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.