Does Meatless Monday Really Matter?

Written by Shiying Cheng
Graphs by Shiying Cheng

On Monday, May 2, around 150 students ate at Rastall Dining Hall for Meatless Monday. Students have various food choices, including fresh vegetable salad, fried rice with carrots, pepper with onion, an omelet with cheese and tomato, some baked potatoes, and several flavors of pizzas.

Current Colorado College students are familiar with the existence of Meatless Mondays, but very few actually know how it started. Derek Hanson, the Director of Retail Operations for Bon Appétit said, “Meatless Monday started from January 2011, and it was a fully student-driven movement.”

Becca Spiegel ’12, the former Vice President for Student Concern for the Colorado College Student Government, was the main student initiator of this movement. “Meatless Monday was a nation-wide movement during that time,” said Spiegel. “Going meatless for a day, it is not a super hard thing to do, and can have positive impacts on the environment.” So she began speaking with Bon Appétit about making dinners meatless at Rastall every Monday.

Journal Climate Change published a study that concluded that dietary greenhouse gas emissions in high meat eaters are about 2.5 times as high as than those in vegans. Therefore, a vegetarian diet could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally.

Another report from the Climate Focus and California Environmental Associates also reveal that certain agricultural adjustments, including reduction of global beef consumption, could help reduce annual carbon emissions from agriculture by 50 to 90 percent by 2030.

“Every year since, it has always been a topic of debate,” said Hanson. “Students used to ask us to refund the money once they realized that it was Meatless Monday.”

Now, five years after the change, “I would say that this movement is definitely successful,” Hanson said. “When Rastall first started Meatless Monday, we normally received around 20 comment cards per week. But in the recent two years, we haven’t received any at all.” Moreover, Hanson pointed out that the number of students during dinner-time on Mondays has increased from low 200s in the past to high 300s now.

Figure 1. Number of Students at Rastall for Dinner on Mondays and Other Weekdays
Figure 1. Number of Students at Rastall for Dinner on Mondays and Other Weekdays

The number of students dining at Rastall on Meatless Mondays has been largely consistent from the spring of 2012 to the spring of 2015, with alternating ups and downs each semester. The average gap between Mondays and non-Mondays is 83 among all semesters. Fall semesters normally have around 360 students on Mondays, while spring semesters have around 260 students.

However, figure 1 also displays a huge increase in the amount of students who came to Rastall in the current semester. It is the first time since 2012 that Meatless Monday has attracted more students in the spring than in the fall.

According to conducted surveys among 270 students on Tuesday, the average rank of food on Meatless Mondays is in the middle of “Fair” and “Good.” Fifty-five percent out of 247 students indicated that they have avoided Meatless Monday on purpose before.

Students such as Freshman Emma Gonzalez like Meatless Monday a lot. She says, “I really like Meatless Monday because there are much wider varieties of well-cook vegetables. There is always a salad bar, which is great!” One Freshman girl even writes on the survey, “If people get rid of Meatless Monday, I would cry!”

Some students like certain aspects of Meatless Monday. Junior Emilio Rodríguez says, “Meatless Monday is definitely not my favorite because I do like meat.” However, because food at Rastall gets very repetitive, he really appreciates this variation once a week.

At the same time, some students dislike the way Rastall makes its vegetarian options. Students like first-year Zhaopeng Li came to Rastall this past Monday and regretted after they paid for Meatless Monday. On the survey, 10 males and 3 females wrote that they really like and need meat.

Based on the survey, a larger proportion of vegetarians and vegans come to Rastall on Monday night than Tuesday night.

Besides differences between vegetarians and non-vegetarians, the survey also shows a huge gap between genders on Monday and Tuesday. Only 26 percent out of 237 students who took the survey on Monday were male, while 46 percent out of 277 students surveyed on Tuesday were male (see fig.2).

Figure 2. Gender distribution of students who came to Meatless Mondays.
Figure 2. Gender distribution of students who came to Meatless Mondays.

The result illustrates that male students at CC tend to be more reluctant towards consuming vegetarian products..

A possible explanation might be found through a study from Journal of Consumer Research. The study demonstrates that there exists a strong connection between eating meat and masculinity in Western culture. It seems to be more of a social stigma for males to come across as vegetarians/vegans than for females.

