I grew up a picky eater, the kind of kid that never strayed too far from the palatable realm of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, string cheese, and applesauce. Over the years my tastes have certainly changed, but one aspect of my diet has remained consistent: my vegetarianism.
While I cannot claim that my choice to refrain from eating meat and seafood began as an ethical one, I would like to think that my standpoint is evolving toward that direction. Clearly vegetarianism is not a reasonable lifestyle for everyone. However, before you write it off with “If you had bacon, you wouldn’t be a vegetarian,” I wish to assert that college campuses (including Wheaton) could benefit from partaking in Meatless Mondays.
For anyone unfamiliar with Meatless Mondays, it has historical roots in the First and Second World Wars, when the U.S. government encouraged civilians to abstain from eating meat on Mondays as a part of the domestic war effort. In 2003, Sid Lerner revived the movement and currently it has spread to 29 countries worldwide.
So why choose Monday, other than for the sake of a catchy alliteration? Monday marks the end of the ever too brief weekend respite and is typically connected to the actual beginning of the week. With this start, people see it as a chance to reset or “get their act together.” Similarly, the general public is already using Monday as a “healthy” day, as people are more likely to schedule a doctor’s appointment or start a diet or workout regimen on Monday. Finally, and most significantly, the promotion of well being at the start of the week has the possibility of reducing the negative health events that are frequently associated with the stress of a new week.
After all, studies are showing that vegetarianism, if done properly, can present noticeable health benefits. Red and processed meats have been linked to colon cancer and cardiovascular disease, while diets high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds may decrease risk of cancer and heart disease. Also, with the current obesity epidemic, it is important to note that a study from the Imperial College London found that reducing overall meat consumption could in the long-term prevent weight gain.
Environmentally, Meatless Mondays can correspondingly have a positive impact. According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, the meat industry creates almost 20% of the greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide, a number that will likely to continue to increase if the demand for meat keeps growing. Additionally, we can minimize the amount of water used to produce our food by eating less meat. A single pound of beef requires an estimated 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water, while a pound of soy tofu produced in California only utilizes 220 gallons of water. Lastly, a plant-based diet reduces the amount of fossil fuels used. Approximately 40 calories of fossil fuels are required to produce one calorie of feedlot beef in comparison to 2.2 calories of fossil fuels per one calorie of vegetation-based protein.
Even with these benefits, I know that forgoing meat for one day a week can be a huge sacrifice for some who cannot conceive of a complete lunch or a dinner without meat. And I will be the first to acknowledge that there are plenty of vegetarians out there who do not exhaust the aforementioned perks, but rather replace meat with the variety of processed foods at their easy access (I have been guilty of this myself). Yet, Meatless Mondays and vegetarianism can be delicious, healthy, and satisfying. As I have learned, there is a lot of trial and error, but it can invite a sense of culinary exploration that is simultaneously eye opening and mouth-watering. And I believe that within a community, such as a college campus, Meatless Mondays could be a time to consciously reflect on our consumption and to start a tradition that we can carry throughout the rest of our adult lives.