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We investigated the effectiveness of the ‘Meatless Monday’ movement, the flexitarian alternative to veganism that has become fashionable

There is one thing that nutritionists and environmental scientists agree on and that is our diet contains more foods of animal origin than recommended. Although their arguments are different, they all have important consequences for the future of the planet and for our quality of life. That is why in recent decades initiatives such as Meat Free Mondays (or Meat Free Mondays) have proliferated, an international movement that seeks to promote the reduction of the consumption of foods of animal origin by challenging us not to consume them for a whole day a week. We tell you what it consists of in detail and what the experts think about it.

In the town of the Netherlands where dietitian nutritionist Raquel Bernácer lives, there is no concept of proximity trading, so when she moved there in 2014, started to buy less meat and eat more vegetables to avoid the poor quality of the goods and the plastic packaging of the supermarket. This is how he came to the movement and discovered « the gastronomic wealth of plant-based recipes, » he tells us on the phone.

Now is flexitarian, what does it mean that 80% of what you eat is vegetable and the remaining 20% ​​is made up of eggs, dairy products and some specific meat or fish dishes. It does so by being aware of what it implies and trying to make it locally produced food from animals that live as freely as possible. Although without forgetting to enjoy the moment.

In Spain, an average of 400 grams of meat is consumed a week

With the same name that the campaign has titled its book Monday without meat (Vergara, 2021) with tips and recipes to get started in vegetarianism or reductionism, « According to how far each one is willing to go », as he affirms. He thinks that “from a nutritional point of view. meat is very interesting « so he is not against it but » against the abusive consumption that we carry out in western culture. «

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That excess, in the case of a Spanish citizen, it has been quantified in 400 grams on average per week, the expert tells us. « There are people who consume it for lunch and dinner every day and that displaces the consumption of other foods. » Leaving the animals once a week aside, she sees it as a gateway to a healthier and more sustainable diet. A way to discover new recipes and new ways of eating plant-based foods. « We don’t know how to cook them so we think it’s boring and we can’t think of anything beyond the basics. » If we decide to do it on Monday or Tuesday it is the least, he assures.

Cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity

WHO recognizes that « eating meat has health benefits. » However, he also points out that “many of the national health recommendations advise people limit the consumption of processed meat and red meat, which is linked to increased risk of death from heart disease, diabetes and other conditions«. More reasons would be to reduce the consumption of fat and sodium, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease and obesity.

On the other hand, the International Agency for Research on Cancer is an organization that evaluates the available evidence on the causes of this disease and has also supported the 2002 recommendation of the WHO to moderate the consumption of red and processed meat to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. Although he points out that the cancer risks associated with the intake of poultry and fish have not been evaluated.

WHO recommends limiting the consumption of processed meat and red meat

For the nutritionist, this conception that a meal must include meat to be complete is a historical cultural theme: «A few centuries ago, It was a food intended for the higher classes and the poorer classes were fed on vegetables. These families used to have an animal that they raised, slaughtered and preserved the meat for food during the winter.

With the current mass production system, we have a product that was considered luxury available to everyone. « This is still in the collective memory, » argues the dietician. As well we tend to almost exclusively associate proteins with meat but it is not the only food that provides them to us. The expert recalls that, for example, we have legumes that “we consume in very little quantity and have much less environmental impact. It’s about consuming a little less of one and a little more of the other.

It is also important to remember that the fact that a meal is vegetarian is not synonymous with being healthy. For Bernácer it is very important that we understand the concept of movement health. And, « with the boom in recent years, the industry has seen that more and more people are interested in this type of food and that is why vegan ultra-processed foods such as ice cream, desserts, pizza … » have emerged.

Origin and expansion of vegetarian Mondays

Maybe you don’t expect this but the movement has a war origin. During World War I, in the United States, more than 13 million families reduced the consumption of some basic foods so that they were destined to the troops who were in the front. This was called Meatless Monday and Wheatless Wednesday.

Roosvelt revived the campaign during World War II, but the concept was later forgotten until 2003, when a former publicist recaptured it and reintroduced it with help from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health to raise awareness about preventable diseases associated with excessive meat consumption and the impact of factory farming on the environment.

