Do you ever feel like you’re living in an alternate universe, one in which things really seem to go your way? That’s how I felt while extolling the virtues of Meatless Monday programs as a presenter at a conference for the National Association of College and University Food Services. Presenting with me was Bill McNeace, director of dining for University of North Texas, home of the nation’s first all-vegan dining hall, Mean Greens. McNeace reported that the school’s voluntary meal plans had gone up 30 percent since opening Mean Greens. You can pinch yourself, but you’re not dreaming.
Meatless Monday started during World War I as a resource conservation effort. It was revived in 2003 by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Monday Campaign to promote our health and that of the planet. There is another important benefit too: if we all opted for meat-free meals just one day a week, more than 1 billion animals would be spared the horrors of factory farming every year. Additionally, Meatless Monday is supported by many small farmers because the high demand for meat creates industry pressure to opt for bigger, more commercial production systems, wherein farmers lose touch with their animals and where animals are moved to more extreme methods of confinement.
With positive changes such as National School Lunch Program’s new regulations, which make it easier for schools to serve vegetarian meals, Meatless Monday has mushroomed across the country (and in 22 others). Consider just these five surprising organizations that have adopted Meatless Monday.
1. Isle of Wight County Schools
Smithfield, VA is home to the world’s largest pork producer, but Monday is one day when pork can’t be found on the menu. That’s because in 2012, Isle of Wight County Schools, which serve 3,000 meals a day to students in Smithfield and Windsor, VA, added Meatless Monday to its healthy initiatives, going totally meat-free every Monday.
2. Fontana Unified School District
Fontana, CA, on famous Route 66, was once a burgeoning poultry and pork producer. Though the city is still home to chicken farms, Fontana Unified School District now gives birds (and pigs and cows) a break on Monday. Its schools are exclusively offering meatless meals on Monday, with tempting items like meat-free BBQ “rib” sandwiches and veggie burrito bowls. “We’re participating in Meatless Monday to introduce our students to the wide variety of healthy, delicious plant-based foods available, and to encourage healthier decisions about eating,” said Harold Sullins, food service director. With menu options like that, it won’t be hard!
3. The Valley Hospital
It’s a generally recognized truth that hospital food leaves much to be desired. That’s quickly changing, thanks to people such as Dawn Cascio, director of food services at The Valley Hospital in New Jersey. The Valley kicked off its Meatless Monday program last spring, becoming the first New Jersey hospital to do so. The hospital recognizes its role in promoting better health to its community, and what better way to do so than by encouraging the reduction of meat consumption? Employees launched the campaign wearing farm animal costumes and offered tantalizing menu items including garlic naan with vegetable curry. To date, 400 Valley employees have taken the pledge to go meat-free on Monday, truly getting the week off to a healthy start.
4. Texas Health Hospitals
As Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health notes, meat-heavy diets are associated with obesity and other preventable chronic illnesses due to cholesterol and saturated fat. Not surprisingly, more hospitals are using Meatless Monday to combat obesity. In addition to removing deep fryers, Texas Health’s two dozen hospitals have designated hot foods lines that are totally meat-free on Monday. The hospitals are using promotional materials to get fence-sitters to give the meat-free fare a shot.
5. Harvard University
Harvard University, alma mater of famous vegetarian Natalie Portman, launched “Less-Meat Mondays” this fall, an advancement that has earned the Ivy League school even more laurels to rest on. On the menu: coconut-tofu soup and Brazilian black bean stew. The school also installed soymilk stations in dining halls.
Schools and hospitals are just part of the trend, of course. The compelling logic and dining adventure embodied in Meatless Monday is spreading into home and restaurant life from the Pacific Coast to New England, and everywhere in between. Meatless Monday has us eating our way to a healthier, more humane planet one day at a time.
Kristie Middleton is the farm animal protection outreach manager at The Humane Society of the United States.
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