By KATIE LOVETT
Monday – it comes around every week, whether we like it or not. We grudgingly leave behind weekend relaxation mode and plan for the busy days ahead. For a growing number of Americans, Monday marks more than just the beginning of another week of work, school and carpools: It’s “Meatless Monday.”
Meatless Monday is a trend taking hold across the United States that can have many benefits, according to Kristie Middleton of the Humane Society of the United Sates, who spoke Sunday night at Davidson College.
A crowd of students emerged from the library on Sunday evening to join faculty and community members in the Alvarez College Union for Middleton’s lecture, “The Animals We Eat: Improving the Quality of Their Lives.” The presentation, sponsored by Davidson’s Vann Center for Ethics, initiated a discussion of the potential benefits of the “Meatless Monday.”
As the Humane Society’s Factory Farm and Corporate Outreach Manager, Ms. Middleton travels the country to collaborate with corporations, farms, and universities interested in revamping their food systems to help create a more sustainable future. The Humane Society of the U.S. is the largest animal advocacy organization in the world, sending natural disaster animal rescue teams and running campaigns against animal fighting and the fur trade. The organization also hones in on factory farming and seeks to protect animals bound for our dinner plates.
“The number of farm animals in the United States darkly outshines the number of other animals,” Ms. Middleton said. Our industrial food system processes 10 billion farm animals each year, with many of these animals spending their entire lives in egregiously inhumane living conditions. Calmain, the nation’s largest egg producing company, gives each chicken a living space equivalent to 2/3 of a sheet of paper. Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer and processor, confines female breeding pigs in two-foot-wide gestation crates for most of their adult lives. Beef cattle are artificially inseminated, pumped full of non-therapeutic antibiotics, and then hooked to milk production machines, often developing crippling leg deformities from the hard concrete floors.
Despite these grim descriptions, Ms. Middleton remains hopeful because of widespread concern being raised around the country.
“People are increasingly attuned to where their food comes from and how it is produced,” she said.
On a national level, tremendous movement toward cage-free eggs and gestation-cage-free pork has occurred among many corporations, retailers, and manufacturers, including names such as Subway, McDonalds, Walmart, Krispy Kreme, and Harris Teeter. Ms. Middleton said 64 percent of colleges and universities now report using cage-free eggs, and Davidson College also promotes Meatless Monday in Commons Dining Hall. Director of Dining Services Dee Phillips “feels a personal commitment to move into more humane providers of protein,” and has worked extensively to research potential areas for improvement within Davidson’s food model. As Colorado State University Animal Ethicist Dr. Bernard Rollin once remarked, “research has confirmed what common sense already knew – animals built to move must move.”
Which brings us back to Meatless Monday. This “flexitarian” approach to food blends “flexible” and “vegetarian” to describe those who adopt a part-time approach to avoiding meat. The concept originated during World War I, when the U.S. Food Administration urged families to cut back on certain dietary staples to aid the war effort. As a result of the government’s advertising and recipe distribution efforts, “Meatless Monday” drew some 10 million families, 7,000 hotels, and 425,000 food dealers to pledge participation in national meatless days. The campaign was revived in 2003, this time reintroduced as a means of increasing public health and environmental awareness.
Going meatless just one day each week can begin to combat the risk of chronic preventable conditions such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. If observed on a widespread level, occasional vegetarianism can also slow meat industry greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Environmental Working Group, if a four-person family skips steak one day a week, it equals taking your car off the road for nearly three months. And if everyone in the United States ate no meat or cheese just one day a week, it would be the same as taking 7.6 million cars off the road.
A study for the Meatless Monday campaign found 50 percent awareness and 20 percent participation in Meatless Monday. Groups and individuals ranging from Robin Roberts of Good Morning America to AARP to Top Chef judge Padma Lakshmi have promoted the idea, leading the National Restaurant Association to list “flexitarianism” as one of the hottest trends for 2011.
“We are not taught to be cruel to animals – in fact, as children, we are taught to be kind to them. But throughout our lives we are told that this kind of inhumane treatment is OK,” Ms. Middleton said. Groups such as The Humane Society seek to elicit an engaged, positive public response to the pressing issues posed by factory farming.
“We can work together to raise concerns about the treatment of our food,” Ms. Middleton said. Education is the key.
For more information about Meatless Mondays, visit www.meatlessmonday.com.
Katie Lovett is a senior English major at Davidson College.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the source of a study about participation in Meatless Mondays. The American Meat Institute had no role in the study.