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(MintPress) – Last November the Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution urging residents to refrain from eating meat on Monday as both an environmentally-friendly strategy and to improve public health, but Los Angeles public schools have taken the council’s resolution one step further and have stopped serving students meat on Mondays altogether.
Known as “Meatless Monday,” the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (L.A. Unified) cafeterias have stopped offering any food options with meat on Mondays since February 2013. Of course, students could bring their own lunch from home with meat, but the whole purpose is to improve personal health, reduce one’s carbon footprint and limit the amount of animals that are killed for food.
Carrie Poppy, senior special projects coordinator for the advocacy group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), told Mint Press that by refraining from eating meat, each vegetarian will save more than 100 animals each year. “It sets a standard for kids to be healthy,” she said.
Serving about 650,000 meals in its K-12 schools each day, L.A. Unified is the second-largest school district in the United States, and its decision to cut back on the amount of meals offered with meat not only introduces children to a variety of food items, but also raises their awareness of the importance of a healthy diet and the impact on the environment. Additonally, it brings awareness to other impacts of eating meat, including the slaughter process.
“The small changes we make every day can have a tremendous impact. Meatless Monday is about raising awareness. It is not a requirement, but rather a call for all of us to think about our environment, the food we eat, and how we can be a part of making ourselves healthier,” said Los Angeles Councilwoman Jan Perry.
According to a Meatless Monday advocacy group of the same name (MM), going meatless for just one day a week may help reduce one’s risk of chronic preventable conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.
Poppy says vegetarian diets have been proven to be better diets for children, since the diet protects against the biggest killers like cancer and obesity. She added that PETA applauds Los Angeles’ effort to better their health and protect animals, as Poppy estimates that L.A.’s Meatless Monday program will likely save tens of millions of animals every year.
But just because the children are eating a meat-free meal, that doesn’t automatically make the meal healthy. In an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times, reporter Carla Hall wrote that “people are constantly arguing over what foods are healthiest and will lower or raise your cholesterol or make you fat. I would argue that you have to be as vigilant about chicken and filet mignon as you do about pasta and hummus. You can be as unhealthy a vegetarian as you can be a carnivore.”
For example, one meal L.A. Unified served recently was a Southwestern rice and bean bowl. Though the bowl had about 400 calories, the sodium level was 970 milligrams (mg). Though the sodium level was below the school district’s policy of no more than 1,100 mg of sodium per lunch entree, according to Laura Benavidez, deputy director of food services for L.A. Unified, the bowl contained about half of the recommended sodium intake a person under 51 years should have in a day.
Elizabeth Puccini is the co-founder of the NYC Green Schools initiative and a parent who brought Meatless Monday to three schools in New York City by simply asking the schools Nutrition Committee.
Puccini says at first the children questioned why the school stopped offering meat choices on Mondays, but added that students have begun to appreciate the program. She says the program “begins a dialogue about why it’s so important to eat less meat and get your protein from plant sources.”
The three New York City schools, The Children’s Workshop School, The East Village Community School and P.S. 94, have eliminated fried foods and have a salad bar stocked with chickpeas and tofu. Puccini added that the schools will soon be including educating the students about the health and environmental benefits of eating plant-based foods.
Benefit to the environment
Animal welfare advocates applaud meatless Monday efforts since a reduction in meat intake leads to fewer animals being slaughtered, but environmentalists also relish in the reduction of meat consumption because raising large amounts of animals for food purposes is quite taxing on the environment.
According to Worldwatch Institute: Vision for a Sustainable World, America’s never-ending appetite for meat has led to the overuse of available farmland, the deforestation and erosion of previously unpolluted environments, and has put a strain on natural resources.
It’s also estimated by the United Nations Food and Agriculture organization that about one-fifth of all the man-made greenhouse gas emissions comes from the meat industry, which is more than what the transportation industry is guilty of generating.
Water supply is also affected by meat, as keeping livestock hydrated is much more complicated than watering vegetables or grains. It’s estimated that between 1,800 and 2,500 gallons of water go into producing just one pound of beef. In comparison, soy tofu produced in California only requires 220 gallons of water per pound.
By participating in Meatless Monday one day a week, “you can reduce your carbon footprint by over eight pounds per day … save half a gallon of gasoline per day; reduce your saturated fat intake by 15 percent (per meatless meal); and reduce your risk of heart disease by 19 percent,” Perry said.
Meatless Monday campaign
Though the idea of giving up meat for one day a week seems odd to some, MM says the tradition of reducing one’s intake of meat is not a new fad at all. U.S. Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman and Franklin Delano Roosevelt all encouraged the American public to refrain from eating meat for a few days each week during both world wars.
“Food Will Win the War” campaigns were introduced by the U.S. Food Administration during World War I and posters were plastered all across America telling people what they should eat more of and what they should eat less.
According to MM, some 10 million families participated in the program, along with 7,000 hotels and about 425,000 food dealers. In November 1917, New York City hotels reportedly saved 116 tons of meat in just one week by participating in Meatless Monday.
An article from a 1929 Saturday Evening Post also reported that after the implementation of the program, “Americans began to look seriously into the question of what and how much they were eating. Lots of people discovered for the first time that they could eat less and feel no worse – frequently for the better.”
The Meatless Monday movement was reportedly revived in the United States in 2003 when Sid Lerner, a former advertising professional turned health advocate, saw the need to educate the public about the relationship between excessive meat consumption and preventable illnesses. Lerner’s initiative was backed by the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Liveable Future and endorsed by 30 schools of public health.