LessMeat Mondays: What did you think?

Today, I had the pleasure of eating at Weybridge for one of their nightly dinners (yes, they post their menus too!). Afterwards, like any responsible student, I checked my Facebook before beginning my homework, only to find a flurry of “Meatless Monday” status updates. I then checked my email and soon began to understand what they were talking about.

With relatively little notice (Director of Dining, Matthew Biette, sent an all-student email explaining “LessMeat Mondays” at 3:56pm today), students learned that this evening they would be subject to a “trial run of LessMeat Monday… an environmental initiative brought to you by a group of students in Environmental economics,” in which an additional vegetarian dish would replace a meat dish.

Placated by the knowledge that there still would be a meat dish, I soon reached the next line: “While we encourage all students to choose the environmentally friendly vegetarian option, we also respect the right of each student to eat meat.”

Freshly thinking about hierarchies and binaries, thanks to my women and gender studies course, I could understand how this email sparked people’s interest. It clearly placed the “environmentally friendly vegetarian option” in a greater position than that of ‘meat eaters’ whose ‘rights must be respected.’  Is the freedom to eat what I want to eat a right I should be worried about? I didn’t think so, but now I’m slightly confused.

As college students still in the stage of emerging adulthood (thanks to PSYC 216 for that buzzword), we already have enough to worry about. Is being in another minority position just because I happen to be a “meat eater” who chooses the “less environmentally friendly option” really a binary Middlebury wants to establish, promote, and add on to that list?

I appreciate that this class hopes to use “LessMeat Mondays” as a learning experience and a teaching tool about the “environmental benefits of going meatless,” but I do think there is a potential conversation here about the way in which it was presented.

I’m all for environmentally friendly practices, and am just as dazzled by Eric Schlosser (and his awesome presentation on campus last year) as the next Middkid, but I think we need to think about and discuss the most effective and least-alienating ways in which environmentally sustainable food practices can be presented and encouraged. And I’m not sure that this email guilt-tripping meat eaters did that too successfully.

What did you think of Less Meat Mondays?

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25 thoughts on “LessMeat Mondays: What did you think?

  1. It’s obnoxious. Then environuts are free to eat or not eat whatever they want….but we don’t want to hear about it or be told what’s better for us to do. We don’t need their approval or permission to enjoy multiple meats a day.

  2. Brittany, Your very polite response to being told what to eat is a bit too polite.

    “I appreciate that this class hopes to use “LessMeat Mondays” as a learning experience and a teaching tool about the “environmental benefits of going meatless,” but I do think there is a potential conversation here about the way in which it was presented.”

    That’s right out of the politically correct / HR manual.

    How about, “don’t look at my plate and I won’t look at yours?”

  3. Curious to find that eating meat is a “right.” Given that raising animals for flesh has proven negative impacts on water, soil, greenhouse gas emissions, the numbers of people who can be fed on increasingly limited landbases–not to mention the impacts on the animals themselves–how is eating meat a “right”?

  4. What’s not right is to impose this religion on everyone else.

    If you don’t want the meat, don’t eat it. They’ll order less in the future. Problem solved.

  5. If you have LessMeat Monday you have to be equal and have a MoreMeat Sunday—it’s only fair.

    I don’t understand why vegetarians need to force feed to advocate their message. I understand that there is a want to do this, but people have been eating meat since the beginning of time–why do we need to stop now? Likewise are obviously environmentally friendly ways to raise animals for flesh–but there are also environmentally harmful ways to raise crops–which a majority are grown in this manner–Organic would be idea for everything–but chemicals and hormones are economically more feasible(and Profitable!) because of the demand–your Average Joe doesn’t give a damn if the tomato he is going to buy is Organic vs The Other. He’s looking for the larger, cheaper tomato. I generally opt for Organic veges or farm-raised animals..but don’t tell me I need to eat less meat on Mondays–eventually it will be the vegetarians on the plate.

    • “…people have been eating meat since the beginning of time–why do we need to stop now?”

      People have been illiterate since the beginning of time–why do we need to read and write now?
      People have died from infections since the beginning of time–why use antibiotics now?

      Sometimes a change in behavior is beneficial.

      BTW, early humans did not eat nearly as much meat as today’s humans (at least today’s westerners)–in fact, the old term “hunter/gatherer” has generally been replaced by “forager” to reflect the greater reliance on plant foods and scavenged animal flesh than the previous “great hunter” idea promoted.

      Human population and consumption are posing the greatest stress on Earth’s resources ever caused by a species. Those “beginning of time” folks were dealing with comparatively tiny human populations in which individual or group actions didn’t matter. Now, at 7 billion, they do. It’s time to take a hard look at the behaviors that don’t work in our current situation, and meat-eating is one of them.

