Given the resistance that I encounter daily as a vegan, I was nervous that the community would not embrace the program… To my surprise, there was a line out the cafeteria door for the first meal.
It was through learning about factory farming at the SPCA summer camp after sixth grade that I made the decision to become vegan. After seeing images of cows with bloody udders and learning that industrial farming is a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions, I saw no other choice.
When I entered high school, I continued to desire a better situation for animals and the planet. I worked at the SPCA for several summers as a junior counselor, helping introduce young children to the importance of caring for animals. In school, I wrote research papers and gave presentations about the detrimental effects of factory farming. Yet a dilemma began to vex me. Were these tame attempts to promote environmental sustainability enough? How could I find a way to engage people on a larger scale?
Then, after attending a screening of the documentary The End Of Meat, an idea occurred to me: Meatless Mondays. This international movement encourages one meat-free day each week. The cafeteria at my high school was a popular dining option for students, and if it were to adopt Meatless Mondays, up to 500 students and faculty could reduce their meat consumption. I calculated that this would save approximately 54,000 gallons of water and 480 lbs of CO2 weekly, not to mention countless animal lives.
I met with my dean to come up with a plan to institute Meatless Mondays at the school. Then I lobbied relevant student groups and the class presidents. Eventually, I formed a committee of students from Green Team (the environmental club) and Health Initiative for Peer Education (the school’s health group). With this foundation of support from a variety of students, I proposed Meatless Mondays to the school chef and head of student life. In addition to the obvious environmental, ethical, and health incentives, our conversation centered around specific benefits for the school, in other words, what they would gain by implementing this campaign. I talked about cost incentives with meat reduction, cultivating inclusiveness for veg students, and a demonstration that our school is proactive when it comes to social responsibility and environmental sustainability—that we live by the values we profess. Finally, they agreed to a trial run of the program, pledging to eliminate meat from not only the main meal but also the grab and go options in both buildings (namely salads and sandwiches). But that was only half the battle.
To make the program successful, I needed to present the idea to the entire school and encourage their support. Given the resistance that I encounter daily as a vegan, I was nervous that the community would not embrace the program. We held a school-wide presentation highlighting the ethical, environmental, and health benefits of plant-based eating and hung several posters around the school. To my surprise, there was a line out the cafeteria door for the first meal. Urban School became the first school in San Francisco to participate in Meatless Mondays.
While I was thrilled with the initial success of this effort, it was not without its detractors. I heard from a few students that they were upset that there are not meat options at every single meal at school. It made me realize how reluctant some people are to change their habits, even once they are told the personal and global benefits. While I worked to cultivate support from a variety of student groups, in hindsight, I might have done more initial outreach, particularly to different affinity spaces and the student body in general, asking what meals they would have liked to see. Yet despite a few students being upset, the response was overwhelmingly positive.
Looking back, I also take issue with the fact that many of the meatless meals were dairy heavy. As a vegan, I am obviously aware that the dairy industry contains many of the same issues as the meat industry. But the idea of Meatless Mondays––of pushing for meat-free rather than meat and dairy-free––felt more achievable. When engaging with the administration, I knew that they would want to ensure kids would still eat at the cafeteria on Mondays and that they wouldn’t want to learn and cook drastically different meals from what they had been preparing. I was also aware of the fact that for a lot of people who eat meat and dairy in every meal, going straight to something like a kale salad would push them away from the concept entirely. With this consciousness, I remember agreeing to cheesy pasta for the first meal, a dish that I wouldn’t even be able to eat. Affecting change without being absolutist has long been something I struggle with. In this case, I chose not to be absolutist. Now that I am familiar with the Green Monday campaign (as opposed to Meatless Monday) I would have pushed for this instead.
Currently, as a DefaultVeg Ambassador, I am embarking on a similar journey at my college. I will take the lessons I learned from Meatless Mondays into this next challenge. I will remember both the tribulations and the triumphs. To the thirteen-year-old me who would rant at home about the injustices in our food system but in public was afraid to ask the waiter to make a dish vegan, be proud of how far you have come. Remember that as the statistics grow increasingly dire, as you become more confident in yourself and your beliefs, and gain more influence within your community, it is imperative that you continue to affect change on a larger scale.
Ella Rosenblatt is an undergraduate at Pitzer College and FFAC Fellow.