Bring On the Meatless Mondays

Happy belated birthday, sweet infant Jesus! Now that all that trimming the tree and wrapping presents is over, all Santa's cookies have been eaten, and all the stores are ready to mark down all the stuff you just bought by 60 percent, we can look ahead to the dawning of another year and the dreaded New Year's resolutions that come with it.

What's your resolution? Lose 15 pounds? Work out five times a week? Quit smoking or drink less alcohol? Come on, folks. Let's be reasonable.

This year I'm starting small; I'm making a resolution to eat meatless on Mondays. The hope is that I'll learn to be more adventurous in my eating and more balanced in my diet, and maybe even improve my health a little. However, there's an array of additional reasons to try Meatless Monday.

By now we're all familiar with the whole "local, seasonal" movement. You can hardly open a menu in this city without learning where that goat cheese in your salad came from or that the beef in your burger is raised locally and grass-fed. There's a new level of awareness regarding what we eat, where it comes from and what conditions it's being grown or raised under. Even corporate burrito hawkers Chipotle recently released a video (with hippie-country icon Willie Nelson crooning Coldplay) to illustrate the importance of sustainable agriculture over industrial farming.

In theory, I fully support all of this; the realities of factory farming and large-scale meat production are mildly nauseating, at best. But when it comes down to it, we vote with our dollars. That free-range, air-chilled chicken from Central Market tastes amazingly savory and delicious compared to a traditionally raised and processed bird, but it's also four times as expensive. I can't afford to put that on my table every night of the week, and I know that many of my friends, family and colleagues can't either. Perhaps by reducing my consumption slightly, I can be a little more selective about where my meat comes from, and support local and/or more humane operations by purchasing their products.

Let's go all earthy-crunchy for a moment and pretend that maybe, just maybe you care about your carbon footprint. The independent environmental research organization World Watch reported in 2009 that the production of livestock -- including the clearing of land for grazing and growing feed, maintaining the animals, and processing and transporting the meat -- is responsible for 51 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. A 2010 report by the United Nations Environment Program concluded that agricultural production is responsible for 14 percent of the world's total land use and 70 percent of global freshwater consumption.

I'm not saying that I'm going veggie once a week to save the whales, but I am attempting to take a long hard look at my own consumer habits.

By the way, I'm not alone in this endeavor. A slew of celebrities, including Yoko Ono, Oprah, Top Chef hottie Padma Lakshmi and superchef Mario Batali have all publicly spoken out in support of the Meatless Monday movement. School districts and college campuses including Duke and UC Davis (I know, big shocker) have rolled out meatless meals in their cafeterias and dining halls. A search for #meatlessmonday on Twitter brings up hundreds of results, and there are many bloggers writing about their experiences, some of whom I'll be looking to for ideas on what to eat and what to cook in the coming weeks.

Feel free to join me in my endeavor or just point and laugh as I try my hand at this. We'll start next week.

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Whitney Filloon