You may have heard of this whole Meatless Monday thing. It's a simple idea: to abstain from eating meat for just one day a week. It's not a radically new concept; the term was coined during WWI as a slogan (along with "Wheat-Free Wednesdays") to encourage voluntary rationing of staple foods, and it resurfaced in 2003 when real-life Mad Man Sid Lerner partnered with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and launched a major campaign to promote the cause.
Americans consume on average 8 ounces of meat a day, about twice the global average, and 45 percent more than the USDA recommended 5 1/2 ounces a day. Why are so we fixated on having a slab of protein that covers half our dinner plate? Perhaps some older generations remember a time when Meatless Monday wasn't a choice, when their parents just couldn't afford to put a roast beast on the table for every meal, and therefore perceive eating meat as a sign of success and prosperity.
Maybe it's the fact that, despite increasing popularity and awareness, we Americans still mostly view vegetarians and vegans as tree-hugging, tofu-eating pussies. The idea of a meatless meal still seems dauntingly boring and terribly unsatisfying to many of us. The meat-heavy diet is certainly propagated by the media and major corporations; turn on your television and watch the practically pornographic commercials featuring extreme close-ups of picture-perfect McDonald's burgers and glistening Outback steaks.
Countless scientific studies have shown that consumption of red meat contributes to heart disease, hardening of the arteries and colon cancer. Besides that, our reliance on meat means that many of us aren't getting a balanced diet. A "meal" as presented in most advertisements consists of a hearty portion of meat and some starch.
A burger and fries; pancakes and bacon; steak and potatoes. It's all brown and beige. Where's the dark green, the vivid orange (and I'm not talking about American cheese), all the varied hues that indicate a variety of rich nutrients?
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No doubt, eating a balanced diet can be challenging. The only rainbow I usually eat on an average day is found in the form of little crunchy marshmallows in my Lucky Charms. The USDA recommends that the average 2000 calorie diet should include four and a half cups of vegetables, yet a study released last year by the CDC reveals that only 1 in 4 American adults consumes vegetables three or more times a day. Only 23 percent of all meals consumed in this country include a vegetable at all. (Yes, lettuce and tomato on your burger count. No, French fries are not a vegetable.)
It's understandable; vegetables are kind of a pain in the ass. You can't just throw a bunch of spinach or a squash in your purse for a snack later. Vegetables require some thought; the first hurdle is getting to them before they die a slow, painful death in your refrigerator's crisper drawer. It pains me to think how many dollars worth of wilted heads of lettuce and rotten avocados I've had to throw away after forgetting about them or being too busy to cook for a few days.
Furthermore, in the wrong hands, they can be really awful. How many of us hold onto childhood traumas inflicted by overcooked and underseasoned Brussels sprouts or canned green beans? Meat is innately delicious and significantly more difficult for most people to fuck up. It tastes good even when combined with soy protein and caramel coloring and parked under a heat lamp for a while, fast-food style.
It's likely that you don't give a damn about your colon or your cholesterol. So next week we'll explore the other reasons for supporting Meatless Monday, including the sustainability and environmental impact of our mass meat consumption. We'll also talk about celebrity chefs and corporations that have hopped on the MM bandwagon, in case you're into that sort of thing, and going forward I'll put my consumption where my mouth is and maybe even eat some quinoa.