Most people involved with meat production are familiar with the Meatless Monday campaign, the brainchild of a pro-vegetarian group of health officials attached to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Initially launched about 10 years ago, the campaign was at first a thinly disguised bid to solicit “partners” (read, “contributors”) for the school, companies who loved the concept and just happened to be involved in manufacturing of a variety of commercially marketed vegetarian food products.

Since then, the campaign has ratcheted up, along with the rhetoric about meat production causing global warming and the horrors of factory farming and animal abuse.

Allegedly.

Now, another new partner has climbed aboard. Sodexo has announced that it is rolling out a Meatless Monday initiative,“in a bid to promote wellness and sustainability,”to more than 2,000 of its clients, following pilot programs at more than 900 U.S. hospitals, according to a company news release.

Sodexo, of course, is a multi-billion dollar foodservice operator that boasts that its mission is to “design, manage and deliver comprehensive service solutions through On-site Service Solutions and Motivation Solutions to create an outstanding experience for the people they serve.”

Talk about a mouthful of marketing-ese.

Among the clients Sodexo says it has recruited to join the meatless Mondays campaign are such organizations as:

  • Chicago-based Northern Trust Corporation(formerly Northern Trust Bank, but in the wake of the Wall Street meltdown and bailout, that last term has become a four-letter word), which styles itself as a “global leader in delivering innovative investment management, asset and fund administration, fiduciary and banking solutions to corporations, institutions and affluent individuals” and claims $4.4 trillion in “assets under custody,” whatever that means.
  • Toyota USA, which, despite the well-documented safety problems in its automobiles, you’ll be pleased to learn, is “Committed to Putting Our People, Customers & Community First.”
  • The federal Department of the Interior, which, you might be surprised to learn, has launched “the most aggressive oil and gas safety and reform agenda in U.S. history” and is “unlocking our nation’s renewable energy potential in unprecedented ways,”is also named as a supporter of Meatless Mondays—although a website search reveals only truly jingoistic story from 1943 about the “hard-working evacuees” at a Japanese-American internment camp in Idaho happily raising “healthy vegetables basking in the shimmery summer sun.”

I kid you not.

Uncovering the real reasons

Now, the question becomes this: Why is Sodexo so supportive of a campaign that is blatantly focusedon demonizing the meat industry and virtually transparent in its mission to convince consumers that red meat producers—and by extension, meat eaters—are the spawn of Satan himself?

There’s lots of happy talk in the company’s PR about supporting local produce growers (a good thing), capitalizing on the popularity of farmer’s markets (fine and dandy) and using the campaign as a vehicle for “promoting sustainability” (questionable but understandable as a marketing tool). And plenty of feel-good self-importance for a firm that doesn’t get a lot of media attention unless something has gone wrong.

“The response [to Meatless Mondays] has been very positive,” said Tracey Riddle, Sodexo's general manager at Toyota’s North American headquarters in Torrance, Calif. “The first week we ran it, we had people taking pictures of the sign.”

Sodexo’s Meatless Monday program highlights a vegetarian option from each of the various serving stations in the company’s cafeteria, Riddle explained. Meat dishes are still offered, but the vegetarian items receive “heavy promotion.”

“People just loved it,” Riddle claimed. “Our sales skyrocketed.”

Okay, now we’re getting close to the real reason Sodexo is so excited.

“To boot, the initiative has a small silver economic lining,” the firm’s news release stated. “It’s a lower product cost, so it does help the bottom line a little bit,” according to Riddle.

Case closed.

In the end, the proponents of Meatless Mondays are the same crowd pushing a plant-based diet as the solution to the planet’s various economic, nutritional and environmental woes. For example, here’s a sampling from a “Green Biz” website touring the campaign: “Why ditch meat for a day? Less animal protein means less of a risk of developing chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Risks to our environment will also be diminished as we trim meat from our plates by reducing our carbon footprint and cut fossil fuel demand.”

Apparently, about the only thing giving up meat doesn’t do is balance the federal budget and lower the price of gasoline.

But that’ll be next, trust me.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with promoting nutritional variety, nothing untoward about supporting local food production and certainly nothing bad about encouraging Americans to eat healthier—on any day of the week.

So how about a “Fruitful Fridays” campaign instead? Wouldn’t that accomplish the same goals that the Meatless Monday people claim to be pursuing?

Only without all the anti-red meat rhetoric.

Dan Murphy is a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator