Meatless Mondays Take a (Little) Step in the Right Direction

I wrote yesterday on the examiner site about Meatless Mondays in the Baltimore school system. Some email and twitter responses to that article suggested that serving up vegetarian meals in school cafeterias one day a week is not exactly progress for animal rights. For one thing, the non-meat choices are pretty cheese-laden. Some are more plant-based than others, but there is a grilled cheese option every day and lots of mozzarella sticks on the menu.

It’s true; from the standpoint of animal rights, there is no obvious gain. Baltimore kids simply trade in one animal product for another. And then, of course, they get up the next day and head to school to eat chicken nuggets.

Admittedly, I don’t embrace the Meatless Monday campaign as particularly exciting activism on behalf of animals. I wrote about it mostly because it segued nicely into some discussion about health effects of vegetarian and vegan diets for kids. And it did so within a story that has some media attention right now.

But if Meatless Mondays in the Baltimore schools don’t produce meaningful change, they are still one small step, one tiny factor in setting the stage for other new ideas. Children are learning that they can have enjoyable meals that don’t include meat. Believe it or not, this is pretty huge for many people. It can be a significant adjustment in the way they think about food even if it doesn’t exactly revolutionize the way they think about animals. And that does matter if it creates a tiny mind-opening shift that generates readiness for exploring further changes.

It’s hardly news that many perceive vegan diets as deprivation. If people can’t begin to imagine a vegan diet for themselves, they are less likely to be open to messages about animal rights or animal suffering. Anything that gives a tweak to their beliefs about what constitutes an enjoyable meal (or a nutritious diet) is a step toward a different attitude, and toward a new level of comfort with an animal rights ethic.

I don’t mean to overstate the value of Meatless Monday or to suggest that there is some predictable and guaranteed path from the Baltimore cafeterias to animal rights. The Meatless Monday campaign is not going to produce a vegan world. I know that. But it’s a little nudge in the right direction, toward a slighter newer way—for some—of thinking about food. Everything that moves us in that direction matters, even if it matters only a little bit.

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13 Responses to Meatless Mondays Take a (Little) Step in the Right Direction

  1. inagaddadavegan October 5, 2009 at 2:37 pm #

    Definitely a "vegan monday" would probably be more effective, but for some reason in our culture, people seem to think they NEED to eat meat every day, for every meal. I hope that meatless mondays do plant some small seed. If nothing else, look at all the vegans talking about it, saying "oh that's nothing, we're meatless/eggless/dairyless all the time and perfectly healthy!" ;)

  2. Ginny Messina October 5, 2009 at 3:50 pm #

    Yes, "Vegan Monday" would be nice! But yes, anything that lets us bring up the topic of veganism is good.

  3. Eating Consciously October 6, 2009 at 5:47 am #

    While I agree it's nice to see some signs that things are moving in the "right" direction, I also agree that Meatless Mondays are not animal rights because they make a moral distinction between flesh and other animal products.

    I recognize Meatless Mondays as evidence that things are changing and something is getting through, but I think valid opposition and criticism is also important to make sure we keep them making even more incremental steps.

    We need to be sure they don't stop with this small change and make them realize that they must keep making changes because switching from one animal product to another is not a means to and end.

  4. Ginny Messina October 6, 2009 at 9:06 am #

    Thanks for your comment, Ed. I agree with your points–although I don't think that the Meatless Monday campaign itself will evolve all that much.

    For one thing, it doesn't even recognize the issue of animal rights but is based strictly on environmental and health concerns. So, as I noted, it's real value is in changing (ever so little) mindsets about food in a way that we animal rights activists can take further. I think that those who take a 100% anti-Meatless Mondays stance fail to understand this. Which is too bad, since we need all the mind-changing and jumping off points we can get!

  5. Suzy October 7, 2009 at 8:19 am #

    Also, never underestimate the blossoming curiosity of kids! Maybe just a few will ask "Why are we having a meatless Monday?" and a little seed will be planted in their minds. But yes, I agree with the points you've already made – whilst rather disappointing, it is, as Ginny said, a jumping -off point. I know from my own experience with friends/ family that change happens slowly. Any small sign of acceptance, for whatever reason, is a start!

  6. purplelady October 16, 2009 at 6:37 pm #

    I agree with Suzy. Any little change can grow if approached quietly. You never want to make big changes with little people, but just a little push may have some impact on their inquisitive minds. If they ask questions, this may make small changes in their own family's eating habits.

    I know many children who decide very young to become vegetarians because they know that a harmless animal was killed to feed their families. Let us enlighten the younger generation with something we were never taught while growing up. Let them know that one day a week can help, even if ever so slightly.

