Fans of Colorado’s livestock industry gathered around the state Saturday to eat and promote meat in defiance of Gov. Jared Polis’ proclamation that made Saturday a statewide MeatOut Day.
In Durango, carnivorous community members gathered outside the Harley-Davidson dealership for Southwest Colorado’s Eat Meat BBQ. The barbecue, hosted by the La Plata-Archuleta Cattlemen’s Association, featured free hamburgers, hot dogs and bratwurst, along with coleslaw and bacon and beans.
“We’re celebrating agriculture today,” said Veronica Lasater, a member of the La Plata County Farm Bureau board. “It’s the second-largest industry in Colorado, at $47 billion, and employs just under 200,000 people in the state. So we feel it’s important to come together to just kind of celebrate meat and the industry.”
She said event organizers were collecting donations that would go to her organization or to one all involved parties could agree on. The event was also sponsored by La Plata/Archuleta County Cattlemen, La Plata County Cowbelles, Colorado Independent CattleGrowers Association, Durango Harley-Davidson, Million Dollar Highway Saloon, Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the Beef Council and Hi Country Cattle Auction, among others.
Lasater said the livestock industry “is a huge contributor to our economy, and I think it’s important that we voice our support.”
She said that it was one of at least 115 similar barbecues being held across the state.
Davin Montoya, a cattle rancher with a family ranch west of Hesperus, said he and longtime Ignacio sheep rancher J. Paul Brown came up with the idea for the barbecue shortly after hearing about Polis’ proclamation. Montoya said another purpose of the event was to highlight the role of meat in a healthy diet.
“Our emphasis is on the healthy diet of protein and fats. The low-carb diet is more healthy than the high-carb we’ve been told to eat for the last 50 years,” Montoya said. “The high-carb has lots of fruits and vegetables and grains that they’ve said we need to eat, and it’s like, ‘OK. Well, we’ve got an obese society, we’ve got high incidence of diabetes and high blood pressure.’ By going with more meat and less carbs, they can fix all of those problems.”
He said displays at the event were put together to spotlight other nonmeat products that come from animal byproducts.
Elsewhere in Durango, restaurants including the Strater Hotel, CJ’s Diner, Zia Taqueria, Fur Trappers, Brenda’s Old West Cafe, Porky’s Smokehouse and Hi-Country Sale Barn Cafe offered “Meat in the Menu” meals Saturday.
In Cortez, the Montezuma County Board of County Commissioners passed a resolution proclaiming Saturday to be Cattlemen’s Day.
The county resolution highlights economic benefits of the livestock industry, which provides 1,013 local jobs, or 8% of total jobs in the county, representing the fifth-highest job creator, according to 2018 data compiled by Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado. The resolution says that in 2017, the sale value of Montezuma County cattle, calves, poultry and hogs exceeded $16 million.
On Saturday, community members led a cattle drive and “freedom ride” along Main Street in Cortez. Supporters met at the Ute Coffee Shop on Saturday morning to give speeches and coordinate their route along Main Street.
Ranchers and farmers also were joined by the Montezuma County Patriots, who gained public attention last summer for their weekly rallies and demonstrations on Cortez’s Main Street. The demonstrations began as a way to support reopening businesses in town during coronavirus restrictions, then shifted to support first responders, the Second Amendment right to bear arms and then-President Donald Trump. The rallies displayed American, Christian, Confederate, Trump and Three-Percenter flags and were held across the street from a weekly Walk for Justice and Peace, which included supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement .
On Saturday, Montezuma County Commissioner Joel Stevenson spoke in support of the “MeatIn” demonstration.
“What they’re after is your Constitution,” said local rancher Odis Sikes. “They are going at it hard and fast. They want your Constitution bad. But we are not going to let them do that.”
Tiffany Ghere, a leader of the Montezuma County Patriots, also spoke in front of the Ute Coffee Shop.
“The No. 1 one export in Colorado is beef,” Ghere said. “Our water rights have been slowly removed from us. What happens if we can’t feed our cattle? What happens if we can’t water them?”
Ghere also alluded to the governor’s sexual orientation during her speech, drawing laughs from the audience. A male demonstrator carried a sign saying he would give up eating beef when Polis, the state’s first openly gay governor, changed his sexual orientation.
The ride was led by Buddy, a 3,000-pound steer, who was hauled along Main Street. A line of trucks and trailers followed, displaying signs praising the importance of beef to the local economy.
Outside the state, the governors of Wyoming and Nebraska declared Saturday “Hearty Meat Day” and “Meat on the Menu Day,” respectively.
Eric Lindstrom, executive director of Farm Animal Rights Movement – the organization that started the first MeatOut Day in 1985 – said the event began as a response to the Great American Smokeout, a campaign to get people to give up smoking. FARM decided to do the same thing but with meat. The nonprofit FARM promotes veganism and animal rights, and seeks to educate people about how their choices affect human health, the environment and animals through events such as MeatOut Day.
“It’s recognized around the world with food-ins, meetups, tabling demonstrations and now proclamations,” he said. “Every year, we secure about half a dozen proclamations from cities, counties and state governments to proclaim MeatOut Day.”
Polis’ proclamation encourages people to “explore the benefits and flavors of a wholesome plant-based diet,” citing potential health benefits, such as lowered risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer and diabetes. The proclamation also describes environmental benefits, including reducing Colorado’s carbon footprint and preserving forests, grasslands and wildlife habitats.
However, the proclamation also says, “Colorado is the proud home to farmers and ranchers alike and we recognize the importance of agriculture in the state.”
On March 11, Polis signed a proclamation declaring Monday to be Colorado Livestock Proud Day. In it, Polis says, “Farmers and ranchers raise livestock to provide nutritious, affordable protein for families across the state, and throughout the nation, and animal proteins supply the body with essential nutrients, including sources of zinc, vitamins B12 and D, and fatty acids.”
Lindstrom said there are typically at least a half-dozen MeatOut Day proclamations every year, but this year’s proclamation by Polis opened a Pandora’s box of defiance and the creation of events attempting to counter the goals of MeatOut Day.
“This one-day proclamation by Gov. Polis has exposed, we think, somewhat of a weakness in food systems,” Lindstrom said. “It shows how sensitive the cattlemen, poultry farmers and other meat processors are to what is really just a one-day event for people to consider a plant-base diet. It’s not a law. It’s not a rule. The proclamation is written very clearly to say, ‘Hey, why don’t you try just one day without meat?’”
He points out that most dishes can be made vegan by substituting alternatives for animal-based products, and despite the negative response this year, he said he looks forward to seeing in-person MeatOut Day events in 2022.
Journal staff writers Jim Mimiaga and Anthony Nicotera contributed to this report.[email protected]