Who doesn’t like the idea of having another holiday? A special day to try something new? And what if it could happen every week? Thanks to a San Fernando Valley congressman’s effort, more people are thinking about taking that kind of weekly holiday— from meat, that is.
A letter recently circulated to members of Congress by Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) suggested that to improve the health of our nation and environment, we can embrace the hot food fashion sweeping the nation: Meatless Monday. After all, meat is among the most resource-intensive and climateheating foods we consume, and we pump ourselves with far more of it than even the meat industry-friendly USDA recommends. In fact, we Americans are far out of step with the rest of the world when it comes to our extreme overconsumption of meat, devouring more than essentially any other nation.
So Rep. Cárdenas urged his fellow members of Congress to cut back, offering to lead via example by observing a meatfree Monday every week with his staff. In addition to enjoying plant-based meals like hearty bean and rice burritos and protein- packed three-bean chili, Cárdenas’ staff will be posting their favorite meat-free recipes on social media each Monday.
This will not be the first time the Meatless Monday message echoed through the halls of power in Washington, DC: in fact, the concept was created by the U.S. Food Administration during World War I as a resource-saving measure. It was brought back during World War II, and during the European rebuilding effort, President Truman used the very first televised White House address to encourage Americans to reduce their meat consumption.
Meatless Monday was revived in 2003 by Johns Hopkins University as a health initiative. After all, the public health community has long implored us to better balance our diets to reduce our sky-high rates of obesity, cancer and other illnesses correlated with overconsumption of meat. “The research shows one thing very clearly,” notes The American Institute for Cancer Research: “We all need to eat more plants and less meat.”
It may also be welcome news to other federal lawmakers already on board with the concept of plant-based eating. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), for example, recently touted eating meatfree for a week surrounding Earth Day, tweeting that he’s meat-free every day, so “you can bet your broccoli I’m in!” And as Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) notes, “More humane treatment of domestic and wild animals has been a focus of my public policy career, and I’m proud to participate in US VegWeek.”
Fortunately, many Americans are getting these messages, and we’re already starting to reduce our meat consumption. Whether through popular concepts like Meatless Mondays or Mark Bittman’s Vegan Before 6 p.m., Americans are now eating about 10 percent less meat per capita than we were in 2007. It seems that dietary concepts like the Three Rs (“reducing” or “replacing” consumption of animal products, while “refining” our diets by switching to products from sources that adhere to higher animal welfare standards) are here to stay. So while we may not be getting a new federal holiday any time soon, more and more Americans are following in Rep. Cárdenas’ admirable footsteps by deciding that a weekly holiday from meat is just what our nation needs.
Paul Shapiro is the vice president of farm animal protection of The Humane Society of the United States. Follow him at http://twitter.com/pshapiro.