During World War I, the U.S. Food Administration urged families to reduce consumption of key staples to aid the war effort. The government introduced “Meatless Monday” and “Wheatless Wednesday” to encourage Americans to do their part.
Meatless Monday was revived in 2003 by Sid Lerner, a health advocate, as a public health awareness campaign in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public. The campaign addresses the prevalence of preventable illnesses associated with excessive meat consumption.
Danielle Moskowitz, 16, a junior at Pleasantville High School, convinced her district and school administrators to launch Meatless Monday at her school last fall.
Q: How did you get involved in the Meatless Monday campaign? Are you a vegetarian?
A: I got involved with Meatless Monday by reading about it online. It interested me and my family because we have always been health conscious – eating healthy and exercising – and I felt it would be a great thing to implement into not only my school, but also my personal life, while doing something good for the environment. I am not a vegetarian but my family and I try to limit how much meat we eat and in recent years always started the week by eating fish for dinner, as opposed to other meat. I liked the idea that by taking such a simple step- eliminating meat one day or even from one meal – you could do something good for your health and our environment. One of my favorite things about Meatless Monday is that you don’t have to be a vegetarian to implement it into your life. It’s just taking out meat for one day of the week.
Q: How did you get the school administration on your side?
A: I created a proposal last spring and then, over the summer, I emailed it to the new Pleasantville High School Principal, Dr. Daniel McCann, and the Pleasantville Schools District Superintendent, Mary Fox Alter. I explained what the Meatless Monday campaign is, how Pleasantville could get involved, why I wanted to implement it in the High School, and how easy it would be to do. I also shared with them the impressive list of the colleges, universities and k-12 schools around the country that are participating and told them I wanted Pleasantville High School to be the first K-12 public school in Westchester to join. They agreed to meet with me shortly before school opened for the year and I presented the idea in person. I think they could sense my enthusiasm and commitment to getting this done. There are only positive things that could come out of this program and I think the school administration saw that and they let me take my idea and run with it. They set up certain expectations in terms of keeping them updated on my progress and speaking to people on student council, among other things. Principal McCann has been incredibly supportive and has helped me every step of the way. They also liked that students would be given an option – by offering a meatless lunch entree option every Monday – but not necessarily required to participate.
Q: Tell me about the implementation of the program? Did you have to come up with a menu? Also, does it mean that no meat is served on Monday at all in your school?
A: The implementation of the program took a little while because I was not sure exactly how the school would want to take it on. I came up with some meatless lunch options with the cafeteria staff such as vegetable pizza and pasta with mixed vegetables – there are also great options and resources on the Meatless Monday website. Dr. McCann and I met with the cafeteria staff to explain the program, and get their commitment to serve a meatless entree each Monday. I think it would be great if no meat was served on Mondays at all, but for a variety of reasons, at least for now we decided it was best to have a meatless option (which is very encouraged) as well as the normal hot lunch. I do like that even people who don’t want to give up meat entirely, can still feel like they are taking a positive step by going meatless for one day or one meal. We also created a bulletin board that shares information about Meatless Monday and the health and environmental benefits that come from reducing meat in our diets. I was also able to prepare and read a video announcement to the school announcing our participation in the program. The underlying goals of Meatless Monday – eating tasty food that is good for our bodies and the environment – can continue to be implemented into our schools in many ways.
Q: Does the campaign integrate any other programs at school? If so, how?
A: Our participation in Meatless Monday is very consistent with a lot of the things that already make Pleasantville High School (and our District) special. For example, each of our schools has an edible garden established by our parent council, an annual Earth Day celebration and other environmental activities, and a fantastic athletics program. Participating in Meatless Monday fits right in with each of these programs. Implementing Meatless Monday and sharing information about this program is a just another way to make us a more health and environmentally conscious school, which I am very proud of. I definitely have ideas for how to implement this further into these and other programs going forward.
Q: Did you run into issues with the implementation? If so, what were they, and how did you resolve them?
A: I would have to say that the main issue that I faced with the implementation of Meatless Monday was simply finding out ways to advertise it – get the word out so all of the students are aware of the meatless option for lunch on Mondays and the reasons to try it out. Some ways I tried to resolve this was creating the bulletin board and making the video announcement at the high school to make everyone aware of the program.
Q: What did you learn from the experience?
A: There is so much I have learned from this experience. Probably the most significant thing is that if you want to make something happen, don’t wait for anyone else to do it, take charge and make it happen. If you have an idea that you believe in, be positive, make a plan, share it with people who can support you, and take charge of getting it done step-by-step.
Q: How has Meatless Monday been received by students so far?
A: I think Meatless Monday has been received well so far. I try to get as many people as I can to participate in it and I’m looking for ways to integrate and expand it.
Q: Do you think Meatless Monday will become a districtwide initiative?
A: I hope it becomes districtwide at some point! I would love to help to implement it at our elementary school because I feel like it’s very important to start eating healthy at a young age. I think that as long as younger kids learn early that healthy food can be delicious, and that what they eat can or don’t eat can actually impact their health and the environment, they will develop good habits that they will keep their whole lives.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
A: I’m just happy that I have been able to get this started with the help of many people and look forward to finding ways to continue to promote Meatless Monday and other healthy and environmentally-friendly ideas in Pleasantville.