Meatless Monday Popularity Questioned by Animal Agriculture Alliance

by Emily Meredith, Communications Director, Animal Agriculture Alliance

Summary
In October 2013, the Meatless Monday campaign celebrated its 10th anniversary. Knowing that this milestone would be met with increased media attention around the Meatless Monday movement, the Animal Agriculture Alliance wanted to learn more about the organizations participating. The Alliance is a national non-profit coalition based in Washington, D.C. whose mission is to monitor activist groups and other detractor organizations—like the Meatless Monday campaign—and engage proactively in those same spaces. In anticipation of the campaign’s 10th anniversary, the Alliance decided to individually survey each of the participating schools, restaurants and corporations listed on the campaign’s own website to find out why they participate in the program and what they’re seeing from consumers as a result of that participation. The results we uncovered led us to believe that Meatless Monday is not as popular as it would have you believe. 

Background
Launched in 2003, Meatless Monday is a non-profit initiative based in the Center for a Livable Future (CLF) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Meatless Mondays is a campaign that seeks to eliminate meat from Americans’ meals one day a week..  The campaign, which is funded in large part by Helaine Lerner, promotes false claims about animal agriculture.

According to Meatless Monday’s website, the initiative is a global movement with a simple message: “once a week, cut the meat.”  Its stated goal is “to reduce meat consumption by 15 percent for our personal health and the health of the planet.”

The campaign provides information, news, recipes and free promotional materials to individuals, schools, restaurants, hospitals, food companies and entire communities to aid in joining the “movement” and “starting each week with a commitment to eating healthy, environmentally-friendly, meat-free meals.”
While the campaign maintains that it is wildly popular, citing that it is “embraced in 28 countries, in 12 languages,” the Alliance, upon investigation, found results that painted quite a different picture.

Discussion
Beginning in September 2013, the Alliance analyzed the overall effects of the Meatless Monday campaign and gauged its effectiveness by individually surveying every participant listed on the Meatless Monday’s own website. The Alliance found that the campaign was not nearly as popular as the movement claimed originally claimed.

In fact, out of the 56 kindergarten through twelfth grade schools listed as participating, more than 64.2 percent no longer or never participated in the program. Similarly, there were 155 colleges/universities listed as participating, yet more 43.2 percent no longer or never participated in the campaign. Additionally, out of the school districts listed as participating, more than 57 percent no longer do.

The Meatless Monday campaign also counts restaurants and food service providers among their allies, yet, over 35 percent and 47 percent, respectively, no longer participate in the program.

 

When the Alliance started this project, it didn’t expect nearly as many organizations to not actually be participating in the program, especially given that the campaign tries to promote a reduction in meat, milk and egg consumption as trendy. It’s clear from these results that the “movement” didn’t remain nearly as strong as the campaign hoped.

Throughout the Alliance’s surveys, schools, restaurants and foodservice providers echoed these sentiments noting that adoption of the campaign was widely unpopular, led to food waste, and elicited complaints from parents worried about proper nutrition.

Near the Animal Agriculture Alliance in Henrico County, VA, Jamie Jerabeck, a nutritionist for the school district commented that her school participated in the program for about a year but was “overwhelmed with parents complaining.”

Similarly, at the Monroe Elementary School in Utah, Lisa Larson told the Alliance that the students “didn’t like the choices they were given,” which apparently included peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and salads. April Young, a registered dietician with the Granite County School District in Utah echoed these concerns, noting there was already a vegetarian option available in the local schools.

“We made a conscious decision to end the program after participating for a little under two years,” said Young. “As a dietician I plan meals to accommodate students. Many students have their own dietary needs and those should be handled individually—not as part of a large-scale program.”

It is also worth noting that many of the organizations never participated in the program and, when contacted by the Alliance staff, remarked that they were perplexed as to why they were even included on the Meatless Monday website. For example, staff at the Texas Health Resources commented, “We don’t understand why we’re on the list—we’re a corporate office and have nothing to do with meal services.”

“We’ve never participated, I’m not sure how my restaurant ended up on their webpage,” said Dan Sauer, owner of 7a Foods in Vineyard Haven, Mass. “I have an obligation to my customers to serve what they want. That means having meat and vegetarian options.”

 Many of those interviewed emphasized the need for consumer choice in the marketplace and that providing a variety of options to consumers seemed to work best.

“Our residents are ‘old school’ and enjoy meat with their meals,’” joked Joan Allison of Princeton General Hospital. “There wasn’t a lot of interest throughout the hospital and people were put off by joining the campaign.”

Conclusion
Since the Meatless Monday campaign’s inception more than 10 years ago, the Alliance has closely monitored its progress and created resources to help counter its negative messaging about meat consumption and modern animal agriculture. The Alliance’s “Why Meat?” Guide and Meatless Monday Myths report, available on our website, relies on experts including Dr. Jude Capper to explain animal agriculture’s true contributions to greenhouse gas emissions and the global carbon footprint. Included therein are also resources from registered dieticians and nutritionists who explain the value of including meat, milk and eggs as part of a balanced daily diet.

The data collected by the Animal Agriculture Alliance supported the Alliance’s overall message: that consumer choice is vital to the future of agriculture, and needs to be protected. To the Alliance, offering options is always better than alienating consumers by forcing a viewpoint—and diet—upon them.

Yet despite the Alliance’s research into the campaign’s popularity and our resources to counter the campaigns’ negative messaging, it would be remiss to think that Meatless Mondays will be going away any time soon. This past fall, the Alliance met with members of the School Nutrition Association (SNA) to discuss the campaign and its disingenuous nature. The good news is that SNA and other similar organizations seem to have no plans to implement the campaign at this time. The bad news is we must all continue to be vigilant and emphasize the industry’s efforts to continue to improve environmental sustainability, while also promoting lean cuts of beef (and other animal proteins) as part of a healthy diet.

With the rise of the millennial generation, who at 80 million strong have become the fastest growing and most influential generation in the United States today, we all need to be reminded that communication on such important issues is key. Like no other generation before, millennials want to know about food production and latch on to causes and campaigns more quickly and loyally. As millennials embark on parenthood, their decisions will influence our industry’s future consumers. We already know that campaigns like Meatless Mondays are designed to target children, and so we need to be more proactive and ensure that millennials and their children are well informed about the industry. 

Additional Resources
To learn more about the myths and facts of the Meatless Monday movement and for access to any of the Alliance’s comprehensive resources, please visit the Animal Agriculture Alliance website.

Are Meatless Mondays better for me and the environment? FactsAboutBeef.com.

 

Tags: Beef Issues Quarterly, Spring 2014, Trends Analyses

April 13, 2014