On April 8, a group of student activists stood at the corner of South University, passing out samples of local vegetarian food, citing facts on the meat industry of the country and advocating for a campus-wide change in the form of Meatless Mondays. The student group, part of an Organizational Studies activism class at the University, is part of a larger movement of nationwide organizers attempting to reduce the meat consumption in schools in order to promote healthy, sustainable and environmentally aware student populations.
Meatless Mondays, a national nonprofit initiative, attempts to reduce national meat consumption every Monday. In dining halls across U.S. campuses, meat-based meals are replaced with “healthy, environmentally friendly meat-free alternatives,” according to the national Meatless Mondays website. The program, currently enforced by over 140 colleges and almost 100 K-12 school districts across the country, has yet to reach the University campus. If established at the University, the plan would involve reducing meat-based meals every Monday in two dining halls: East Quad and North Quad, for the 2013-2014 school year.
LSA Sophomore Alex Winnick, one of the students involved in Meatless Mondays, described the movement.
“We understand that students want to eat meat, and we’re not forcing vegetarianism on anyone. What we are asking people is to understand that by eliminating meat for one day a week in two dining halls, the University as a whole would drastically reduce our carbon emissions and our water usage,” Winnick said.
For Winnick, who has a meal plan on campus, most dining halls on campus carry adequate vegetarian options, but the variety falls short of impressive.
“I think people assume that if you’re not eating meat, you have to eat tofu,” Winnick said. “But there are so many other vegetables that can be just as fulfilling and hearty as meat.” To Winnick, a good dining hall is one that “will vary away from just serving tofu.”
Engineering Sophomore Elayne Thomas, who is also a part of the Meatless Mondays project, has been a vegetarian for four years.
“I suppose I’ve had the privilege of always being in a good dining hall,” Thomas said. “I live at MoJo, and they have pretty good vegetarian options, but when I go to dining halls with friends, I actually have trouble finding good options.”
Yet, the aim of Meatless Mondays is not only to improve vegetarian options on campus, but also to inspire a more sustainable dining hall atmosphere.
“If every American replaced a meat meal with a vegetarian meal for just one meal every week, the carbon emissions savings would be the same as removing 5,000 cars from the roads for a year,” Winnick said. “Carbon dioxide emissions would really go down, and also, an incredible amount of water is used to produce meat and transport meat. Almost half of the water in the U.S. is used to raise animals for food.”
Thus, Meatless Mondays attempts to educate students on the positive impacts of vegetarianism on the environment, in addition to advocating for more diverse vegetarian options in the dining halls.
Winnick and his group have created an online petition plan for Meatless Mondays on the University campus, which currently has 250 signers. If passed, the petition will ask for East Quad and North Quad dining halls to stop serving meat on Mondays, while all other dining halls on campus would continue serving meat all days of the week. So far, the group has run into difficulty with dining hall authorities on reaching a compromise.
“Dining halls are going to provide the food which the majority ask for, and if that happens to be meat, then their hands are sort of tied. Maybe even if they understand the environmental and health benefits,” Winnick said.
Thomas has received varying reactions from her peers regarding the petition and the concept of the cause.
“I’ve gotten a lot of mixed reviews. The first reaction people have is, ‘I want my meat, that’s not fair,’” Thomas said. “Yet others on campus have also been supportive, understanding that taking that little sacrifice could really make a difference.”
Regardless of the results, the group continues to push for the Meatless Mondays initiative on campus.
“We’re asking students to understand and maybe make the small sacrifices by saying, ‘I’m not eating meat on this day,’ or, ‘I’ll go to a different dining hall that’s serving meat,’” Winnick said.
“A lot of people I know eat meat too much, or maybe aren’t sustainable enough, so I’d ask (them), ‘Hey, try to go meatless during lunch.’ It all comes down to the effort and combined goal of being more sustainable.”