Commentary: It’s better than meat-less

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Whether you think the following story represents a positive or negative development depends on whether you’re a “plate half-full” or a “plate half-empty” kind of person.

Here’s the story, according to the Boston University Daily Free Press:

A number of Boston University students are proposing a new campaign to serve less meat on Mondays during the school’s spring semester. The idea is to offer “better food options” and “cultivate environmental friendliness,” according to the newspaper.

“Meat-Reduction Mondays are being proposed as part of a sustainability campaign to increase the number of vegetarian options by 75% on Mondays in the dining halls and reduce—but not eliminate—meat options,” said Gunita Singh, a junior and the organizer of the campaign. “A school like [Boston University] has an undeniable obligation to reduce its carbon footprint as much as possible,” she said.

Students involved in the campaign agreed that the main focus is to reduce the eco-impact of Boston University’s Dining Services.

“If BU purchases less meat one day of the week, the demand for meat goes down,” Singh said. “It all makes a difference in bringing down the supply of an industry which pollutes indiscriminately.”

She had me at “making a difference.” She lost me at “pollutes indiscriminately.”

A difference in outcomes

According to the newspaper’s account, BU Dining Services already has a program called “Make a Difference Monday” which is aimed at offering more vegetarian options and featuring locally grown foods, according to Sabrina Pashtan, BU Dining Services sustainability coordinator.

“One Monday a month, we have Make a Difference Monday in our dining rooms,” Pashtan said. “It showcases foods with a lower carbon footprint.”

However, Make a Difference Monday doesn’t make much of a difference, Singh said, since it only occurs once a month. Hence, the launch of weekly Meat-Reduction Mondays.

I agree: That’s not a very snazzy name for such a program. But despite the clunky branding, I actually think this idea’s a good one—as opposed to the infamous Meatless Mondays, that is. Granted, the underlying assumptions for both programs are the same: Cutting back on meat-eating equates to cutting back on planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

The difference, however, is that rather than having the goal of ultimately converting the world to a vegan diet—using Meatless Mondays as steppingstone—this campaign actually acknowledges that it’s not about eliminating animal foods, but rather making more intelligent nutritional choices.

Perhaps more importantly, Meatless Mondays appeals to the true veggie believer, giving them confirmation of their righteousness. Meat-Reduction Mondays, on the other hand, is more of a vehicle that gets students talking, gets them thinking and gets them to expend some of their brainpower considering food choices and their impact on food production.

Isn’t that what’s supposed to be going on in exchange for those six-figure tuition payments?

For proof, consider the comments of the students quoted in the Daily Free Press article.

“I support [the program], I just feel like [once a week] might be too frequent,” said Melanie Rieders, a junior communications major. “We already have [Make a Difference Mondays] once a month, which still serves meat, but in a healthy way.”

Sophomore Erica Shulman said she understands why people might be opposed to the new program, but believes adding vegetarian options creates more choices for everyone. “It would be healthier,” she said. “To know there’s a place everyone can go, even just once a week, to get a good meatless meal is great.”

Gunita Singh, the Meat-Reduction campaign coordinator, emphasized that the point is not to entirely eliminate meat but to design meals to be flexible, without alienating students who do eat meat.

“I understand that some people might feel as though the school has no right to impose a day without meat on them,” Singh said. “We simply want to provide them foods that have not been manufactured with violence and cruelty, and have less—if any—of a carbon footprint.”

The cruelty comment aside, her statement’s at least an acknowledgement that vegetarian food options are not the carbon-neutral panacea many veggie proponents want to believe they are.

That is a positive and valuable learning experience, one that many more college students could stand to absorb. And if that’s the best outcome of this development, I’ll take it.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.


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