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Diet Change to Fight Climate Change: Meatless Mondays at Yale

From Tuesdays to Sundays, Katie Schlick ’21 is not a vegetarian. Yet she understands the environmental impact of dietary choices, eats meatless at least one day a week, and wishes to show the Silliman community just how easy it is to join her. 

Monday, October 7 marked the first day of a sustainability project that greets students eating at Silliman with the opportunity to take a pledge to eat meatless on Mondays and wear an “I reduced my carbon footprint today!” sticker. Schlick, Co-President of the Yale Student Environmental Coalition and the Silliman Sustainability Liaison, organized the Silliman Meatless Monday initiative to educate students on the effect their diet has on the climate. According to Schlick though, for the time being, the dining halls will not implement an official Meatless Monday. But Schlick has hope that her efforts will effectuate change.

“If we as a community can commit to this, we will be doing something for ourselves, for our health, and for climate change, which will affect us all eventually,” said Schlick in an interview with The Politic.

The Huffington Post lists eating less meat as the “single most effective action you can take to combat climate change.” Yet this idea was hardly spoken about during Yale’s past few weeks of heightened environmental activism surrounding the climate strike. The effects of animal agriculture have been largely downplayed by the overwhelmingly powerful meat and dairy industries who use their influence to prevent public knowledge of the consequences of animal agriculture. However, those concerned with these issues have begun to develop a variety of plant-based meats. The growing prevalence of these products on Yale’s campus and elsewhere are starting conversations about food sustainability, animal cruelty, and global hunger. 

The production of meat has been linked to a variety of environmental and inefficiency issues. According to Scientific American, the production of red meat produces ten to forty times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions as vegetables and grains. It is estimated that raising livestock requires 149 million acres of cropland each year in the U.S. alone. In fact, about seventy-five percent of the deforestation of the Amazon is related to cattle ranching. Soy, corn, and other grains used to feed livestock use up water and land on a large scale. This can all be attributed to the major inefficiencies inherent to animal agriculture. 

Demonstrating this, Lingxi Chenyang, author of the article “Is Meat the New Tobacco? Regulating Food Demand in the Age of Climate Change,” commented in an interview with The Politic on how “a lot of the animal is not used for human consumption.” Great amounts of resources are used sustaining these animals for this extended time period, resulting in more inefficiencies in the system.  According to the article, an additional 190 million people could be fed by transitioning the U.S. demand for beef to plant-based proteins. This leads to questions about how a reduction in meat consumption could tackle global hunger and create a preferable food system. 

While these sorts of campaigns may be effective, they will undoubtedly receive pushback from people unwilling to commit to a diet change or who view the idea as too radical. An anonymous source present during one of Silliman’s Meatless Mondays said “I like meat too much to give it up.”

However, Schlick argues that the dining halls offer plenty of plant-based protein alternatives that allow one to easily eat vegetarian without missing out on any flavor, especially for just one day a week. She also notes that “usually when people have all the information they tend to make sustainable decisions.” Ultimately, however, Schlick knows that “at the end of the day it is a choice, and [she doesn’t] want to make anyone feel like they have to do it.” Schlick hopes to encourage people to try new things in the dining hall, such as the Beyond Burger, and to fight against the idea that vegetarian food can’t be delicious. 

Plant-based meats at Yale and beyond have grown in recent years. Currently, many of Yale’s dining halls’ animal product substitutes are “plant-based” and use nutrients and flavors of plants to create meat-like foods. While the Beyond Burger relies on pea protein, the Impossible Burger uses a delicate combination of soy and potato proteins to create one of the most meat-like vegan burgers in the industry. Perhaps the most interesting ingredient in the Impossible Burger is heme, the compound responsible for making our blood taste metallic. This ingredient makes the burger taste more authentic. Also a part of the hemoglobin protein in animals, heme can also be found in soy plants as part of leghemoglobin. Chain restaurants such as Red Robin and Burger King have begun to carry the Impossible Burger as other fast-food chains begin to adapt to a growing plant-based food demand.

Despite the popularity of these products, future vegan meats might be grown in a lab rather than in the soil. The Good Food Institute is just one of many organizations working towards the future of “clean meat,” also known as lab-grown meat. Annie Osborn, the East Coast University Innovation Specialist for the institution, describes how scientists “take a biopsy of cells from an animal, so there’s no slaughter required, and then cultivate those cells without having to grow the animal.” The resulting product is antibiotic-free meat that is not only better for human health but also significantly better for the environment. With no need to raise cattle, clean meat saves forests from being cleared and prevents the one billion tons of manure that contaminate the water and air of rural communities in the U.S. every year.  Currently, there isn’t sufficient technology to effectively produce such “meat” at a large scale, but this will hopefully change in the next ten years. With project like Schlick’s Meatless Mondays, the future is getting ready for change.

“These issues are not just important during Celebrate Sustainability Week or Earth Day,” Schlick said. “We need to keep the pressure on year-round and keep people thinking about what they can do.”