What’s all the buzz about Meatless Mondays?

Last week I had the opportunity to interview Kristie Middleton, the Outreach Manager for The Humane Society of the United States’ (HSUS) farm animal protection division. Kristie oversees the organization’s shareholder advocacy program. She has successfully worked with dozens of corporations, hospitals, and other institutions to improve the plight of farm animals through humane-minded purchasing programs.

Read on to learn more about Kristie and the Meatless Monday campaign.

Tell me a little bit about yourself and the work you are involved with at The Humane Society of the United States.

I’m Outreach Manager for Farm Animal Protection at The Humane Society of the United States. In my role, I work with schools, hospitals, and major corporations within the food industry on improving animal welfare in their supply chains and other programs to reduce the suffering of farm animals. Some examples include moving toward higher animal welfare products like cage-free eggs and pork from breeding pigs not confined in gestation crates. We also work with some of these institutions on implementing and promoting programs like Meatless Monday.

It seems like I’m hearing a lot more about Meatless Monday these days. How long has the concept been around and what was the original inspiration for the campaign?

Meatless Monday was first introduced during WWI by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration as a way for Americans to conserve resources during wartime and do their part to support the troops. It was brought back again by both Presidents Roosevelt and Truman during WWII. In 2003, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and retired ad man-turned health advocate Sid Lerner re-launched Meatless Monday as a multinational effort to promote sustainability, animal welfare, and public health. The program has become an international movement with restaurant companies, hospitals, schools, and corporate cafeterias participating, and celebrities and other public figures touting the benefits of Meatless Monday for the environment, human health, and animals.

Do you have a grasp on how many people are participating in Meatless Monday, and are you finding that it’s being embraced more in certain parts of the country or with certain populations?

People are more concerned these days than ever before about where their food comes from and how it’s produced. That concern is reflected in recent polling. Earlier this year the American Meat Institute and Food Marketing Institute released the results of a study in which they found that 18 percent of respondents were “implementing meatless Mondays.” The movement is taking hold in surprising places. From the Baltimore Public School system to Medical University of South Carolina to most of the University of California campuses, schools are getting on board. Celebrities from Oprah Winfrey to Martha Stewart to chefs like Mario Batali are participating. And media are taking part too, like BET, Black Entertainment Television, the Christian Science Monitor, and Denver’s alternative newsweekly Westword, which are among some of the outlets posting weekly Meatless Monday recipe ideas.

Given the scale of our industrial food system, can small individual actions such as participating in Meatless Monday or buying local really make a difference?

The sheer enormity of our food system can seem overwhelming and taking individual actions may sometimes feel fruitless, but if not us, then who? If all of us went meat-free just one day a week it would spare about 1.4 billion animals from suffering on factory farms. With respect to curbing our environmental impact, according to the Sierra Club, “If Americans reduced meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as though we all switched from a sedan to a hybrid.”

Individual actions are very important. Large scale policies make change happen even faster, so anyone who wants to make a difference should not only participate themselves, but encourage their friends, family, and better yet, employers, college, hospital, alma mater or other institution to get on board. The HSUS has worked with students and employees on such initiatives and we’re always happy to help individuals who want to get involved in this manner.

Beyond Meatless Monday, what are some other things “flexitarians” can do to take a stand against factory farming?

The HSUS promotes eating with conscience and embracing the Three Rs—reducing the consumption of meat and other animal-based foods through programs like Meatless Monday; refining the diet by avoiding products from the worst production systems (e.g., switching to cage-free eggs); and replacing meat and other animal-based foods in the diet with plant-based foods. Individuals can also help spread the word about these initiatives through social networks, such as by sharing our fun new Meatless Monday video on Facebook and Twitter. The scope of animal suffering on factory farming is immense, but there are things both big and small that we can all do to help abate that suffering. The important thing is that we recognize our responsibility and get started right away.

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