Friday, September 07, 2012

My Pledge: Meatless Mondays

By Jasmine McBeath
(reprinted from the New Mexico Oxfam Action Corps blog)

I have to admit that I only recently considered the changes I could make to my diet that would affect others. Although I grew up in a conscientious, environment-oriented family, we were more concerned with saving water than food. In fact, my boyfriend still refers to me as "The Water Nazi" for turning off the facet while he's midway through brushing his teeth or shaving.

But when I read about "Meatless Mondays", something stuck. I had learned about Oxfam's GROW Campaign from my training, and this plan provided a simple, concrete way to support the "eat less meat" objective.

The phrase has been around for almost 100 years (originally a WWI slogan to ration food), but I didn’t know about “Meatless Mondays” until a recent backlash from ranchers about the content of a USDA newsletter. This flurry of articles made me dig a little deeper, and realize that the campaign has reached a lot of people. According to a report by the American Meat Institute, nearly 20% of households participate.

Chefs are on board; schools, hospitals, and even whole towns have implemented meat-free Mondays. 80,000 children attending Baltimore City Public Schools made the switch. University of California Santa Cruz and Carnegie Mellon students enjoy Meatless Mondays at their dining halls. The Cobblestone Café at John Hopkins Hospital offers only vegetarian options on Mondays. Bigger still, San Francisco and Washington,D.C. have passed city-wide resolutions. And in 2011, Aspen became the first “Meatless Monday Community” with over 30 restaurants and organizations participating.

If you're like many of my friends, you're probably asking, "What difference does it make?" The answer is: a lot. A family of four that trades in their steak dinner for lentils once a week saves 12.5 Olympic-size swimming pools of water per year. Moreover, “if everybody in America did that, that would be the equivalent of taking 20 million midsize sedans off the road,” food advocate Michael Pollan commented on Oprah. Water, land, fertilizer, oil. These are all things we don’t often consider when eating meat. Maybe you knew that livestock farming accounts for almost 20% of greenhouse gases, but did you know it also represents 8% of water use worldwide?

The drain on resources gives rise to other problems. According to Oxfam press officer Ben Grossman-Cohen, "If we don't reduce our environmental footprints as we increase production, poor people, particularly women, will be the first to suffer. Eating less meat is a simple way to reduce the pressure on global resources and help ensure that everyone has enough to eat." Oxfam's GROW campaign goes a long way toward feeding a world population estimated to grow to nine billion by 2050.

Now, I realize there are many people that go way beyond the once-a-week pledge. There are vegans and vegetarians, and others like a former roommate of mine that ate veggie burgers every other day just because they were simple to prepare and tasted good. However, we all do what we can, and that means "Meatless Mondays” for me. This plan assures I eat less meat by making it a priority at least once a week. I've conned my boyfriend into joining in also. As a big meat-eater, it’s a significant sacrifice for him, but I’m confident I can cook up some great vegetarian meals. I’ll keep you updated on how it’s going, and post some fun recipes so you can join in too.

(The author is a volunteer grassroots organizer for Oxfam Action Corps in Albuquerque)

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