Since then, the movement has grown and expanded through countries and social networks to reach companies, schools, hospitals, restaurants and other institutions. In Belgium, for example, cities such as Bruges or Ghent have joined by introducing meat-free menus in schools and the same is already happening in all New York public schools.

Meatless Monday: Tips and recipes to take care of your diet and the planet (Practical book)

In Spain, the second country in Europe with the highest meat consumption, according to Greenpeace data, there is still no municipality that has joined the campaign. Last year, through a motion to the local council, United by Collado Villaba He proposed that Mondays be declared a meatless day in the municipality. In this way the cafeterias and restaurants of the town hall, as well as those that are in municipal public spaces, could not have served it on the first day of the week to raise awareness about the consequences.

However, the motion was rejected with the votes against the PP, Vox and Ciudadanos and the abstention of Más Madrid. While the Popular Party in the Community of Madrid denounced that lthe proposal violated the freedom of the people and that coronary heart disease was « related to trans fats, which are in buns, French fries … not in the meat of the Guadarrama » (something that does not quite conform to reality, as we have explained before). For its part, Vox described it as « nonsense and insult to citizens » and the debate, of course, jumped onto the networks.

Greenhouse gases and deforestation

Jonathan Safran Foer, backed by data, studies and the opinion of expert scientists in the field, defended in his book We can save the world before dinner (Seix Barral, 2019) that «changing our eating habits will not be enough, by itself, to save the planet but we cannot save the planet without changing our eating habits«.

According to the 2018 study The global impacts of food production, 25% of greenhouse gas production comes from the food industry. That is a quarter of those generated by all sectors. From this quarter of emissions, 58% corresponds to the generation of animal products, and in turn, a 50% of them correspond to the production of beef and lamb. Additionally, 80% of global deforestation is the result of agricultural expansion, with most of it going to feed animals rather than people.

Meatless Mondays would reduce the carbon footprint per person by 12%

On the other hand, it has been calculated that the effect of spending a single day a week without eating meat would contaminate less than one day a week riding a bicycle to work and is that would reduce the carbon footprint per person by 12%. In 2010, FAO defined the concept of « sustainable diet » as « those diets with a low environmental impact that contribute to food and nutritional security, as well as a healthy life for present and future generations. »

In other words, it would be of little use to blindly follow an initiative like Meatless Mondays without informing ourselves or actively considering where what we eat comes from. And it is that the carbon footprint of a local beef fillet could be less than that of an avocado imported from Ecuador, an orange brought from China or strawberries grown out of season. For the global calculation of the carbon footprint the set of emissions generated from the moment the food is produced must be taken into account, until it reaches our plates, sometimes having traveled further than us in our life.

Safran Foer is arguably part of this movement in his own way. He has been a vegetarian for more than ten years and the consumption of eggs and dairy is reserved exclusively for the last meal of the day. When we interviewed him in Barcelona on the occasion of the publication of his essay, he told us that he tried many times to get it and that the only thing that really made him change was having a plan. In it, in addition to guidelines regarding food, it includes other aspects such as not taking more than three taxis a week or not traveling by plane on vacation.

Industries such as transportation or energy also pollute a lot but, as Bernácer points out, “we have alternatives to make them less polluting: renewable energy, traveling by train instead of by plane, etc. However, we have to keep producing food because the population has to keep eating. We can choose to eat a beef burger, for which production has required the same liters of drinking water that you can drink in four years, or you can eat another made with chickpeas, for which much less water has been needed ».

We have alternatives for other industries to pollute less but we will have to continue producing food

And it is that he considers that, on the subject of the environment, we all have our role. So while science and technology have to advance to improve technological and production processes To make the food industry more efficient, “we as consumers can also make the impact of that industry less. If so much meat is produced it is because it is consumed in such quantities.

For those who no longer want to buy meat next Monday, the expert tells us that «the first step is as simple as buying a pot of cooked vegetables. You just open it, rinse it and prepare a stir-fry with a little vegetables and spices ». Do it little by little, « without stressing yourself because these processes take time. »

Photos | Unsplash


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