to medium-sized ranches in La Plata and Montezuma counties, New Mexico and Utah.
The Zinks (Karen is a longtime nurse practitioner), have tested their employees for COVID-19 regularly and insisted on safety practices; no one has tested positive, meaning they could continue to process and package meat.
“The breakdown of the food chain that we saw this year has helped people reconnect with local food. So that’s a good thing,” said Jerry Zink.
The Zinks’ businesses, like the cattle ranchers’, are family-based; daughter Holly Zink runs both the plant and the store.
The insult felt by ranchers and others in the livestock business by the governor’s proclamation, here and throughout Colorado, is emblematic of the urban-rural divide. Many urban dwellers don’t appreciate the rural lifestyle, the dedication to the land, to family tradition, to never-ending work and the demand for constant adaptation just to stay in business.
Polis has given lip service to supporting Colorado agriculture. Clearly he – like many city folk – has a lot to learn. And his MeatOut Day proclamation cost him more than he gained in political capital.
You don’t have to be anti-meat to embrace plant-based eating, and you don’t have to be anti-vegan to love meat, either. To each his (or her) own. Live and let live. That’s the real Western way of life.