“Can you even get protein from vegetables?”

“Can you even get protein from vegetables?”

As ‘Meat Free Mondays’ began its campaign at UCL last week, Ailbhe Ni Earrain takes a look at what the movement is really about.

UCLU has passed a motion called ‘Meat Free Mondays’ that will see meat disappearing from the restaurants and cafés of UCL as part of an experimental trial. However, as the name suggests, students and staff needn’t fret, as they will only have to part with their beloved all-day-breakfast sandwiches and cheeseburgers for one day a week, as part of a global movement to save our health and our planet.

The motion was proposed by UCLU Vegetarian Society President, Yash Mishra, at Union Council on the 25th of November, and was seconded by David Dahlborn, UCLU’s Halls & Accommodation Representative.

Meat Free Mondays began in the US in 2003 and was launched in the UK in recent years by Sir Paul McCartney, who once said that “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian”. His late wife, Linda, launched one of the first vegetarian brands of dinner options that can be found in every supermarket to this day. The campaign hopes to reduce the world’s meat consumption by 15%, simply by ditching meat for just one day a week.

The Western diet incorporates high volumes of animal products, from meat to dairy and eggs, and our annual consumption has doubled in the last 50 years. This is believed to be a leading cause of the rising numbers of deaths from cancer, heart disease and diabetes in recent years.

Not only is a plant-based diet beneficial for our health, it also promotes a more sustainable environment. The livestock industry accounts for 14.5% of greenhouse gases (making it an even larger contributor to climate change than the transport industry). It takes 1,850 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat compared to 39 gallons for a pound of vegetables, a staggering figure when we consider that 783 million people do not have access to clean, drinkable water.

As UCL claims to be a leader among other higher education institutions in the UK when it comes to sustainability, with its Environmental Sustainability Strategy, the motion can be seen as the next step. Clearly others agree, as 81% of the council voted to support the motion.

Meat Free Mondays is economically feasible, as vegetables are much cheaper than meat. However, the motion has been met with some criticism, with some commenting that vegetarian food doesn’t sell as well in food outlets, leaving a large number of leftovers every day, or that they feel like the union is trying to tell them what they can and can’t eat.

Dahlborn hopes to extend the campaign to UCL’s catered halls as well, with negotiations with Ramsay Hall underway this week. Meat Free Mondays has been successfully implemented in a number of UK institutions thus far, including Wadham College and Regent’s Park College, University of Oxford, and at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts.

Mishra was delighted when the motion was officially passed, “I feel pumped to be part of a student union that is actually making a firm stand to preserve the planet that nurtures it, and is setting an example for the world to follow, through solid action. With Meat Free Mondays now officially a part of UCLU policy, we can’t wait to deliver a truly enlightening and educating campaign, and work with the student body towards creating a sustainable environment. Our campaign will go hand in hand with the dialogue and efforts necessary to extend Meat Free Mondays and spread our message beyond UCLU to the rest of UCL, including halls of accommodation, as well as other universities in the vicinity.”

Imogen Resnick, an ESPS student at UCL, who proposed the most recent amendment to the motion, felt proud and relieved that the UCL community finally has a chance to make a real change in the world, “The report released by the UN this year really hit home to me the necessity of taking a stand and actually doing something to try and cut our carbon emissions. I want to do better than my parent’s generation have done and create a future that’s as sustainable as possible. We can make changes for the better. Meat Free Mondays is a simple way of doing this: by making students think about what they’re consuming, they become more aware of their environmental impact in a way they may not have done before. We have a sustainability policy, but right now it’s just not living up to the mark. We can and we must do better.”

So what happens next? Meat Free Mondays will be promoted on campus for a period of several months through posters, promotional events and discounts on meat-free food products. Resnick added, “We’re doing everything we can to direct people’s attention towards the importance of reducing meat consumption. We’ll be working with UCLU management to do this successfully. After the promotion phase we’ll have a two month trial period of meat being off the menus on Mondays in UCLU food outlets.” If successful, Meat Free Mondays will be fully implemented at UCL in September 2015.

Images credit: mirasol.net

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