What if D’Youville went Meatless?
I’ve never read the constitution myself, but I don’t believe that the “right to eat meat” is written in there anywhere. Most of the time though, whenever I bring up the “meatless agenda” to any of my Beef-on-weck-chicken-finger-sub-wings-loving Buffalonian friends, I am met with the same disapproving shunning as I would be at the suggestion of taking away the guns. Before you boycott this article– I am not here to give a lecture about not eating meat. After all, I only joined the vegan bandwagon less than a year ago, and I’ve been far from perfect at it. So, I am not in any position to tell you what to do.
I grew up in Zimbabwe where inviting your friends over for a braai (the Afrikaans word for “to grill”) is a national pastime – we like our meat in Southern Africa, and vegetarianism isn’t so high on the list of priorities, given that we probably should sort out poverty and malnutrition first. But in the West, more and more people are starting to take note of the environmental, health and financial implications of excessive meat consumption, and it’s encouraging to see.
One campaign that has gained global popularity over the last decade is Meatless Monday. During World War I, millions of men and women across the US pledged to follow the “Meatless Monday” and “Wheatless Wednesday” movements in an effort to conserve food, which could then be shipped to famished troops and allies in Western Europe. The movement was such a success that it returned in World War II. And in 2003, Syracuse University alumnus, Sid Lerner in association with Johns Hopkins University, revived the campaign and brought to it much notoriety. Now, universities and colleges across the world have joined the Meatless Monday revolution, including UB and the University of Rochester, and we can too.
Why go meatless?
There have been numerous studies done that show the health benefits of reducing meat consumption, particularly the consumption of red meats and processed meats1,2,4. One benefit is that there is consequently a significant increase in the intake of other food groups when meat is limited in the diet. An article published last year by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics4 pointed out that while most Americans eat more than enough protein, their diets often lack whole grains, fiber and essential vitamins and minerals. Getting a healthy balance of these nutrients has great preventative outcomes when it comes to chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, obesity and some forms of cancer.
An equally pressing matter in regards to meat consumption, particularly beef consumption, is the environment. Livestock farming represents 14.5 % of all greenhouse gas emissions according to the UN5. That’s more than all the world’s transport systems put together. One quote from the Environmental Defense Fund that I particularly like is “if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads”. That’s just CO2 emissions, I haven’t even mentioned water and fossil fuel savings, animal rights, deforestation, world hunger or antibiotic usage in livestock farming, you’ll have to look those up (there’s only so much space I can take up).
For now, let’s narrow this down a little…
What can Meatless Monday do for D’Youville?
I believe that having meatless Mondays on campus (within the dining hall, cafes and events) would be a great learning opportunity for students. Not only would it bring awareness to the health and environmental issues at hand and teach students and staff to be more mindful, but it would also broaden the D’Youville community’s knowledge about food and culture. Experiencing a variety of vegetarian foods every week, like grains and legumes, would make for a broader, richer food experience. After all, going meatless should be about adding to your diet, not taking away from it.
Going meatless would encourage healthy conversations and more inclusion – vegetarian diners, because they are the minority, are often an afterthought when school meals are planned. It would be a lovely shout out to them if one night out of the week was dedicated solely to good vegetarian food.
Lastly, joining the Meatless Monday campaign would be great PR for the college, because it shows that we care. We are a health school, after all, taking initiative and being proactive about improving nutrition on campus, as well as taking steps to be more eco-friendly, would show integrity and responsibility. And, to add to the list of pros, the food would be cheaper, easier to prepare and come with less food safety risks than if meat was being served.
The Bottom Line:
Truthfully, I think that the permanence of giving up meat is what really turns people off vegetarianism and veganism. Wait, I’m never going to taste bacon again? But, in today’s modern society, people are constantly redefining what it means to be, well, anything really. I started out as a pescatarian (eating only fish/seafood – sushi, yes please!) then I converted to a lacto-ovo-vegetarian (dairy and eggs) and now, vegan (no animal products). But I’ve heard of flexitarians (only eat meat sometimes), reducetarians (aim to eat less meat) and freegans (only eat animal products if they will otherwise go to waste). Cutting down on your meat consumption can mean what you want it to mean, you don’t have to follow a set of rules to fit into one category. For example, I know people who enjoy all kinds of meat, but they do not eat beef.
I think that we are living in a time when we often feel like we have no control over what happens around us. It’s reasonable to feel like there are too many obstacles, too many corporations with vested interests, too many problems to tackle and not enough power to make a difference. But we can make a difference. I will leave you with this quote from professor Gidon Eshel:
“If you want something that you can do without appealing to any higher authorities, such as government or whatever, I can’t think of an easier out than changing your diet. You can start tonight.”