Although fewer students go to Meatless Monday, 86 percent out of 227 students on Tuesday do not oppose keeping it at Rastall (see Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Do [Surveyed Students] Support Having Meatless Mondays?
Figure 3. Do [Surveyed Students] Support Having Meatless Mondays?
Five students write inclusivity as a reason for supporting Meatless Mondays, because it shows that the school supports vegetarian students’ diets and promotes more inclusivity on campus.

Forty-one students specifically indicate that they support having Meatless Monday because of environmental damages caused by meat production.

“Rastall should have three meatless meals on Mondays,” sophomore Justina Zuckerman said. “The importance of Meatless Mondays is to cut the meat consumption and be more energy-efficient.” She asserted that one meal per week is not helping the environment enough.

First-year Emma Gonzalez talked about her frustration with the lack of educational aspects in the operation of Meatless Mondays. She said, “It is a good thing that a college is having Meatless Monday. But I really hope that there is more information on why they are doing it.”

Fifteen percent of students do not have an opinion on Meatless Mondays. However, there is one interesting explanation from a sophomore, who wrote, “I do appreciate the effect of Meatless Mondays, but other places like Benji’s probably serves more meat on Mondays.” The real question is, how much does Rastall’s Meatless Monday help reduce the campus-wide meat consumption?

“Unfortunately, Rastall does not keep hard data on meat consumption,” said Chief Jenny Cline, the Supervisor of the Rastall Kitchen. However, based on the menu, Cline says that he can offer his estimate on the meat consumption on non-Mondays.

Dinner this past Tuesday, for example, entailed “approximately 15 pounds of beef for burgers, 15 pounds of turkey for burgers, 30 pounds of chicken breast, 25 pounds of beef, and 80 pounds of chicken bone-in,” Cline said. All these items add up to about 165 pounds of meat consumption on Tuesday.

Cline explained that Benji’s makes up for at least 100 pounds worth of meat on Monday nights because of turkey dinner, steak night, and the increase of proteins sold in the Grill Line.

Therefore, if the Preserve sells around 50 more pounds of meat on Mondays than any other day, the Meatless Monday is a zero-sum game in reducing campus-wide meat consumption.

While Cline does not think that the Preserve’s meat consumption on Monday would be increased as high as 50 pounds, but he believes it could be increased by 25 pounds.

“The student body is still going to spend their dollars and get their calories. They are just going to spend it in a different place,” Cline commented.

Through simple calculations, Meatless Monday reduces roughly only 8 percent of meat consumption on campus. “This number is very counterintuitive, but it does make sense,” Cline stated. This 8 percent gap could easily be filled by one night a week when students decide to go off campus and consume their protein elsewhere.

As a result, Meatless Monday fails to meet its original goal of reducing meat consumption to impact the environment positively.

Kummel emphasized that Meatless Monday may not help the environment, but the real importance is to raise people’s awareness of environmental issues. Structurally, “Meatless Mondays might change people’s lifestyles, then this person might push changes in state’s policies,” he said.

Besides the potential environmental policy changes, Supervisor Jenny Cline also asserted, “Nutritionally, I think Meatless Monday is a great tool for varieties.”

According to Bloomberg School of Public Health at the John Hopkin’s University, most Americans eat more than 1.5 times the average daily protein requirement, while fails to meet the recommendations for vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

Cline stated that there are many alternative forms of proteins available in Rastall on Mondays, such as tofu, beans, dark leafy greens, and spinach, which are heavier in calcium, Vitamin K, and other nutrients.

In the end, Cline emphasized, no matter whether Meatless Monday actually reduces campus-wide meat consumption, as a concept, it encourages students to have a healthier diet with more variety of nutrients.

Shiying Cheng

Shiying Cheng

Website Editor & News Reporter
Website Editor and Staff Writer for the News Section at the Catalyst. Shiying Cheng joined The Catalyst in March 2016. Cheng is also a contributor for Insights Section of Asia Times. As a student, Cheng is double majoring in Political Science and Computer Science, with minors in Journalism and History. She is passionate about data, coding, and story-telling, and wants to impact the surrounding communities through the power of journalism.

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