Beginning this January, Evanston Township High School students will see more black bean burgers and tofu stir-fries in the lunch line, when their cafeteria joins the Humane Society’s “Meatless Monday” campaign.
Roughly 2,000 institutions including hospitals, schools and colleges have implemented some kind of Meatless Monday policy in their cafeterias since the initiative began in 2003, according to Kenny Torrella, an outreach coordinator for the Humane Society. Locally, those institutions include Northwestern University, Loyola University, DePaul University and the Rockford Public Schools.
“Meatless Monday is really an international movement,” Torrella says. “It encourages kids to avoid eating animals in order to help the planet, animals and their health.”
Torrella first approached Evanston Township High School this summer to see if they were interested in bringing the program to campus. Kim Minestra, director of nutrition services, says she liked the fact that it gave the school an opportunity to educate students about their health.
“I’m not a vegetarian, and I’m not some strong advocate, but I think there is some importance to limiting your meat consumption,” Minestra said. “You don’t need to have a hamburger every day, and you probably shouldn’t.”
Of the 12 to 15 entrees made daily, the cafeteria will begin serving 50 percent vegetarian options on Mondays, according to Minestra. The move won’t involve any additional cost, she said, since the cafeteria simply swapped some entrees for others.
Meatless Mondays will also have an educational component. The Humane Society created a video promoting the concept, which Minestra has asked teachers to play in their classrooms.
“I’ve sent it to all the staff, and many of the teachers have agreed to display it in their classrooms,” she said. “So when students walk in on that Monday, hopefully they’ll understand what it means.”
The cafeteria will also display banners explaining Meatless Monday and pass out fliers from the Humane Society, listing the meatless options students can choose from.
Approximately sixty-five percent of ETHS students buy something from the cafeteria each day, according to Minestra. The other thirty-five percent bring their own lunch or, if they’re juniors or seniors, go out to eat. While the initiative didn’t come from the students, Minestra says she has heard concerns from students that the cafeteria doesn’t offer enough vegetarian options.
Torrella hopes the initiative will reach not just the converted vegetarians, but also educate all students about how meat is produced, what the environmental side effects of that production are, and how meat consumption can impact human health.
“When it comes to animal welfare, the vast majority of meat and dairy products in the U.S. come from animals raised in factory farms,” Torrella says. “In some cases, they’re even unable to move around freely. They can’t even move around or flap their wings.”
“There’s also the health,” he adds. “Studies have found correlations with high meat consumption and obesity, heart disease.”
But the main thing the Humane Society wants to educate students about is the environmental issues connected to meat production, he says.
“The United Nations, the Sierra Club and other environmental nonprofits, they’re recognizing the impact that high meat consumption has on the environment,” he says. “And this is mainly because farm animals produce methane and carbon dioxide. Factory farms require a lot of water and land.”
Torrella says he has just begun approaching institutions in the Chicago area, and hopes to bring the campaign to other schools around the area.
Meatless Mondays will begin at Evanston Township High School on Monday, Jan. 7.