Friday, March 12, 2010

Meatless Monday

When I was growing up, every Friday was “meatless.” Normally, I didn’t mind. I grew up in a household where meals were pretty programmatic. Spaghetti with meat sauce on Monday, spaghetti with meatballs on Wednesday, cheeseburgers on Saturday, a roast on Sunday… You get the picture. At home there were no surprises. On Friday my sandwich became tunafish or cheese plus. Friday dinner was a rare treat of take-out— pizza or fish and chips from Greer's (now gone), but simply the best in the day.

This custom only became a problem when I found myself out in the wider world — at a non-Catholic home for dinner, or on a Girl Scout overnight. I had to make a choice — to explain how Fridays were different for me, or to let it go. My point is that at least sometimes giving up meat was a conscious decision.

Catholics around the world still give up meat on Fridays during this season of Lent. I am no longer part of that group, but I find myself recognizing that the tradition of consciously giving up meat once a week is profoundly good for a number of reasons. I long to declare a meatless day once more, but this time I am designating a different weekday.

Today I am joining the Meatless Monday movement. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal  health and the health of our planet,” every Monday, all year long.

After I tell you a little more about it, I am hoping you will join this movement, too.

Meatless Monday is one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project. It was founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. The campaign was endorsed by over 20 schools of public health. Its goal was to help Americans reduce their risk of preventable disease by cutting back on their intake of saturated fat. In 2009 the Meatless Monday message was broadened to include the health and environmental benefits of moderating meat consumption.

Why Meatless? In summary form, “Going meatless once a week may reduce your risk of chronic preventable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. It can also help reduce your carbon footprint and save precious resources like fresh water and fossil fuel.”

Why Monday? The site claims that on Monday “we set our intentions for the next six days. We plan ahead and evaluate progress… And studies suggest we are more likely to maintain behaviors begun on Monday throughout the week.”

Meatless Monday is actually an old idea recycled and revived. Presidents Wilson, Truman, and Roosevelt each galvanized the nation with voluntary meatless days during both world wars. Everyone pitched in and together made a huge contribution. This video is an excellent introduction to the movement.

The extraordinary website has everything you need to make your  Meatless Mondays delicious and meaningful, and to help you spread the word. There are recipes, recipe videos, tips on films and books, articles, and a section of questions and answers.

Who besides me endorses this movement? Check out the site. There you can read that the entire school system of the City of Baltimore went meatless in 2009; a Manhattan borough president recently proposed that the NYC schools should do the same. Universities from Oxford to UC Santa Barbara, schools, corporations, restaurants, and even the city of Ghent have declared Monday Meatless. You can discover the celebrities who have made Meatless Mondays part of their lives.  Simon Cowell, Sir Paul McCartney, Kate Moss, Yoko Ono, Gwnyeth Paltrow, Michael Pollan, and Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles, all appear on this list. There is even a place for you to sign up to join the movement.

Claire's Corner Copia Cookbook: 225 Homestyle Vegetarian Recipes from Claire's Family to YoursSome of you may be treading on new ground here. Let me suggest a couple of great vegetarian cookbooks to get you started: Claire's Corner Copia Cookbook and Claire's Italian Feast. The Meatless Mondays website offers many others, but I know these two books very well. They are both by Claire Criscuolo, owner and founder of Claire’s Corner Copia, New Haven’s oldest and finest vegetarian restaurant, also Kosher, by the way, and a great place to eat on Monday or any other day you don’t feel like cooking. I heartily recommend Mexican Rice, Moroccan Sweet Potatoes, and Pumpkin Bread (from the original book) and Sautéd Broccoli Rabe (from the Italian one).  If you visit the restaurant, you have to try the signature Lithuanian Coffee Cake!

Meatless Monday may not sound like a very big deal. But think of this: In an oft-cited study, researchers at the University of Chicago reported that the food that people eat is just as important as what kind of cars they drive when it comes to creating the greenhouse-gas emissions that many scientists have linked to global warming. Their data has been used to posit that if all Americans gave up meat, just one day per week, that would have the equivalent effect on the environment of all Americans trading in a standard sedan for a more efficient hybrid car.

In the historical Meatless Monday campaigns, the nation asked and the citizens answered, each person making a personal commitment and taking a small step with a big impact. Together they changed history. Together all of us can do the same.


  1. How did you ever escape that Boston tradition of hot dogs & beans (& sometimes brown bread) on Saturday nights ? ;-)

  2. I neglected to say that we did have that meal sometimes. But my Yankee mother was the only one fond of that offering and my dad did not like beans, so, in this case, cheeseburgers trumped (unless we were visiting the maternal grandparents). I do remember brown bread that came in a can.

  3. I actually made Brown Bread once &, believe it or not, the recipe called for steaming the batter in a soup can !

  4. Hi Elaine-

    I just wanted to reach out to you and thank you for joining the Meatless Monday movement and for your terrific post about our campaign. It really is bloggers like you who post about Meatless Monday as a strategy for reducing saturated fat and conserving our environmental resources, that helps the movement to grow exponentially.

    I was very impressed with On the Road to Greens focus on small lifestyle changes anyone can make to live a more eco conscious lifestyle. Many bloggers think it’s fun to do weekly Meatless Monday posts, usually profiling a meatless recipe or meal, every Monday. Weekly posts really help to spread the word.

    I'd love to be in more direct communication with you so we can better coordinate outreach efforts. If you're interested in doing weekly posts please email me at

    Thanks so much and keep up the great posts!

    -Joey Lee
    Project Associate
    Meatless Monday