“I’ll start on Monday.”
It’s one of my favorite sayings. For my wife, not so much! It’s just how it is, though. Whenever we plan to make a change in our lives we traditionally plan to do so on Mondays. That is what Sid Lerner thought as well!
Sid is the founder and chairman of Meatless Mondays and the Monday Campaigns, a non-profit organization dedicated to the idea of “starting anew” on Mondays. Meatless Monday is simple to understand: Keep meat out of your diet, for all three meals, on Monday. You, and not to mention the environment, can benefit from it!
I had a chance to speak with Sid last month. During our conversation we discussed how Meatless Mondays came to be, what the reception has been from those in the food industry, and one of Sid’s own personal food memories.
Foodie Journal: So how did you get your start with the idea of Meatless Monday? How did Meatless Monday come to exist?
Sid Lerner: Well, I was semi-retired and doing some pro bono consulting. I was at a conference about 9 years ago at Johns Hopkins. At the time obesity wasn’t the headline. Cholesterol was, as were saturated fat, heart disease, cancer, etc. So the question was raised as to how much meat we were eating, you know? How much is too much? The FDA and USDA were saying about 15% of our diet would be the recommended amount. Well, we’re eating about twice the meat per capita than we should be, about double what we were eating in the 40’s and the 50’s when I was growing up. That was a major contributor to a lot of the growing health issues we had been seeing. So for the past 9 years it was something we started to talk about. Trying to cut down on the amount of meat that people consume. We did the math and found that cutting down to get to that 15% recommendation meant cutting out 3 meals worth of meat each week. Just one day a week! So if we cut out meat for just one day a week we’d get closer to where we needed to be.
I remember from my childhood during World War II President Roosevelt instituted a conservation program called “Meatless Monday”. We did some research and found that it was something he had taken from Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Hoover during World War I, when it was also instituted as a conservation program. We really liked the name, and we decided to use it to start a new campaign to cut back on meat one day a week. So we built a non-profit organization around the idea and called it the Monday Campaigns. It was the perfect day because so many people look at Monday as a fresh start, you know? “Well I screwed up last week, how can I do right this week?” [LAUGHS] But we’ve had some great success with it. We have 23 countries that have picked it up around the world.
FJ: What are some of the benefits that come from being involved with Meatless Mondays?
SL: Well, we started out primarily to try to cut back on one of the major sources of saturated fats which is animal products. Also thinking about the environmental issues that come from raising these animals, greenhouse gases and what not. So while initially we got a lot of interest from people who were interested in better health, over the past few years we’ve had additional support come from people interested in helping the environment. So It’s beneficial in many different ways.
FJ: What kind of reaction have you had from those in the food industry?
SL: It’s been great! A great response. We just sent out flyers and emails to more chefs and restaurants about the program. A good showing of how this works well for restaurants, we have Dovetail in New York City with Chef John Fraser who did an interview on NPR about it, and he said that Meatless Monday has been great for them. Every Monday night as a result has become kind of like an event because of it. And, it’s interesting as a restauranteur cause you end up seeing a very different demographic in the restaurant that you might not see on a Tuesday or a Saturday.We also have Jason Weiner at the Almond Restaurants, and he’s commented on how it’s expanding their clientele, challenging their cooks and helping them to support local growers.
Also we have wonderful Mario Batali who was one of the first to get on board, and he’s the prince of pork! His fourteen restaurants all participate in Meatless Monday which is pretty incredible. He’s also on the TV show “The Chew” on ABC and they gave us a full hour on their show a couple of months ago about Meatless Monday which was great.
But, simply put, Meatless Mondays is a win-win-win. It’s a win for the diners, it’s a win for the restaurants and growers, and a win for the planet. In retrospect I have no idea why it took me so long to get on board!
FJ: So, I have a personal question for you. Do you have a particular food memory that you enjoy remembering or thinking back on that you’d like to share?
SL: Oh sure! People sometimes think that just because we promote this idea of Meatless Monday, and trying to be healthy that we don’t enjoy food. That couldn’t be further from the truth! For me, though, it’s a very simple memory. My mother came from Hungary, and she had all different kinds of dishes that she would make. One of my favorites was in the winter time when she’s take out maybe a day-old rye bread that had been well toasted and she’d put butter on it and just rub it with garlic cloves until the garlic would just disappear. Would be so much garlic we could practically go outside and breath the snow away! [LAUGHS] I’m a major garlic fan. I love it!
The Meatless Mondays campaign is actively supported by nearly 200 restaurants nation-wide and approximately 170 school systems. They will be celebrating their 10th year in 2013. You can find out more about Meatless Mondays by visiting http://www.mondaycampaigns.org/meatless-monday/