Meatless… or Meaty Monday?

Telling Your Story

Environmental impact of going vegetarian once a week is practically nil

Published on: June 21, 2013

As described in Wikipedia, "Meatless Monday is a campaign that encourages people to not eat meat on Mondays to improve their health and the health of the planet."  The main point that is promoted to convert to Meatless Monday says that the production of meat creates a large carbon footprint, and that by not eating meat one day a week, a consumer can have an impact in reducing the overall carbon footprint.  It takes something that sounds like a huge problem, the carbon footprint, down to an action that an individual can do themselves to counter this problem, such as not eating meat one day per week. 

Delve deeper and you find that Meatless Monday is not only a play on words, but a way to start out your week by supposedly eating healthier, and carrying a healthier attitude throughout the week.  So what would be the environmental impact of not eating meat one day per week?  Michael Pollan is recognized as saying that if every American did this it would be the equivalent of taking 20 million mid-size sedans off the road. 

Meatless Monday, like many other healthy initiatives reports that participants respond with improvements to their health.  What is difficult to measure is if the improvement in feeling of health is a result of the specific action or the overall awareness of what the individual is doing.  For example, are they also exercising more and watching other consumption of other "bad" foods such as sugar, salt, or alcohol?

So what's the counter argument? Facts About Beef has a question and answer segment on the issues surrounding Meatless Monday and the impact on the environment.  Facts About Beef says the impact of one meatless day per week is less than one half of one percent of the U.S. carbon footprint.  A progress report compares raising beef from 1977 to 2007 which found that the carbon footprint of beef was reduced by 16% over the past 30 years.

Some farmers and ranchers have countered the Meatless Monday with Hunk of Meat Monday or Meaty Monday where they might post meat recipes on Mondays.  Did you know that recipes are the second most searched for item on the internet? 

There are lessons the agriculture community should consider as we communicate with people who don't hail from farms.  Notice how those promoting this program take a huge problem and break it down into an actionable step that an individual can do to have an impact?  Also, notice how the problem is equal to something that an average person can imagine (20 million mid-size sedans coming off the road)?  The agriculture community responds by saying this is one half of one percent of the U.S. carbon footprint.  Which image is clearer in your mind?