"The production of meat, especially beef (and dairy as well) has a large environmental impact," the newsletter said. Greenhouse gases and climate change were by-products, it said, as well as wasted energy resources.
By the next day, the meat industry and its allies had herded the idea back into its pen, and before a single legume or piece of tofu could get a spritz of olive oil and a dusting of parsley and be labeled "entree," the notion was history.
"USDA does not endorse Meatless Monday," the department said in a statement. The information on its website "was posted without proper clearance and it has been removed."
But not before the blogosphere and Twitterverse became thick with indignation.
"Heresy!" tweeted Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa. "I will have the double rib-eye Mondays instead."
On the Senate floor, Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, the No. 3 cattle state in the country, proclaimed himself amazed.
"Our own Department of Agriculture is encouraging people not to eat meat," he said.
"They're the only agency that's there to protect us," said Sami Jo Freeman, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Cattlemen's Association, an industry trade group. "They let us down."
Indeed, as ample a cut of steak as King expects to enjoy, the irony in all the fuss was thicker still.
The USDA is tasked with promoting the meat industry, from pigs to poultry and just about everything else edible on four legs or two wings and federally inspected in between. The industry adds nearly $1 trillion to the economy.
Research has pointed to health risk factors in red meat, such as saturated fat and dietary cholesterol. A recent Harvard University study, backed by the National Institutes of Health, found that red meat was linked to cardiovascular disease and cancer. It said that substituting healthier sources of protein reduced the risk.