Fact Checked

What Is Meatless Monday?

C. Mitchell
C. Mitchell

“Meatless Monday” is a campaign that encourages individuals around the world to adopt a vegetarian diet each Monday in an effort to both improve health and sustain the environment. Johns Hopkins University’s School of Public Health pioneered the initiative in 2003 as a way to encourage Americans to become proactive about their diets and become more aware of how individual food choices impact environmental sustainability. The campaign has spread throughout Europe and Australia to become a truly international campaign.

The basic tenets of the Meatless Monday campaign are two-fold: to help improve overall health by encouraging a reliance on whole, unprocessed, and fat-free foods and to reduce humans’ carbon footprint by eschewing meats and meat products for just one day each week. The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health estimates that if every person in the world eliminated meat from his or her diet just one day a week, global health would improve dramatically and the global meat processing industry would take years off of its carbon footprint. In large part, the project was pioneered to meet these goals.

Red meat.
Red meat.

Meatless Monday focuses on meat primarily because meat is typically high in fat. Red meats in particular have some of the highest saturated fats of any regularly-consumed food. The detrimental effects of mass farming and the alleged humanitarian offenses of many commercial meat packing plants and slaughterhouses also influence many people’s decision to abstain from at least some meat each week.

Belgium has promoted Meatless Monday.
Belgium has promoted Meatless Monday.

Encouraging people to eat no meat is not one of the program's goals, nor is the project aimed at dramatically altering a population’s eating habits. The main thrust of the Monday project is to encourage people to eat less meat during the week. Concentrating meatless meals to a specific day will, proponents believe, make the movement more palatable to a wider sector of individuals.

Mondays are significant to the campaign in several respects. Perhaps most importantly, Monday is the start of the workweek for most of the Western world. As people recover from the weekend, which is all too often filled with unhealthy foods and drinks, they can set the tone for more healthful eating and better choices at the beginning of the week. Researchers and program promoters believe that encouraging people to adopt healthy habits as they get back into their everyday work routines will set them on the right track to make better food choices even past Monday. This both benefits public health and the environment at large.

The alliteration present in the “Meatless Monday” slogan is also important. Catchy phrases and easily remembered sayings are important to the success and widespread adoption of any marketing tactic. Also, using Mondays sets the campaign apart from national American meat-free campaigns during both the first and second World Wars. During these wars, the American Food and Drug Administration, under the direction of Presidents Wilson and Truman, advocated “Meat Free Tuesdays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays” to aid in the war effort and to conserve supplies and raw goods.

Meatless Monday has been lauded by celebrities, environmentalists, and health advocates in almost every country. Countries such as Belgium, Israel, and Australia have promoted the campaign by pairing it with voluntary national “meat free” days. These have been received with much fanfare, but the staying power of the Meatless Monday initiative has held with only a small minority of the population.

There is a Meatless Monday faction in almost every country, but its followers tend to be few and far between. The campaign has been endorsed internationally, however, and has sought to expand its following by increased commercial exposure, a better social media presence, and more ways for people to get involved. Supporters host several Internet sites where participants can share meatless recipes, download special Meatless Monday recipes each week, interact with each other in chat rooms about health information and the nutrition content of various foods, and participate in discussions about global warming and other so-called “green” topics.

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    • Red meat.
      By: Giovanni Burlini
      Red meat.
    • Belgium has promoted Meatless Monday.
      By: juan35mm
      Belgium has promoted Meatless Monday.