Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Vegan Take on Meatless Mondays

Across the US, Canada and elsewhere, we're finding websites promoting 'Meatless Mondays'. One example from my country:

This blog entry, as usual, is a critique of vegans (and animal rights activists) participating in non-vegan activities. That is to say, i'm not criticising *all* who promote MM, although i believe a number of the points i bring up apply to others who promote MM (such as environmentalists - more on that below.) I really don't see a point to it from any perspective i can think of, but my imagination has its limits.

If today is Meatless Monday, what's tomorrow, Bloody Tuesday? Meatless Monday's follow the Sunday Slaughter? And in fact Monday will be just as bloody, if eggs or dairy are included. MM is definitely not a 'vegan' message from any angle. It isn't encouraging the end of animal exploitation. Nor is it promoting vegetarianism. I don't really know *what* the message is supposed to be. If there is enough of a reason to be meatless on a Monday, shouldn't it be good enough to be meatless every day?

This response can be repeated from nearly every angle. Why is it only good for the environment to eat no meat on only one day of the week? Wouldn't it be seven times better for the environment to give up meat every day of the week? (That seems significant to me.)

Or if it's being argued because people care about animals.. Why is Monday the only day of respite from breeding, imprisoning and then murdering an intelligent, sensitive creature? If it's worth giving up one day a week, why not all seven?

Perhaps even more troubling is that these efforts fail to ensure that 'less meat' is being consumed! Consider: are people who participate in MM actually buying less meat? Is there any evidence for this? Or do they buy the same amount, but compensate over the rest of the week by eating more over six days?

As an example, if someone normally buys a pack of lunchmeat for their pig-flesh sandwiches every day at work, will they carry the 'extra' over to the following Tuesday, or do they just eat the 'extra' over the rest of the week? (Or are there special, smaller 'Meatless Monday' packs from meat companies? HA!! If you don't find that funny, think about it for a moment.)

There's a very good case to be made that this is actually doing NOTHING - not even what the weakest-willed advocates hope for. What's worse, what if other animal products are being consumed to compensate for the lack of meat (since people are brainwashed into believing that they HAVE to eat animal protein)? If people are eating more eggs and dairy on these days, i don't believe that there is really any net gain (for whatever cause that is promoting this.)

Back to reasons for doing this, like for the environment. Why is a cow or bull who is used for their flesh 'worse' for the environment than a cow who is used for her milk? If this is being done for environmental reasons, the hypocrisy is evident: cow dairy is as harmful as cow flesh. The same can be said of chicken flesh and chicken eggs.

`Give up meat for Monday!` is well-meaning, but like `Give up war for Monday!` Peace is an everyday concept. - Lee Hall, aka @VeganMeans on Twitter

If you think that MM is good for animals, think again.. I feel like i'm getting repetitive, but the exact same issues come up as with the environment. Animals used for their excretions (cows for dairy, chickens for eggs) end up slaughtered for their flesh in the end as well...after spending several years as biological machinery. Their lives are not enviable, and no better than the animals used for their meat.

Meatless Mondays result in a false sense of accomplishment from their participants. In doing little-to-nothing (when looking at the bigger picture, and factoring in that they may not be eating less meat at all), they are rewarded, and feel entitled to joining the ranks of those of us who have made meaningful and serious commitments and sacrifices through changes in our lives.

Perhaps they are beginning to join vegans in spirit, but in all honesty that is not enough. Real change is needed. According to the World Watch Institute, 51% of all greenhouse emissions are from animal agriculture. To give that perspective, all cars, trains, planes and boats, the ENTIRE transportation sector, would amount to perhaps 7% of total emissions. The impact is tremendous, and the report is here: - it's a worthwhile read.

Instead of Meatless Mondays, these activists should be promoting meaningful efforts. Encourage more vegan meals. Start with getting participants to eat vegan breakfasts. These are easy, with cereal, oatmeal, toast, fruits and other common foods. This is a meaningful, positive change. And it's getting people to actually think the way they need to: that meals need to be *vegan*. Not 'meatless'. From there, encourage working up to lunches, and dinners. By preparing vegan meals, they're actually practicing veganism, and being mindful of real change.

