April 15, 2010
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health embraced the Meatless Monday campaign back in 2003, and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future has proudly served as the national campaign’s scientific advisor ever since. Today I welcome and laud The Johns Hopkins Hospital for launching its own Meatless Monday campaign. In an effort to promote the health benefits of eating more grains, fruits and vegetables the “Wellness Corner” in the Hospital’s main cafeteria is cutting out meat and serving only vegetarian options on Mondays. (Meat options will still be available in other parts of the cafeteria.) The national Meatless Monday campaign’s primary focus is to reduce the consumption of saturated fat by 15%, following the recommendations of the Healthy People 2010 report issued by then U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher in 2000.
Health professionals have long recommended Americans eat less meat and increase their intake of fruits, vegetables and grains, but it hasn’t always been a popular idea. It wasn’t until Americans began to gain a deeper understanding of the intricate connections between the types of foods we eat and how they can affect our health that the message of moderation has begun to slowly take hold in the American culture. What makes Meatless Monday so palatable is its clear, simple and inclusive message of cutting meat out of your diet just one day a week. The campaign is embraced by a large spectrum of people, groups and organizations. They include: people interested in improving their health and the health of the planet, doctors, nutritionists, activists, advocates, celebrated meat-eaters, earnest vegetarians, chefs, scientists, journalists, hospitals, food service providers, colleges, universities, school districts and entire cities.
Meatless Monday’s recent spike in popularity may be attributed to a greater awareness of our dwindling natural resources and increased environmental degradation due to all types of industry including industrial farm animal production. Research by the United Nations, which some animal agriculture industry supported scientists recently claimed may overstate its findings, revealed that meat production contributes significantly to anthropogenic greenhouse gases, 18% globally. Center for a Livable Future (CLF) doctoral student Jillian Fry responded to one of the report’s loudest critics, UC Davis Professor Frank Mitloehner, pointing out that many of Mitloehner’s claims were unsupported by his own published findings. You might recall, I wrote about the issue on the Livable Future Blog last year, long before the meat industry funded report came out. With the help of CLF researcher Brent Kim, I pointed out that the global percentage of GHG is not comparable to the percentage of GHGs produced by livestock in the U.S. Even critics admit, however, that livestock production is responsible for a significant amount of GHGs.
Regardless of the latest media spin, it’s important to remember that the Meatless Monday campaign is rooted in the idea of improving public health. Even the U.S. Department of Agriculture recognizes that people are eating more meat than they need. The latest USDA statistics show that men in the U.S. consume as much as 190% of their recommended daily allowance of protein while women eat as much as 160%. Americans derive the majority of their protein from meat and other animal sources.
What I find so great about The Johns Hopkins Hospital’s Meatless Monday campaign is its focus on the health benefits of reducing meat consumption and the presentation and taste of the food itself.
Every Monday for the next few weeks Johns Hopkins Hospital dietitians are making themselves available to answer cafeteria customers’ questions about the Meatless Monday campaign and how cutting meat out of their diet one day a week can be beneficial to their health. They’re also making sure that they’re able to choose the healthiest food substitutes.
Executive Chef Shawn Fields had a great time coming up with new tasty recipes for the campaign. He says it’s important for customers to know, “that they’re not sacrificing taste by eating vegetarian meals.” He also has a great sense of humor. A promotional poster designed for the campaign offers a quote from Chef Fields saying, “If you think chili needs meat, you don’t know beans.”