      Gotta say, these defensive responses are reminiscent of the complaints of smokers being faced with restrictions on their ability to smoke wherever, whenever.

  6. Let me start by saying I’m a 40+ year old male concious omnivore. I’ve waded through ‘healthy diets’ only to find that many of them are even more unhealthy than the previous one I had eaten. My goal has never been to lose weight, though it has occasionally been a slight side effect, my goal has been to look and feel healthy. After many years, I’m finally there.

    What I have learned is, yes, less meat is likely good for many people who have a lopsided food pyramid.

    The concern I have is twofold. First and foremost, humans are omnivores. I’ve seen firsthand how people can be starved to critical levels of eating a ‘healthy and balanced’ diet which didn’t actually fulfill their dietary needs. Eating what should have been a healthy mix, but didn’t realize how differently their body absorbed nutrients, and so I ignored what they craved until nearly ending up in a hospital with critically low levels of vitamins, minerals or worse.

    The other side of that coin is that several studies have shown that the staple of vegetarian diets, Tofu (aka Soy) is actually doing just as much environmental harm, if not more, than that of raising beef. Add to the normal concerns of clear cutting, slash and burn techniques, deforestation of rainforests and spraying of noxious chemicals, that runoff – killing scores of fish and other wildlife, to the fact that large corporations like Monsanto control much of the soybean market, and have introduced genetically modified strains across the country, if not the world. Long term effect? Who knows…

    As for my children and I – we would rather eat what nature and community farmers provide to us that meets our individual standards. While we don’t cook separate meals, we offer up a balance of what each of us likes, craves and needs in our meals. I do believe this is a good process to introduce people to – but not with force, and not without introducing the basics of what makes a truly healthy diet – not an overly restrictive diet of any ‘whole’ foods, not the current food pyramid (which would have everyone swimming in a grain fueled sugar high all day) and not a soy reliant diet – or a diet reliant on any other fractionized and overprocessed foods.

  7. Too many arguments defending meat-eating automatically assume that the alternative is soy–worse, that it’s Big Ag, GMO soy. Much of the soy production described above is used to feed animals or to produce oils and other food additives, and no one well informed about wholesome food would eat this stuff. For those who do want to eat soy, there are organic soy producers right here in VT. For those who don’t want to go that route, I can say from long experience that an excellent vegetarian diet is possible without any soy at all.

  8. While I am no longer a vegetarian myself and did take some issue with the wording of Matthew Biette’s email, I appreciated Dining Service’s willingness to participate in a student initiative. I also have faith that Dining Services will proceed according to the majority opinion expressed in the survey sent to the student body directly following the meal. To be perfectly honest, I think the firestorm over Meatless Monday may have less to do with last night’s dinner itself (was that pasta delicious or what?!!) and more to do with the conflict between high expectations we have for dining food here at Midd and the reality that Dining Services is struggling to serve more students on a budget that has not increased in the past 3 years.

  9. Thanks to everyone for your comments.

    @Les, I don’t think “don’t look at my plate and I won’t look at yours?” is the solution, or something I would advocate. And @aram, the point isn’t to say one cannot go a day, a week or a lifetime without meat, because it’s clearly possible, and many students (including myself) have done so. What I was trying to highlight is that perhaps this group of students should have considered that the best way to change something you feel is a problem, isn’t to alienate and put down those whose habits you want to change. I think @Sam, @Pat and @erc are correct in that sense-it’s the imposition of a behavior and a choice that I think many students may have been taken aback by.

    We’re all theoretically at Middlebury because we’re capable, curious, want-to-do-good people.
    I think as an idea, LessMeat Mondays is a good thing and has promise and potential. I think it’s important that we understand the impact of our choices, from where we buy our books and clothes, to the food on our plate.

    But if the liberal arts is to teach us anything — it’s to think critically and holistically about the issues, and bring everyone of interest (all the perspectives, vegans and meat-eaters alike) to the table. In order to address a problem, it would seem more logical to me to perhaps have an rounded conversation about the issues, backed up with facts. The email chose to authoritatively state that the vegetarian option was indeed “the environmentally friendly option” without any backup of that fact, or leaving it open to discussion.

