Why I love Meatless Mondays

Sophia May
Release Date: 
Meatless Mondays happen at East Quad every Monday.
Monday is only the first in a week of long days packed with classes, extracurriculars, and work, with the weekend only a dim and seemingly unreachable light in the distance. Monday is also the day where many try to avoid the East Quad dining hall like the plague, all because of the weekly initiative to promote food sustainability: Meatless Mondays. 
But why the stigma? Meatless Monday is an event that vegetarians and vegans can eagerly anticipate, and an opportunity for meat-lovers like myself to send a little extra love to the planet.
As a sustainability intern at Michigan Dining and as a Program in the Environment major, I have learned about the impact that meat has on the environment. Meat has become a crucial component of the American diet, and is deeply embedded within the culture of our country. We are accustomed to eating meat in most, if not every, meal. Hot dogs and hamburgers are both cultural icons and staple foods, serving as the mascots of an increasingly productive meat industry. 
This industry, however,  is reliant on a staggering number of inputs that aren’t all that kind to the environment, as well as to us. One pound of beef takes an average of 1,800 gallons of water to produce. One pound of pork needs 660 gallons of water, while you can grow one pound of potatoes with only 48 gallons of water. With the average American eating around 167 pounds of meat per year, that adds up to a lot of water coming from our meat industry alone. Aside from water, the high amounts of fertilizers and pesticides applied to grow grains for animal feed runoff the land and trickle into the groundwater. This has caused algal blooms and dead zones only an hour from campus, in Lake Erie. 
Although it sounds harmless, the burps of animals like cows, sheep, and goats release methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, house high numbers of animals in small spaces, jeopardizing water quality and human health due to waste disposal difficulties and high amounts of antibiotics. Meatless Mondays, however, are a way to support a different food system that is healthier for both the environment and for us. 
On Meatless Mondays, MDining staff work hard to prove that meals can be just as delicious, if not even more so, while using plant-based ingredients in lieu of meat. Here’s a sample Monday menu at East Quad: At lunch, vegetable cashew korma with basmati rice, dal, and naan bread, and at dinner, huevos rancheros with black beans, guacamole, and pico de gallo. And if those don’t sound appealing to you, they’re also making 4 kinds of pizza, cheesy bread, lemon bars, and chocolate chunk cookies - mmm. 
Eating sustainably is not about giving up meat entirely, or quitting cold turkey (no pun intended). Environmentally friendly dining means making decisions that are healthy for you as well as the planet. I choose to attend Meatless Mondays not because I am an environmental science major, but because by simply choosing to forego eating meat at one meal, I can play a part in creating a new food system and diet that are more sustainably sound. 
**If you want to learn more about the virtual water footprints of food, visit http://graphics.latimes.com/food-water-footprint/ to build a meal and see how much water is required to produce its ingredients. 
Sophia May is a Program in the Environment major concentrating in Sustainable Supply Chain Management. She is interning at MDining this year, where she helps with sustainability initiatives both in food and in other areas of campus life.