Can a Vegan Support Meatless Monday?

I’ve been in this business a long time—as both an activist and a dietitian—and I must say, I’ve never been so confused about all of the terminology and events and opportunities surrounding plant-based eating. My head is often spinning but I’m starting to see that this is a good thing. The reason there is so much going on is that lots of people are talking about animal agriculture.

When I first became a vegan the only people who even knew the term factory farming were other vegans. Now almost everyone knows what it is and that it’s bad. And little by little, people are starting to respond. The responses are often weak, that’s for sure. And the activist part of me feels disappointed about that.

But as a dietitian, I have a somewhat different take on it. Spend a few years providing dietary counseling to mainstream Americans and you develop a rather different idea about what constitutes progress. Anything that gets people thinking about the reasons to decrease intake of animal products is good. In that respect, even lukewarm efforts like Meatless Monday can make a contribution.

My biggest complaint about Meatless Monday is the focus on climate change and health, two virtually useless arguments for veganism. I refuse to let that stop me from taking advantage of Meatless Monday to promote my own agenda, though. I perceive it as an invitation to talk about factory farming and animal rights with all the Meatless Monday-ers I meet. It’s also a great opening for letters to the editor to share reasons for going vegan.

All by itself, Meatless Monday doesn’t get me too excited. As a springboard to more meaningful activism, though, it might have some merit.

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10 Responses to Can a Vegan Support Meatless Monday?

  1. Roger Yates June 22, 2009 at 12:26 pm #

    The notion of a meatless day was featured on Irish national radio today – but by an arse presenter: http://human-nonhuman.blogspot.com/2009/03/mmmmm-rashers.html – the idea did not go down well according to the texts read out afterwards.

    One person declared that a day without meat was "anti-Irish", whatever that is supposed to mean.

  2. Ginny Messina June 22, 2009 at 3:28 pm #

    Well, I guess it means the same thing as "being vegetarian is anti-American," which I've heard any number of times.

    Thanks for your comment!

    ~Ginny

  3. Judith Kingsbury, Savvy Veg June 22, 2009 at 8:41 pm #

    Meatless Monday may be trite. And close to a futile gesture for a vegan, as it has almost no impact on the immensity of animal suffering.

    Meatless Monday is popular though – it captures the imagination. Whether people do it for health or the environment, or for any reason, trivial or not, it raises awareness, gets people thinking and talking about going veg.

    Some who do meatless Monday will become vegan, some won't, but I'm for anything that gets people moving in a meatless direction.

    Some people can jump into veganism with both feet, while others must grow into it. I feel that if vegans don't support meatless Monday, it may discourage others from taking a first step toward a meatless diet.

  4. Ginny Messina June 23, 2009 at 9:44 am #

    Thanks, Judith. I always appreciate your comments. And I agree that anything that gets people thinking about a more vegetarian diet is good. I support all efforts that people make to eat fewer animal products. But I also believe that we have to take every opportunity to make animal suffering/factory farming/animal rights a part of the conversation. Meatless Monday has some small value all by itself, but we can build on that by letting it open doors to the discussion that really matters–which is about animals. So I think we are basically in agreement!

  5. Peter June 23, 2009 at 11:17 pm #

    Looks like we all agree that Meatless Monday is a good thing. I'm not sure I understand why it does not impact animal suffering. It seems to me that 365 omnivors observing Meatless Monday is equal to one person going vegan for a year.

    I view two ethical benefit to eating vegan – reduction of animal suffering and reduction of climate impact. I agree that we should talk about both.

  6. TheQuietHippie June 24, 2009 at 7:59 am #

    Clearly Meatless Mondays are not focusing their efforts on vegans (to do so would be futile). I appreciate what they're doing because there are many out there who will not even attempt meat reduction if they see it as an all or nothing venture. I essentially agree with Peter's point, that a bunch of people going meatless one day a week is better than nothing; its a step forward.

    I checked out the Meatless Monday website looking for some vegan recipes (they are scattered in there) and actually found their reasoning behind the health spin. They were founded after a University did research on meat consumption and health and they are still affiliated with the school. Virginia, do you find health concerns to be a convincing argument for reducing meat consumption when speaking to your clients? I'm wondering if I should work it in when trying to talk to people I know.

    As much as I would like to see them work on animal rights I can't say I blame them. Its hard to reach the average meat eater when you start talking about factory farms. Discussing cruelty quickly gets you roped in with PETA and other "scary fundamentalism".

    So they may not be vegan, but they try to put a positive spin on cutting back on meat and so far it seems to be doing some good.

  7. Ginny Messina June 24, 2009 at 2:52 pm #

    Thanks all for great comments. Yes, I agree that reducing meat/animal product consumption has a positive impact on health. Although I doubt that going "meatless" for one day a week would have much effect in that regard. My big problem with the "health argument" is that it gets us only so far because we don't have any proof that a vegan diet is more healthful than a *mostly* plant-based diet that still includes some animal foods. I wrote about that in more detail in my March 30 post.

    Again, I do support all efforts to get people to reduce animal foods. And I agree that when a large group of people simply eat less meat, the effect is to reduce the number of animals who suffer. But if our goal is to elminate ALL animal suffering and to achieve animal liberation (and that is my goal) then we must use these more moderate campaigns as a jumping off point for talking about the ethics behind food choices. We can do that even with non-vegan campaigns like Meatless Monday.

    Thanks again for reading and commenting.

    ~Ginny

  8. amindfulbeing June 25, 2009 at 2:10 am #

    How do justify saying climate change consideration is a virtually useless argument for going vegan?

  9. Ginny Messina June 25, 2009 at 7:33 am #

    Terry, climate change is definitely a useful argument for reducing (probably greatly reducing) consumption/use of animal products. But we don't have evidence to say that you have to have a 100% vegan lifestyle to stop climate change. Again, these things (global warming, health, world hunger) are all part of a good argument for getting people to think about using less meat and other animal products and I have no problem using them to that end. But if the goal is 100% animal liberation, the only solid argument (at least based on what we know right now) is the ethical one.

    ~Ginny

  10. funchy July 2, 2009 at 5:08 pm #

    What bothers me about the Meatless Monday site is that they had been
    sneaking in recipes for fish. Yuck!

    I don't mind they're using the environment & climate reason to promote veganism, but their presentation of the facts seems very candy-coated. It's only effective if the reader is already actively looking for something "green" to do. It doesn't seem to draw in everyone else.

    I do feel that anything that gets a person to skip meat more often is a good thing. Every little bit counts. Even if everyone skipped meat just 1 day a week, that's 1/7th of our nation's factory farm production — ALOT of animals!

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