If veganism is our goal (and nearly all who promote Meatless Monday would say this is the case), then we NEED to ask for veganism. Not 'Meatless Mondays', and then sitting on our laurels and hoping that they'll progress from there. Weak-willed, apologetic campaigns have dominated the world of animal activism for the last century, and relatively little has changed (well, if anything, people are generally eating MORE animal products, and actually feeling better about how 'humane' it is.)

I know numerous people who have been vegetarians for years and DECADES, yet still haven't gone vegan (although they claim it is their 'goal'.) The evidence is clear: asking people to go vegetarian generally results in vegetarians, not vegans. The type of activism that results in vegans needs to be vegan from the get-go. And Meatless Mondays is an even weaker degree of activism than vegetarianism. We need to stop watering down the message, and stepping further backwards. It's not working.

In summation: let's stop doing activism that doesn't work.

(Note: i can be found here on The Twitter. ;)


Anonymous said...

Have you ever actually *known* a meat eater, Dave?

Dave Shishkoff said...

Good question, Anonymous. Thank you for that thoughtful contribution.

Do you mean that in a Biblical sense? Oh my - ha ha he he ho ho - i'm just kidding.

I would say the very first meat-eater i ever got to know was myself, along with my family, then virtually everyone i met until around the age of 14, when i went vegan.

I met a handful of vegans around that time.

Since then, i've met literally thousands more meat-eaters. Why, even last night at the climbing gym, i met and got to know yet another one.

On reflection, i think it's safe to say the vast majority of people i've known, and continue to know, and will likely get to know, are meat-eaters.

Thanks again for that provocative question, i'm sure it's the sort of thing most readers were wondering!!

J. Muir said...

"Instead of Meatless Mondays, these activists should be promoting meaningful efforts. Encourage more vegan meals. Start with getting participants to eat vegan breakfasts."

Well,there's our solution - switch Meatless Mondays for Meaningful Mornings!

Dave Shishkoff said...

haha - that's an AWESOME suggestion!!! I love it!! =)

Glenn said...

You write "Instead of Meatless Mondays, these activists should be promoting meaningful efforts. Encourage more vegan meals."

Outside of animal exploitation, very little irks me quite as much as someone telling an activist what they *should* be doing, rather than doing it themselves. It's so wonderfully easy to sit back and tell others what they *should* be doing - but I've generally given that up in favour of taking personal responsibility for doing what I want to see done. It's not enough to present your wisdom and wonder why no one runs to change what they are doing because you've said they should. If you want something to happen a certain way, then do it. Otherwise, how can you complain?

Now that that's out of the way, let me just tell a story.
Several weeks ago, I and about 10 of my co-workers went out to lunch at Hell's Kitchen. When out food was served we realized that 7 of us had ordered vegan or vegetarian food - only 3 people had any meat at all in their meal. But only 1 of us was vegan or vegetarian (me).

Hell's Kitchen is just a regular restaurant that happens to offer a few vegetarian options on their menu. Not many, just a couple.

Then, right before the holiday break, my boss took the 4 staff left in the office to Maenam, a fairly upscale Thai restaurant for lunch. At this meal only one person ordered anything vegan or vegetarian (me). I had to ask that the pad thai be made vegan. Nothing else on the menu was obviously vegan (the bamboo shoots dish may have been vegetarian but likely isn't particularly attractive to anyone who isn't very familiar with Asian foods).

So, what's my point? The availability of vegan and vegetarian foods on menus actually seems to encourage people to order them - even if they are meat eaters. This is purely anecdotal, I know. If the cafeteria at a workplace decides to offer a "Meatless Monday special" my guess, based on the anecdotal evidence available to me, is that people would order it and have a vegan or vegetarian meal without really intending it.

