Over at Salon, David Sirota reports from the frontlines of what Amanda Marcotte has amusingly dubbed “The Republican War on Vegetables.” Sirota notes that, in response to the worst drought since 1950, “food prices are expected to skyrocket, and eventually, water-dependent power plants may be forced to shut down.”

In response to what amounts to a devastating national emergency, the USDA, in an inter-office newsletter circulated to employees, suggested (but in no way required) that those employees join the worldwide campaign to refrain from eating meat on Mondays. Sirota explains:

The idea is part of the worldwide “Meatless Monday” campaign, which the New York Times notes is backed by “thousands of corporate cafeterias, restaurants and schools.” In the face of a drought, it’s a pragmatic notion. Cornell University researchers estimate that “producing a pound of animal protein requires, on average, about 100 times more water than producing a pound of vegetable protein.” According to the U.S. Geological Survey, that means a typical hamburger requires a whopping 4,000 to 18,000 gallons of water to make.

So how did the right react to this (genuinely) modest proposal? Sirota enumerates some of the ways:

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, called the recommendation “heresy” and pledged to “have the double rib-eye Mondays instead.” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told his drought-stricken constituents that “I will eat more meat on Monday to compensate” for the USDA suggestion. And Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, proudly posted a photo to his Facebook page showing a Caligulian smorgasbord of animal flesh that his Senate colleagues were preparing to scarf down as a protest against USDA.

It should be well and duly noted that all three of those fine upstanding fellows are deep in the pockets of the meat industry.

I was fascinated by the ridiculous temper tantrum these three stooges staged, because it’s a pitch-perfect illustration not only of how the wingnut outrage machine works, but how the economic and cultural arms of the conservative movement not only work hand in glove, but are pretty much the same thing. Doing the bidding of the meat industry, Grassley and company are dedicated, of course, to squelching any initiative that has the word “meatless” in it. But cleverly, they don’t make dry economic arguments; what they do, is turn it into a culture war — into identity politics, really. Suddenly, eating animal flesh means you’re a real man, a true blue conservative, and the kind of two-fisted red-blooded American who stands up to socialistic pointy-headed bureaucrats, by gawd. As we’ve seen with the Chick-fil-A controversy, even food preferences have become a proxy for politics.

You really are what you eat, indeed.

Alas, the piece of absurdist political performance art put on by Grassley (and isn’t he supposed to be one of the “reasonable” ones?) et al. had its effect. In a statement released after the trio’s antics, the USDA meekly announced that it “does not endorse Meatless Monday.” According to a news report, the department said that “[t]he information on its website ‘was posted without proper clearance and it has been removed.’”

If this is the Obama administration’s reaction to an unofficial, internal, nonbinding, suggestion that, in the midst of a cataclysmic agricultural emergency, its employees in one freaking agency forego meat for just one day per week? Don’t even talk to me about global warming, folks. We are doomed, I say! Utterly, totally, absolutely doomed.

Okay, that was a total bummer. Let me find a cool music video to cheer me up, and hopefully you as well.

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Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee