If you walked into the Hard Knox Café or the Oak Room on Monday to the startling realization of the Meatless Monday experiment, KARES probably had some success in calling attention to the environmental issues surrounding meat production and consumption. If you left feeling unsatisfied, the experiment perhaps did more harm than good.
We believe the rationale behind Meatless Monday is entirely sensible, and continuing the practice on a weekly or monthly basis could help the campus considerably reduce its carbon footprint. According to a campus-wide email about the project, the meat industry plays a significant role in greenhouse gas emissions, draws agricultural land toward production of feed for livestock, leaving less for direct human consumption; and contributes to issues like fresh water shortages, deforestation, soil erosion and pollution from fertilizer runoff.
In addressing these issues, we all have a role to play, and refraining from meat consumption for one day is a good start.
To those who question whether Meatless Mondays could even make a difference, we would point to its historical origins. Meatless Monday, along with its counterpart Wheatless Wednesday, was a U.S. Food Administration initiative started during World War I to support the war effort. According to the Meatless Monday website, myriad families, hotels and food companies pledged their support of the initiative. In just one week, hotels in New York City saved 116 tons of meat. Moreover, a revival of the program during WWII helped to feed a destabilized Europe.
But instead of leaving students with the sense that they had taken steps toward progress on Monday, many simply felt they had been forced to participate in an Earth Week event.
On the surface, the shock value is an effective way to raise awareness of environmental issues related to the meat industry. It forced the conversation where a workshop or lecture, which would only attract a certain subset of the campus population, would not have. Furthermore, it was more productive than slapping a “Thank You for Trashing the Earth” sign on a garbage can.
However, we believe that poor execution did not have much of an effect on students’ conceptions, especially those students who simply circumvented the experiment and got their fill with a plate of deli meat and bacon bits.
Meatless Monday failed to show students how they could go vegetarian for a day and still have a satisfying meal. Rather, it simply included more of the usual vegetarian options. If the project had seen as much effort as the International Food Fair during I-Week or the fall term Thanksgiving dinner, students may have enthusiastically accepted Meatless Monday as a worthwhile practice on a campus that prides itself on sustainability and environmental consciousness.
As it stood, Meatless Monday led to a lot of whining about the lack of meat and the corresponding lack of interesting vegetarian options. While a good idea in theory, future Meatless Mondays, if they occur, need to explore how to eat healthy and delicious meals without meat. An event concerning a topic as important as the meat industry should teach students not only about the problem, but also about alternative options.