    This class I’m sure has not just ignored that meat is not the only food substance necessarily harming the environment (as @erc and @mel pointed out). In many people’s eyes (including mine) it’s less the product (though I agree @sooty, as an overall society we could probably consume less meat) and more where it comes from (@mel & @sooty). Who knows — it could have been more locally grown Misty Knoll chicken instead of something like bananas and coffee that gets shipped from who knows where (excusing the lack of parallel protein to protein, but you see the point). Perhaps we should all take a note from Mark Zuckerberg and only consume what we’ve killed ourselves (http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/01/idUS146647152520110601) in an effort to truly get back to sustainable food practices.

    In summary, I think their statement and initiative would have been more embraced and less abrasive by not treating meat-eaters like ignorant, ill-intentioned children who don’t think or care about their choices, but as well-meaning citizens of the community who they want to help educate, and discuss the issues with. I think there are questions and answers that should have been raised that weren’t. For example, if as @sooty points out, the problem is really not with meat, but with the environmental and economic impact (and seeing as this was an env. econ class, it seems to be so), why not do a “Local and grassfed only” or “organics only” campaign. Meat is not the only problem to be discussed when it comes to sustainable, environmentally friendly eating habits.

    As @13.5 has a point that it may be less to do with the dinner itself, and more with the high expectations Middkids have of Dining. And I think one step beyond that, it’s the expectations we have of fellow our Middlebury College community members to holistically discuss, with respect to everyone, issues facing our community.

    Ps — to @Mel, congrats on finding your balance, definitely something to be very proud of and something we all struggle with! Thank you for sharing your experiences and concerns.

  10. I’d like to clarify, since my position is interpreted by @Brittany, that I DO think meat is a problem–an ethical one as well as an environmental and economic one. I personally don’t feel we have the right to pull rank on the basis of our opposable thumbs and kill and eat other creatures b/c of taste or convenience.( As for grass-fed beef, all ungulates belch methane, and grass-fed cattle produce even more than grain-fed–so there’s still a climate issue.)

    For those who will inevitably reply that vegetarians kill plants, a) that’s not always true–I can eat tons of fruit or stringbeans or whatever w/o killing the plant and b) I (simplistically) invoke philosopher Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation, who posits that if plants we eat found their fates so abhorrent they would have evolved methods to escape.

    I’d like to suggest an excellent book on eating animals: Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, a wonderful young writer who wrestled with the problem. Perhaps this could be included in any class that is touching on the subject of killing other animals for their flesh.

  11. As a Middlebury graduate, chef, omnivore, and someone who had the honor of working with the Midd Dining staff during NECI’s training program at Middlebury, I say bravo for Less Meat Mondays! In true Middlebury fashion, your options are open (unlike Meatless Mondays). If you want to eat meat you can, but you have the opportunity to try a meatless alternative. What’s wrong with options? According to Harold McGee (On Food and Cooking) it takes 8 pounds of grain to create one pound of beef. An occasional meatless option makes more food available to all. Mark Bittman (see him at Ted.com) notes that we only need about 8 oz. of meat per week, but most Americans eat 8 oz. per day. He also points out that livestock production in feedlots account for 1/5 of greenhouse gases (methane is worse that C02 emissions). College is a time for experimentation,why not try variations in healthy options?
    Chef Lyndon Virkler
    New England Culinary Institute Midd ’74

  12. all these comments and none touching on what should be a central point: there are students at middlebury struggling with eating disorders, and for them each incursion to the dining hall can be full of challenges most people would never think of. this project, as well as biette’s e-mail, is food-shaming, and i am completely against any attempt to promote earth-friendly practices that involves environmentalists coming between students and their food. contrary to what the director of dining services unfortunately believes and proclaims, the dining halls should NOT be a laboratory where some students can experiment with subjecting ALL students to whatever issue it is they want to promote. this goes for lessmeat mondays as well as the event last year where some well-meaning fools had the ridiculous idea that it would be great to encourage students to put less food on their plates by measuring the amount of food they “wasted.” UGH.

  13. This does not make any sense at all. Middlebury’s dining halls have abundant meat and non-meat options every day anyways; those who want to eat meat 7 days a week can do so, those who want to only eat kale 7 days a week can do so too. Middlebury’s dining team’s goal is not to dictate to students when to eat meat – it’s to provide options if someone doesn’t want to eat meat.

  14. If you want to set up a table in the lobby and talk to people about why you think you know better, and persuade them to join your movement, go for it. That’s what college is all about. Infiltrating the operations and limiting others’ freedom to eat what they want is not.

    And I agree with Denizhan.

  15. “Not imposing one group’s beliefs on everyone else is what college is about.”

    Or maybe college is all about learning how one’s beliefs can produce actions that have wider consequences.

  16. My favorite breakfast sandwich has egg, potato, tomato, ham, bacon, sausage and your choice of meat. Brazilian and awesome.

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