Last month, Ann Arbor Public Schools joined dozens of other school districts, hospitals and universities in implementing “Meatless Monday” in their cafeterias as part of an initiative to improve student health and environmental sustainability. I want to urge dining services at the University to follow suit by adding more meat-free options and emphasizing them on Mondays.

It’s clear that the University recognizes the importance of environmental sustainability with its programs to reduce waste, support local farms and compost, but if we want to seriously address sustainability on campus, we need to look at reducing meat consumption. Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the United Nation’s climate change panel, argues in a 2008 article from The Guardian that in terms of having an immediate impact on the environment, meat reduction “clearly is the most attractive opportunity” and suggests that we “give up meat for one day [per week] initially, and decrease it from there.” According to a 2008 study from Carnegie Mellon University, going without meat and dairy just one day a week reduces more greenhouse gas emissions than eating locally the entire year.

Meatless Monday can also help with weight loss and longevity. After recently going vegan, Bill Clinton said he lost 24 pounds and has never felt better. A study from the Harvard School of Public Health this year found that when people replace meat with healthy plant proteins, including beans, other legumes and nuts, their chances of mortality can decrease by as much as 11 percent.

Finally, if every American participated in Meatless Monday, more than a billion fewer land animals would be subjected to the inhumane conditions of factory farms each year. To put that into perspective, if every University of Michigan student participated in Meatless Monday, each year 140,000 fewer land animals would be factory farmed.

By now, most of my friends and classmates know that many animals raised for food do not live on open pastures or die of old age. The vast majority of farm animals today live on factory farms, where they are crammed by the thousands into large, ammonia-ridden sheds with no fresh air or sunlight, until the day of their slaughterhouse deaths. Mother pigs are crammed into cages so small they can’t even turn around and egg-laying hens are given less space than the screen of an iPad to live on for their entire lives.

Each time we sit down to eat, we yield enormous power to change the world to our greedy stomachs. Meatless Monday is a simple switch that can have a profound impact on our animals, health and planet. I hope my fellow students and the University will join me and Ann Arbor Public School students by participating in Meatless Monday on campus and at home.

Zachery McKinnon is an LSA junior.

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