Meatless Monday or Meat-Free Monday

photo: Flashy Soup Can via Flickr

It’s Monday, so it must be Meatless.  The contemporary Meatless Monday campaign has been gaining momentum since it started almost 10 years ago.  The goal is the cut meat consumption as a means of improving health and reducing fossil fuel and water use for livestock agriculture.  Both goals are admirable, although I think the environmental impact could actually be more significant than any impact on the health of individual humans.  The health impact depends on what a person eats the rest of the week.  Giving up meat for health can be beneficial, if you don’t end up overloading your meals with high fat cheese or fried foods.

Meat isn’t necessarily unhealthy.  In fact, it contains a lot of nutrients that are in short supply in other foods, along with high quality protein.  The problem with meat is people eat too much of it, both in big portions and frequency.  I’m all for a social campaign that gets people to tone down meat eating, but I think it should be called “Meat Free” Monday, not Meatless.  It’s a marketing thing.  “Meatless” sounds like deprivation.  The vast majority of people, who remain unconvinced about this, are going to conclude that “Meatless” Monday means giving up something.  Not eating something you like.  And all the latest consumer behavior research says people respond better to messages about what they can eat.  Meat-free Monday spins the idea in a whole different way.  It makes meat sound oppressive, like something you’d like to avoid.

Giving up meat has a long history.  In recent years, people have been asked to give up meat during times of privation, such as wars, as a means of conserving scarce resources.  Going back to the First Century AD, the early Christian Church advised people to fast on Fridays, by giving up meat and eating only fish.  That actually sounds quaint today.  Fish is extremely expensive, and a luxury food, so substituting it for meat as some kind of sacrifice makes no sense in the 21st Century.  Fish should be excluded for Meatless Monday, especially given the environmental impact of over-fishing and fossil fuel consumption by fishing fleets.

Don’t feel bad if you aren’t ready to be a vegetarian.  A reasonable approach is to be a Flexitarian — someone who sometimes eats meat,, but frequently has meals without meat.  In fact, many people do this by default everyday.  I’m hard pressed to imagine very many people (aside from low carb crazies) who eat meat at every single meal every single day.  Lunches and breakfasts are the easiest to turn into vegetarian meals, with eggs, cereal, toast, cheese sandwiches, vegetables, fruit, yogurt, peanut butter and the like.  Dinners are probably the hardest for some people to turn into meatless meals, because we’re so used to structuring dinner around a piece of meat.  Meat-free Mondays challenges people in that respect.

Here’s a summary of all the current diet options that will fit with the goals of Meatless Monday:

  • Vegetarian: avoid meat, poultry and fish.  Some people also avoid eggs.  You can eat dairy products. Less than 3% of Americans claim to be vegetarian. By comparison, around 40% of Indians are vegetarian, inspiring McDonalds to open restaurants with completely vegetarian food.
  • Vegan: avoid anything from an animal.  No eggs, dairy, meat, poultry or fish.  Less than 1% of Americans say they are vegan.
  • Flexitarian: eat some meals with meat, just fewer of them.  More focus on plant foods.  This could resemble a Mediterranean style diet.

Meatless (or Meat Free) Monday definitely doesn’t have to be a hardship or require complicated cooking.  There are plenty of mundane food choices that fit, from cheese pizza to meatless burritos to spaghetti and meatless marinara to soup/salad/bread.  You can find plenty of vegetarian and vegan recipes on the internet or in cookbooks if you want to try new recipes.  Spice up your menu with Indian recipes, which focus on grains, beans and vegetables.  Many Asian recipes are meatless, or can easily be adapted to eliminate meat or fish.  The same is true for Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes, many of which are based on beans and lentils instead of meat.

My choice for Meat-Free eating tonight: homemade pizza with a variety of fresh vegetables, chopped basil, fresh mozzarella and feta.

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