The announcement of a forum to discuss the possibility of starting “Meatless Mondays” in the Usdan Marketplace sparked a lively campus debate, which played out online via Yik Yak as well as in the real world. These comments and conversations culminated in the presentation and discussion held on Thursday, Nov. 5, where supporters and dissenters alike spent an hour trading words and ideas in a crowded 41 Wyllys classroom. Led by Cassia Patel ’17, Ingrid Eck ’19, and Claudia Flores ’16, the forum aimed to both gauge student interest and give evidence in support of the proposal.
“This is not something that is happening,” Patel said. “This is just a discussion, and I guess we figured by using the tagline ‘Meatless Monday,’ I knew what was going to happen and get people involved in the conversation, and I think that’s been successful…. We have a poster up in Usdan, this is an interactive one to get people’s ideas.”
The presenters encouraged all students to stay for the duration of the meeting, regardless of whether they are in favor of Meatless Mondays. In the past, attempts have been made to initiate similar plans, but a lack of student support has precluded the goals from being realized. Patel addressed this and the need to garner more support before the proposal can move forward.
“We really do value the opinion of students on campus and want to hear them,” Patel said. “We are trying to gauge what is the overriding view, like do people want this to happen and move forward? Clearly not at this point, so this forum will be an opportunity to hear dissenting views in person and address those, and that’s a space for that communication essentially.”
Furthermore, the process for implementing such a program would require considerable approval by WSA leaders and Bon Appetit managers. WSA Student Life Coordinator Nila Ravi ’18 explained the nuances getting a proposal such as this one off the ground.
“There is the dining committee, which consists of Michelle Myers-Brown, Michael Strumpf, and WSA reps (I’m one of them), and historically this committee oversaw menu items in Usdan and Summerfields,” Ravi wrote in an email to The Argus. “Currently it does not operate this way so I think because of that, and the fact that Meatless Mondays has been attempted before and failed, it would have to have more backing than just an O.K. from me and Bon Apetit.”
The forum kicked off with a brief presentation of information and statistics related to the factory farming industry, for which 99 percent of animals raised for meat consumption are reared. They began by addressing some of the conditions faced by these animals: According to the presentation, the animals spend most of their lives in the dark, are confined to small spaces, and do not have access to veterinary care due to the costs associated with it.
Using an infographic provided by cowspiracy.com, they shared a few facts about the environmental impact of factory farming. According to the document, the raising of livestock causes 51 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Supporters of the Meatless Monday movement referenced this fact frequently throughout the conversation. Additionally, 55 percent of usable water is used by animal agriculture, as opposed to the five percent consumed by individual households. The infographic also presents information on other impacts of raising livestock in such large quantities, as well as statistics related to fish farming processes.
Following the short presentation, attendees launched right into a discussion of the proposal on the table: On Mondays, the Usdan Marketplace would not serve meat options; instead, the kitchen will offer a wider array of vegetarian- and vegan-friendly foods. Summerfields, Usdan Café, and Pi Café will still serve meat seven days a week.
Students who do not support the proposal were the first to voice their views. One student suggested that instead of imposing a Meatless Monday, Bon Appetit should focus on obtaining local, grass-fed sources of meat. They noted the environmental impact of protein replacement products as another reason not to transition to a plan that serves more of them.
A barrage of respondents addressed the unfeasibility of this practice, due to the costs associated with locally raised, grass-fed livestock. Locally-sourced meat from animals raised on diets consisting primarily of soy and corn products was suggested as one alternative.
During the most heated portion of the debate, students called the democratic and representative nature of the proposal into question. While not discrediting the environmental destruction for which factory farming is responsible, one student questioned the potential efficacy of the Meatless Monday proposal. He wondered why this campaign was considered preferable to information-based protests of farming practices. He also wondered whether precedents set by Meatless Mondays could lead to the further removal of meat from University dining halls.
These questions were met with strong opposition regarding the moral duty to act in support of the fair treatment of animals and sustainable agriculture. It was debated whether students should have the individual right to dictate their peers’ consumption habits. In some students’ eyes, the provision of food by Bon Appetit and the University is already a way of controlling the nutritional choices on campus.
Mattison Asher ’17 expressed his opposition to the idea of a Meatless Monday.
“While I agree with the end goals of the Meatless Monday Movement to educate people on the environmental problems caused by the meat industry, I believe that restricting people’s right to choose meat, in any degree, will isolate potential allies to the movement and cause people to focus on the restriction of their freedom rather than on the destruction caused by the meat industry,”Asher said. “I also believe that there are better ways to educate people on the issues of meat consumption that do not involve isolating members of the community, such as educating them through standing outside Usdan with pictures of the destruction caused by the meat industry and getting people to sign a petition promising to not eat meat on Mondays.”
Also weighing in on the debate, Sustainability Director Jennifer Kleideinst acknowledged that the conflict between personal preferences and overarching moral concepts would have to be addressed before moving forward with such a proposal.
“I think that it’s very valuable from an environmental and animal welfare standpoint to consume less meat (and animal products in general),” Kleideinst wrote in an email to The Argus. “Because food and eating have such strong personal connections; however, it will be really important for Meatless Monday or any other related campaign to address these concerns and make space for everyone at the table.”
As the debate settled down, a growing consensus was reached that doing something may be better than doing nothing, and that the educational component of the plan was important. Opinions still remain split on the proposal itself.
Still, organizers were pleased with how the event went. Eck looks forward to working through the year to achieve the goals set forth at the forum.
“I was happy to see that both dissenters and supporters attended the forum,” Eck said. “I hope that events like this inspire those who attend to continue the conversation with their friends and classmates. I’m happy to see that Meatless Monday is already getting a lot of attention but I hope that in the next few weeks, our mission will become clearer and fewer will feel as though this campaign is oppressive or an attack on freedom of choice. We want to emphasize that this is a bottom-up campaign. Meatless Monday is not going to happen unless the student body wants it to happen. Cassia, Claudia, and I are excited to organize future Meatless Monday forums!”