Reducing meat consumption has been a hot topic for years, but cutting down may seem like a gargantuan task for many because meat has established itself as the dominant feature of nearly every meal.
Americans in particular eat a lot of meat, especially red meat. The average American ate a whopping 220 pounds of it in 2018, according to a Cove Creek Farms, which raises beef and pork in Tennessee.
On top of that, a set of confusing, intimidating and otherwise totally inaccessible lifestyles lurk on the periphery of cuisine discussions: vegetarianism and veganism. Committing to a diet with no meat products like vegetarians, or no animal products whatsoever like vegans, comes with what seems like a complete overhaul of one’s daily life – so much so that every time the topic comes up, you always hear someone say, “Oh, I could never do that!” The reservations people have about vegetarianism and veganism aren’t unreasonable. After all, there’s nothing more deeply personal and culturally valuable than the food you eat.
It was only a matter of time before people started looking for a middle ground amid a divisive dialogue about the nature of the human diet. Many found themselves stuck on the fence — subscribing neither to the common beef, pork and poultry-heavy diets, nor the alternative, counter-ideological commitment to consuming nothing of the sort.
The middle ground is Meatless Mondays. The commitment is just as it sounds: Refrain from eating mammals, birds and fish every Monday. The Meatless Monday campaign began in 2003, and the website states it was inspired by a similar movement during the Roosevelt administration in an effort to save extra rations for the soldiers fighting in World War II. Now, it’s a worldwide movement and is perfect for those who understand both sides of the debate.
Beef, pork and poultry are ingrained into our culture. Nothing’s more American than a beef patty on a sesame seed bun with crisp pickles, a plump tomato slice, yellow mustard, — the whole thing. Or how about the Thanksgiving turkey — a symbol of the founding mythology with the Native Americans who saved Mayflower Pilgrims from starving during their first winter on the new land? Without a doubt, meat is an important aspect of many facets of the American experience.
While meat-centered diets certainly aren’t exclusive to the United States, Americans eat more meat than nearly everywhere else, according to a BBC article breaking down data from the U.N. Agriculture Organization. The research found Americans ate — on average per person — 55 pounds more meat than Canada, 65 more than the U.K. and 120 more than China in 2013.
One only needs to look as far as the nearest restaurant to see how pervasive meat has become. Many menus feature the “meat and three,” a popular dining combination featuring a meat entree with three sides that first saw popularity in southern cuisine.
Despite it being a familiar sight in plenty of American cuisines, high-meat diets have a multitude of negative consequences. Beef is one of the largest offenders. Diets high in red meats — beef, pork, venison, lamb and other mammals — are linked to increased rates of Type 2 diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Plus, it’s no secret the energy-intensive processes that go into large-scale agriculture are not good for the environment. Soil degradation, carbon emissions and water shortages are some of the risks we’re posing to the planet by habitually eating high quantities of meat. What meat-eaters need is a low risk, low-commitment means of entering the plant-based conversation.
Meatless Mondays can make all the difference for those concerned about the environmental footprint and health hazards that come with high-meat diets. Cutting out meat consumption one day of the week cuts down the total by 1/7, or around 31.5 pounds from that 220-pound American annual average. It does not ask its participants to commit to never eat meat again — cold turkey if you’ll pardon the pun. Nor does the movement pressure anyone into the oft-dismissed and regularly ridiculed alternative lifestyles of vegetarianism or veganism.
It’ll come as no surprise to read the plant-based industry has taken big steps into the mainstream over the last several years. But many people object to the lifestyle because they find it to be gatekept, reserved only for the dedicated and iron-willed enthusiasts. The perception here is that vegans and vegetarians are never allowed to make mistakes: their commitment must be unwavering, saintly and unachievable to the rest of the public, à la Bryan Lee O’Malley’s satire on the lifestyle in his mid-2000s comics books “Scott Pilgrim VS the World.”
Taking a break from meat consumption for only one day a week is the perfect way for meat-eaters to get a glimpse into the plant-based diet without the (perhaps misplaced) feelings of intimidation. In fact, the Meatless Mondays campaign website details the effectiveness of the habit because “it provides a regular cue to take action on Monday, which research shows is the day people are most open to making positive changes.”
Next Monday, reimagine the same burger — sesame seed bun, tomato, pickle, mustard — but this time with a veggie patty.
Follow Diana Dudenhoeffer on Twitter, @kisstein
Subscribe to The Standard's free weekly newsletter here.