    People have trouble transitioning their diets even if they want to change. Meatless Mondays make it easy for this transition. I can attest to that with my own family.

  7. Jeffrey Coolwater September 13, 2010 at 1:47 pm #

    I'm confused. You acknowledge the Meatless Mondays campaign offers "no predictable and guaranteed path to animal rights", "is not going to produce a Vegan world", and "will not evolve all that much." But you still honestly believe in some meritorious, "small step" or "tiny factor", that "gives a tweak to the beliefs (of meat eaters)". The historical fact of the matter clearly indicates this is not the case. Global demand for all animal product, including meat, is skyrocketing.

    When even the *United Nations* fails to effect change by openly declaring that animal agriculture should *stop*, what makes anyone think a meatless monday campaign has the capacity to effect meaningful change when it doesn't even come anywhere near suggesting or explaining why one should be going Vegan!
    You say in one of your comment responses the real value of the Meatless Mondays campaign is in, "changing mindsets about food in a way that we animal rights activists can take further." I disagree. This widely publicized campaign exists in and of itself. In order for 'animal rights activists' to reach all of those same people again to 'take it further', a whole other clarification campaign would need to be mounted. I suggest to you a much more effective and fruitful undertaking should be pursued. And that would be a detailed, unequivocal 'Go Vegan' educational effort instead. And since a Vegan school curriculum is not likely to happen any time soon, thanks to the meat, egg, and dairy lobbies, this must be undertaken at the grassroots level. It is indeed the only guaranteed workable solution worthy of our time and effort in that it confronts health, environment, and ethical issues!
    Meatless Mondays—fail animals, fail our society.

  8. France September 13, 2010 at 4:00 pm #

    There has be a change already. Being a vegetarian was perceived as radical; now it's being vegan that is perceived as radical, and being vegetarian is more accepted.

  9. Ginny Messina September 13, 2010 at 5:25 pm #

    Thanks for your comment, Jeffrey. I’m not suggesting that we replace vegan education with Meatless Monday campaigns. But we live in a world where people are so invested in animal use that a vegan message often falls on deaf ears. Meatless Mondays are simply a part of the shift toward a different environment and culture—one in which a vegan message will sound somewhat less strange and more doable. It’s a small thing and I’m not trying to overstate it at all. But anything that shifts people away from a meat mindset to a more open perspective is very likely to make our vegan education efforts that much easier and more effective. We need to continue with both efforts–vegan education for those who will listen and culture-shifting programs and ideas in order to help create more listeners.

  10. Ginny Messina September 13, 2010 at 5:36 pm #

    I agree, France. Perceptions are changing. And I think that it's due to all kinds of different factors.

  11. Jeffrey Coolwater September 13, 2010 at 9:22 pm #

    I disagree completely with your response to my previous comment, Ginny. It is the Meatless Mondays campaign that deals in confusion. It suggests to the uninformed and disconnected public that reducing their weekly meat consumption might benefit their health. But as you've pointed out, the dairy and egg laden Meatless Monday "options" most assuredly cancels out that potential benefit. Hence, a total washout in terms of "setting the stage for Vegan education." Not only does it mislead by its phoney suggestion of a health benefit, it also pacifies animal activists by making them think they've actually accomplished something for animals. 
    You say a Vegan message sounds "strange." But while it may not change many minds all at once, your position of suggesting MM's has any credibility at all absolutely assures the Vegan message is not heard by anyone!
    Let's stop kidding ourselves. If we want a Vegan world (I assume you are Vegan), we must say so clearly and unequivocally. And at the same time we must consistently and non-judgementally explain why this must be—our concern for the environment and our moral obligation to respect animals and release them finally from the misery of their enslavement—as well as how easy it really is to be Vegan and the actual health benefits derived from the diet and the resulting cleaner environment. If anyone needs to go meatless as a "jumping off point", let them come by it in their own personal experience, not with our encouragement! We (Vegans) should be standing as bright beacons in the storm of controversy and confusion that the Animal Rights movement has become thanks to silly and useless campaigns like this.

  12. Ginny Messina September 14, 2010 at 7:57 am #

    Jeffrey, my background is in public health nutrition. Health educators know that it is extremely difficult for people to change within an environment that encourages harmful or unhealthful behavior. That's why, while we work with individuals to encourage changes in their behaviors (and beliefs), we also work to change the "toxic" health environment. There is a good analogy here for vegan education. Meatless Mondays also get people thinking about animal foods in a negative context–again, a step forward in their thinking. And if you think that isn't significant, I'm guessing you have not done a whole lot of nutrition counseling!  

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