As the Coursera course “Introduction to the U.S. Food System” draws to a close (so sad, it was great!), the staff highlighted a great initiative in their last set of lectures – the story behind Meatless Monday!
Most of you may have heard of the idea (which in itself speaks of its success), especially if you live in the US – it’s gotten increasing media coverage. In short – Meatless Monday is a public health campaign that was started in 2005 by Sid Lerner in conjunction with Johns Hopkins University to induce consumers to eat healthier for at least one day a week – the campaign’s initiators were inspired by the recent spikes in fatalities due to cardiovascular disease, cancer and strokes, all of which are linked to the consumption of too much saturated fat (and are correlated with the consumption of red meat, especially processed meat).
To keep the message simple, the initiators settled on the Meatless Monday key idea (which had also already been used during wartime food rationing). This would be one day a week where consumers forego meat (as well as high-fat dairy products), cutting their saturated fat intake thus by 15% and bringing it from around 11.5 – 12% of actual calories to the recommended 10%.
What I found unique about the initiative and its development is that Sid Lerner had an extensive marketing background and used it – in helping public health officials create a message that was a) simple to understand and remember, b) told consumers what they had to do (and was actually doable), and c) was repeated once every single week.
The value of having that kind of insight on how to change behaviors at the disposal of a public health initiative is especially relevant if you compare the budgets of public health campaigns (say, for example the 5-a-day campaign with a budget of $1 million) to those of not-so-healthy food companies (McDonald’s advertising budget is around $1 billion).
In contrast to previous public health campaigns, which had usually been sporadic and crammed with information that left the consumer overwhelmed, this was an easy enough idea to incorporate into everyday media – and there are now over 100 weekly Meatless Monday features in magazines, blogs and websites that try to inspire consumers with tasty recipe alternatives to meat.
Also, the idea of Monday being “the January of the week” has subsequently been researched and used in other health-related campaigns – it has been shown that consumers are far more likely to start a diet, stop smoking or recommit to a healthy lifestyle after the weekend excesses on Monday.
Thus, a whole number of spin-off ideas has developed “Meatless Monday” into “Monday – the day all health breaks loose” with Move It Monday, Kids Cook Monday, Quit and Stay Quit Monday (advocating for anti-smoking), etc. In addition, the recent focus on the environmental impacts of meat consumption has made important partnerships with environmentalist organizations possible.
According to the organizers, the campaign’s next goal is to expand to more school- and campus-based programs (already 30 US campuses are on board!), corporate cafeterias, and to take it international – though it originated in the US, there are already 21 nations across the globe with their own Meatless Monday movements.
As to my previous quote (by Michael Pollan) and missbossy‘s comment, I checked out the stats again and apparently, Mr. Pollan was slightly off in his numbers. According to the Environmental Working Group, if everybody in America ate no meat and no cheese for one day a week (expanding the Meatless Monday to its original idea), it would be the equivalent of not driving 91 billion miles – or taking 7.6 million cars off the road (though I am not sure what car types they used – I guess fuel-efficiency would come into play here).
missbossy also brought up another interesting point – do you think that by practicing Meatless Monday, the meat consumption is actually not reduced, but just shifted to another day of the week? I would doubt that, if only for the assumption that the majority of households already serve meat for the vast majority of their meals. In 2000, Americans consumed on average 195 pounds of meat per person, or 240 grams per day – I am wondering whether there is even the possibility of increasing that by a lot if you forego meat another day. But I would love to hear other thoughts!
Also, have you heard of Meatless Monday? And has it spread to your country yet?
Bonus: For more information, including FAQs on participation in Meatless Monday (will I get enough protein? Will I die of iron deficiency? Spoiler alert – yes. and no.), check out this background guide. For more science-related resources, the Center for a Livable Future has a great list here. And of course, the Meatless Monday website is a great resource for recipes, articles and more.