Meatless Mondays: Do Something Good for the Earth and Your Health

I love a practical solution, especially when it's good all around -- for personal health, the environment, and for living consciously. So when I received an email from Chris Elam, the director of the Meatless Monday campaign -- a project of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Columbia University School of Public Health, in association with twenty-seven other public health schools -- I was thrilled.

The campaign is focused on convincing the world not to eat chickens, pigs, and other animals -- just one day per week (on Mondays, as you may have guessed).

Since it's sponsored by a slew of public health schools, the campaign was set up to promote health, and since I've already written extensively about the fact that eating meat leads to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and lethargy (for example here), I'll skip extended analysis of these facts, other than to say: When Johns Hopkins, Columbia, the American Dietetic Association, and dozens of other health organizations argue that the less meat you eat, the better off you'll be, it's worth listening to them.

Chris wrote to share the fact that Michael Pollan had just argued in favor of the campaign on Oprah, saying, "[w]e don't realize it when we sit down to eat, but that is our most profound engagement in the rest of nature... To the extent that we push meat a little bit to the side and move vegetables to the center of our diet, we're also going to be a lot healthier..." I wasn't surprised, since Pollan's most recent book calls on all of us to eat "mostly plants," and his new movie (Food, Inc.) offers a stomach-turning look at factory farming and slaughterhouses (I highly recommend it).

As an aside on Food, Inc.: The scene that I found most interesting is the one where Joel Salatin, proprietor of Polyface Farm, was slaughtering chickens and talking a mile-a-minute through the process. He was talking about treating the animals with respect, but in the theater where I saw the film, this scene elicited perhaps the most audible shock of the entire movie because you can actually see the animals being slaughtered (contrast this with the secrecy of factory farms and slaughterhouses -- no one is allowed because, as Paul McCartney likes to say, the process would turn everyone vegetarian). Anyway, this scene seemed to shock a lot of people, even though this is poultry slaughter at its most humane. Actually, the scene reminded me of that Sarah Palin interview that she conducted in front of the turkey slaughter; it's worth remembering that most chickens and turkeys have a far more horrific experience in the factory farms that process more than 98% of the birds we eat.

Chris also wanted to share their new video, in which their scientists tell us that if all Americans switched from eating chickens and pigs to eating beans and grains for just one day per week, that would stop as much global warming as if everyone in the U.S. shifted to ultra-efficient Toyota hybrids (which is the weekly equivalent of using 12 billion fewer gallons of gasoline). Of course I have to point out the obvious: If we all stopped eating animals completely and shifted to vegetarian foods, that would save 84 billion gallons of gas per week (and all the troubles that go with that kind of consumption).

I know that some readers will argue that the issue is not the meat industry, but factory farmed meat. But in fact, environmentally, all meat requires exponentially more resources to produce than eating grains and beans, as eloquently discussed in the Audubon Society's magazine a few months back. And all meat contributes to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and so on. Some meat may be "less bad," but according to the science, no meat is good.

And I know that some vegetarians pooh pooh Meatless Monday as not enough. I'm sympathetic to that view, but I think it's unnecessarily strident. For people who think that going totally vegetarian is too challenging, the Meatless Monday campaign offers a gentle entrée into the idea of eating without eating animals. My hope is that people will use the campaign as a stepping stone -- first one meatless day per week, then three, then five, then seven. As we lean into meatless eating -- switching out more and more meat meals for meatless meals -- we end up feeling better, both physically and ethically.

And another point for those who might think that Meatless Monday is not enough: The first family of vegetarianism -- Sir Paul McCartney and his daughters -- recently launched the campaign in the UK. Stella and Mary have been vegetarian since birth, and Paul has been a vegetarian for more than two decades.

For recipes and cooking information, check out the Meatless Monday site. And for tips on making the transition to vegetarian eating, please click here.

Happy eating!


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