While Sir Paul McCartney is probably the face that we tend to associate with the modern-day version of Meatless Mondays, its beginnings are actually based in early 1900’s during World War 1 (WW1).
In 1917 and with the U.S. and its allies in the heat of battle during WW1, President Woodrow Wilson asked Herbert Hoover (who went on to become our 31st President, serving from 1929-1933) to head the newly-formed U.S. Food Administration. Together, they started the campaign, “Food Will Win The War.”
U.S. citizens and our allies were asked to support the war effort by creating a greater food supply to feed the troops. To do this and in lieu of rationing, they were encouraged to leave meat off their plates on Tuesdays (yes, it first started as Meatless Tuesday), and abstain from wheat on Wheatless Wednesdays.
During WW2, President Franklin D. Roosevelt resurrected the campaign as a way to lessen the demand for both meat and wheat in the U.S. to help feeds the troops and allies who were starving in war-torn European countries.
On Monday, October 4, 1943, the front page headline of the New York Times read, “Truman Calls On Nation To Forego Meat Tuesdays, Poultry Eggs Thursdays”. At that time, Truman was a Senator from Missouri (and President Roosevelt-appointed head of the Senate Special Committee to Investigate Contracts Under the National Defense Program, which quickly became known as the Truman Committee). In the article, the President of the National Meat Industry Council, Jack Kranis, was quoted as saying, “If every family will reduce voluntarily its consumption of meat, whether it now has meat on the table three, four, five, or six days a week, the nation will achieve a maximum saving of meat and reduce the demand for grain to feed cattle and hogs.”
In 2003, Sid Lerner, New York ad man probably most recognizable to those of us who remember the “Squeeze the Charmin” campaign and commercials (oh my, showing my age with this reference), resurrected and refashioned Meatless Tuesdays into Meatless Mondays.
Sir Lerner reached out to chefs, such as Mario Batali and Wolfgang Puck, to endorse the campaign by including Meatless Monday offerings on their menus. Another significant and positive impact is that many institutional dining establishments, such as schools and hospitals, are now offering meat-free, plant-based options.
In 2014, the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion was formed with a gift from Sid Lerner and his wife, Helaine. According to the Center’s website, their goal is to “equip public health professionals with the tools needed to win the battle against preventable diseases brought on by unhealthy behaviors and unfavorable social and policy environments on the local, national and global level.”
Today, Meat-Free Monday advocacy has become a global phenomenon. It has had a significant positive impact, raising the awareness that public health, food production and the environment are interrelated.
Education, advocacy, and activism efforts have shed a spotlight on the health benefits achieved by reducing/eliminating the consumption of animal-based products, the animal welfare conditions attributable to the industry, and the environmental consequences linked to factory farming.
For those who incremental changes would result in a more sustainable plant-based vegan lifestyle, Meatless Mondays is a good place to start.