May 21, 2012
The Meatless Monday campaign here in the U.S. has grown leaps and bounds over the past few years (the recent blogpost on Sodexo’s success with the campaign is just one example), but did you know that 23 countries now have campaigns that seek to reduce meat consumption one day a week? When I was in Sweden earlier this month I had the pleasure of meeting with Jonas Paulsson, the founder of the Swedish Köttfri Måndag (Meatless Monday) campaign. On top of co-managing the campaign with his friends, Paulsson also regularly writes editorials and engages in debates in support of Meatless Mondays, gives public lectures about the need to reduce meat consumption in Sweden, and works as a local politician. He was recently awarded the Swedish World Wildlife Fund’s Environmental Hero of the Year Award for his work with the campaign. I asked him if he might be willing to share some of his experiences with the Köttfri Måndag campaign with us here on the livablefuture blog in a short email interview, and he was kind enough to oblige.
When did you first become involved with Meatless Monday and how did you decide to start this campaign in Sweden?
It was in late 2009 when I first heard about the Brazilian campaign. I had by that time been working with a small NGO for two years to raise awareness about the issue of overconsumption of animal products. So I was surrounded by friends who shared my interest and had a lot of knowledge. Quite early on I had a pretty clear picture of how I wanted the campaign to be. We are not trying to reach only die-hard meat eaters, but we also want people to use the campaign as a tool to act as citizens.
What are some recent accomplishments of the Meatless Monday campaign in Sweden?
What is most important is to make people act as citizens rather than as consumers. There is strong scientific evidence that consumers do not consider big issues (such as climate change or deforestation) when they are about to buy something. Our greatest accomplishment is that we have written a political proposition, which people can reuse in their local community to encourage the adoption of a meat-free day. Recently there have been two attempts to introduce meat-free days in greater regional areas. So the political debate has reached a higher level.
Have Swedes been receptive to the Meatless Monday concept overall?
There are a lot of vegetarians in Sweden, and there are many more who understand why we have to cut down on meat consumption. All around Sweden there are meat-free days in schools, restaurants, and workplaces. I think people are very receptive to the basic issue and they are just happy to use the campaign to get involved themselves.
Have there been any particular challenges that the campaign has had to face?
It is always a challenge to talk about food because many people have very strong feelings about it. We want people with different motivations to work together. People may think meat-free days are great for reasons such as health, animal rights, environment issues, world hunger, or economics. If we can get all these people to work together we can influence policymakers.
Would you say that the Swedish campaign differs in any key ways from those in other countries?
We are much more political. Meat and livestock are basically agriculture policy. I tell people to go out and discover vegetarian food, I am not telling them what they can cook. I am a very poor cook. We also talk about consumer taxation of animal products as a way to transform agriculture to be more sustainable. We are looking for and talking about political solutions, because conscious consumption will never be enough.
Do you have any recommendations for the Meatless Monday campaign here in the U.S.?
We have all the facts on our side. Go political. Act as citizens. We have freedom of speech. Use it. I met a woman from Ukraine who asked me if anyone could start a newspaper in Sweden. Yes, of course. Well, in the Ukraine you apparently can’t.
What do you see as the future of the Meatless Monday campaign in Sweden?
Help and support our sister campaigns in the neighboring Baltic countries. Get meat tax and consumer taxes on the national political agenda. And help people discover wonderful vegetarian food.