Over the course of the past year, I've read about and have occasionally referenced the hot trend that's currently being promoted by foodies, environmentalists and even some animal welfare organizations. It's called "Meatless Monday" and is a revisiting of the voluntary rationing encouraged by the US government during the war years. In 2003, the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health jumped on it to start a public health awareness campaign. Clicking through the "Meatless Monday" website, it becomes obvious that the campaign's sole purpose is indeed to promote better human health. The site spells it out clearly in its FAQ section that the campaign isn't about promoting veganism or vegetarianism--it's about "moderation". The regular consumption of eggs is touted as nutritionally desirable and the consumption of low-fat dairy and fish are also presented as being nutritionally sound options. In fact, the consumption of fish is even encouraged.
So who's supporting this movement? Foodies like Michael Pollan have promoted it and it's even been endorsed by self-described vegan authors with a penchant for Paris exceptions. Kathy Freston, Oprah's once-upon-a-time fad vegan cleanse guru, also promotes it, adding a 'tsk' or two for those who don't eat the flesh of nonhuman animals and who aren't themselves supportive of the campaign:
I know that some vegetarians pooh pooh Meatless Monday as not enough. I'm sympathetic to that view, but I think it's unnecessarily strident. For people who think that going totally vegetarian is too challenging, the Meatless Monday campaign offers a gentle entrée into the idea of eating without eating animals. My hope is that people will use the campaign as a stepping stone -- first one meatless day per week, then three, then five, then seven. As we lean into meatless eating -- switching out more and more meat meals for meatless meals -- we end up feeling better, both physically and ethically.Is it necessarily true, however, that cutting back on eating the flesh of nonhuman animals one day a week will lead to someone's "switching out more and more meat meals for meatless meals"? Prof. Gary L. Francione argues effectively against touting vegetarianism as some sort of gateway to veganism, as have others.
Furthermore, is it not misleading to present the not eating of the flesh of nonhuman animals as being somehow more ethically significant than not consuming their products (e.g. dairy, eggs, honey) or not buying clothing made using their flesh or fur? It seems to be a change that's really more a shuffling around that just reinforces the view and treatment of nonhuman animals and their products as commodities, rather than an actual step forward in any sense. For instance, an omni friend of mine emailed me this morning with a link to a news article about the campaign, telling me excitedly that she intends to stop eating "meat" on Mondays. Since she knows that I'm a vegan, she said that she'd thought that I would be happy to hear it and would be glad about what she called her "small contribution towards veganism". When I asked her why she had decided to hop aboard the bandwagon, however, she told me that it was mostly due to environmental concerns.
So, what was on her plate today? She had an egg omelette for breakfast this morning, a Greek salad for lunch, and was planning to have a frozen cheese pizza for dinner. Sure, she's not having a hamburger today, but that's little consolation for the chicken enslaved to produce the eggs for her omelette, the goat confined and impregnated to make the feta cheese for her salad, and the cow confined and impregnated to make the cheese for her pizza. It's also little consolation for the chicks, goats and calves considered "by-products" of these processes who are either slaughtered if male, or reinserted into the whole cycle if female. When she expressed her disappointment that I wasn't applauding her decision, I started to explain to her that I don't view eating a steak as being any more ethically problematic than eating a dairy ice cream cone. She then asserted to me that she was "doing [her] part" and that I should at least agree that it was better than nothing. Is it really, though? Is it better to let someone think that eating cheese is more ethical than eating fried chicken, or that not eating nonhuman animals on a Monday makes eating them somehow more alright the rest of the week?
Regardless of Freston's 'tsk', I have to say that it troubles me to see fellow vegans advocating the "Meatless Monday" campaign, especially when they attempt to argue on ethical grounds that it will somehow lead to less nonhuman animals being harmed or consumed. To begin with, the idea of promoting it feels too much like managing a lottery for nonhuman animals. Got the winning ticket? Lucky you (although it's not so lucky for the the animals whose flesh will be consumed from Tuesday through Sunday)! It's important to remember that the campaign isn't "Animal-Free Monday" and that it completely side-steps the issue of animals enslaved for their "products"; I simply can't accept this as being, in any way, a productive component of anything resembling vegan education. So why are vegans endorsing it?
Some vegans like dietitian Virginia Messina view Meatless Monday as a good opportunity for advocacy; I agree that it can certainly be used as a springboard, as long as it's not condoned, which honestly just sends out mixed messages about the reasons one should continue to view nonhuman animals as things or property. I'd also like to hope that vegans aren't holding out for that one symbolic single day a week that ethically compartmentalizes the consumption of various parts of nonhumans to educate others: We need to take each and every opportunity we can--not just on Mondays.