As a kid, I hated Mondays. I really liked school but still dreaded going back after the weekend. Looking back, I was probably caught up in a pop culture meme that insisted Mondays were at once manic and boring.
As a grown woman and an advocate for healthy food systems, I know now that Monday is special. It’s the day when people intrinsically hop on (or back on) the self-improvement bandwagon. Maybe we slip mid-week or indulge over the weekend, but we tend to reboot our diets, our workout schedules, our commitments to quit smoking, etc. – at the beginning of the week. When it comes to making change, every Monday presents a symbolic chance to start fresh.
The simple wisdom of Meatless Monday – a public health campaign based on this concept – has been demonstrated by its longtime popularity. Last month, the campaign marked its 10th anniversary with a symposium at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, and last week, celebrated with the release of a new cookbook full of meatless recipes from celebrity chefs who endorse the campaign, including Mario Batali and the Food Network’s “Too Hot Tamales,” Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. The Meatless Monday team has much to celebrate, having enjoyed tremendous success in the past ten years, spreading to 28 countries, hundreds of cities, dozens of colleges and universities, businesses and corporations ranging from Sodexo to Eataly.
Sid Lerner, the man behind the Meatless Monday campaign, was inspired by a statistic: that Americans needed to cut their intake of saturated fat by 15 percent. Lerner calculated that avoiding meat one day a week should do it. A former Madison Avenue ad man, he connected the one-day-a-week concept to the fact that people often re-up their commitments to healthy lifestyle goals on Mondays, and the rest is social marketing history.
“Ten years ago, Meatless Monday was just a helpful phrase,” says Lerner. “Today, the program has been translated and adopted by thousands of communities, which speaks to the simplicity and effectiveness of its message.”
Although Lerner was the brainchild of the modern Meatless Monday campaign, he actually wasn't the first to conceive of it. During World War I, US citizens were encouraged to cut back on meat consumption to conserve resources for the war effort. Rae Eighmey, food historian and author of Food Will Win the War: Minnesota Crops, Cooks, and Conservation during World War I, explains:
Six months into the war, Herbert Hoover, the nation’s food conservation administrator, called for Meatless Tuesdays and Wheatless Wednesdays as a way to focus the nation’s attention and shift food resources to our soldiers in training and to feed our European allies whose farms had been war zones for the previous three years.
American’s first large-scale experience with food-change policy happened before radio, television, or the internet. The programs’ success was built from public outreach in store posters and displays, how-to education in newspapers and magazines and, person-to-person connections in clubs, churches, and even movie theaters. Just one month into the experience a November 19, 1917, New York Times article quoted Arthur Williams, the food administrator for the state of New York. “On the first meatless day the Waldorf-Astoria saved two and a half tons of meat... Public opinion is responsible for much of the success of our efforts.”
Although our motives may have shifted, and the internet has made it easier to spread the word, public opinion is similarly behind the success of the modern Meatless Monday effort. Dozens – maybe hundreds – of bloggers share meatless recipes each week.
As for this blogger, I’ve obviously outgrown my childhood aversion to Mondays, but I’d add to the simple concept of cutting out meat once a week that – and this is just as important – people should seek out higher quality products, including meat, eggs and dairy from smaller scale producers raised on pasture, not in cages or on feedlots, and not routinely fed antibiotics to compensate for unsanitary, overcrowded conditions or to promote faster growth. Sustainably raised meat can be expensive (another good reason to cut back a little!) but by purchasing it direct from farmers in your area, you’re supporting your local economy, too.
If you have yet to join the Meatless Monday movement, maybe Batali’s recipe for Pennette with Cauliflower Ragu will help seal the deal. And if you missed the boat this week, there’s always next Monday…