Which brings me to what I hope is my point: the strategy behind the Meatless Monday project (or at least a strategy) is that this may serve to normalize vegetarian options in cafeterias, workplaces, and in general discourse.

You are right that it does not promote veganism, and it is unfortunate that the right language couldn't be found to promote it as meat-, egg-, and dairy-free Mondays, but it could be a simple, small step towards pushing these options into public consciousness.

I really do agree with Ginny Messina's opinions on Meatless Mondays, and she says it all a lot better than I can.

Meatless Trevor said...

If you started Meaningful Mondays... or the Vegan Breakfast club... or any other sort of vegan challenge, I'm sure the Meatless Mondays crowd would be happy to support you...

Regarding Glenn's post, I agree that people should put their activity where they passion lies - which is why I actually appreciate open debate like this. I think the problem is that there is a line between "debating/questioning effectiveness of a campaign" and "undermining the efforts of others" ... your initial post is well into the later territory

Dave Shishkoff said...

Hi Glenn, thanks for the posting!

I'm glad i'm not causing you irks, as i AM doing what i say, and i thank you for not jumping to the conclusion that i'm a lawn-chair activist. ;)

It seems you're having a positive influence on your co-workers, good stuff.

You reiterate my main complaints with MM, that it doesn't perpetuate a vegan message, so other animal products are not implied.

Sure, it's a good thing if there are more 'meatless' dishes being offered, but if other animals are being hurt in the process (dairy cows, egg-laying chickens) what kind of 'victory' is that? And what kind of victory is it if people feel *good* about themselves over this? Are those exploited egg chickens and dairy cows thankful for 'meatless' campaigns?

The message is weak, and if we want to talk about undermining efforts, MM works to undermine a vegan message. A vegan message is that exploiting ALL animals is wrong. A MM message is...well...who really knows. Trevor points out that MMC (C=Canada) is about greenhouse emissions, and lowering them.

Yet, if a 'meatless' meal still contains dairy or eggs, the GHG emissions could still be as high, or even higher in some cases. So what's the point? Why must the advocacy be so impotent?

I'm not trying to undermine or inhibit legitimate, thoughtful advocacy work that communicates a clear, effective message. Unfortunately, best i can tell, MM and MMC do exactly that.

Imagine a campaign that was 'Don't Drive A Ford On Monday'. Implying that Ford vehicles are significantly worse for the environment than Chevy's or Toyotas, etc.. That's exactly what's happening here with Meatless Mondays. One segment of the most damaging impact of the environment is mentioned, but inexplicably the other components aren't.

What's worse, many vegans (like you Glenn) are being lulled into accepting this as legitimate vegan advocacy. And instead of working on vegan campaigns, they're promoting this obscure and confusing campaign.

Who's undermining who?

As far as "pushing these options into public consciousness", veganism does that, doesn't it? Can't we ask for vegan offerings at restaurants? (Instead of vegetarian or meatless ones?)

I use this analogy a lot: if you want an apple, but all you ever ask for is oranges, when on earth will you ever get the apple you're looking for? If we want to see vegan options, and see people eating vegan food, then we need to ask for that. Not vegetarianism. Not Meatless Mondays. Not whatever the next watering down will be. The more we promote veganism, the more it will be a part of the mainstream. If we're advocating for non-vegan foods, then we're really working against ourselves.

How do you think it is that vegan restaurants cropped up? Was it a demand for 'vegetarian' food? Or 'meatless' food? No, that's how vegetarian restaurants appear. It's people who are advocating for veganism that make these things happen. So let's do that.

Is there any reason not to?

Dave Shishkoff said...

Hi Trevor, i think i addressed your comments on who's undermining who.

As for the support from MM or MMC, i somehow doubt it. I suspect they would say that these campaigns are too 'strict', 'difficult', or some such thing. If they were really supportive of vegan campaigning, they would have taken it on in the first place.

That's my impression.