When veggie-leaning cities like Aspen, Colorado and Los Angeles, California declared meatless Monday resolutions, no one batted an eye. But when the carnivorous home of the Philly cheesesteak publicly encouraged skipping meat earlier this month, it became clear that going meatless is no longer a fringe health trend.
Cities are just now adopting it, but the Meatless Monday idea isn’t exactly new. It started in 2003, when Johns Hopkins researchers recommended cutting meat consumption by 15% to lower the risk of preventable diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Sid Lerner, then a donor to the unviersity, did some quick math. “15% of 21 meals is roughly 3 meals, or one day,” says Lerner, who founded The Monday Campaigns, a nonprofit organization that promotes healthy Monday resolutions including Meatless Monday. “We quickly discovered that Monday is the powerhouse of motivation and behavior change; it’s the perfect day to kickstart healthy weekly behaviors.”
While city resolutions like Philadelphia’s are usually just symbolic (no one’s getting arrested for downing a steak-smothered sandwich), the city leaders who spearhead them say they’re a step in a healthy direction. “We see the resolution as a conversation-starter, something to get people to think more about their diets as a whole,” says Alison Perelman, PhD, director of strategic initiatives for Philadelphia councilman Bill Green. “It’s definitely been successful in that regard.”
However, in other parts of the country and around the world, Meatless Mondays are really being put into action. In Durham, North Carolina, the city’s Meatless Monday campaign has garnered more than 1,372 personal pledges and the participation of dozens of restaurants, including unlikely eateries like The Pig and Dame’s Chicken and Waffles.
In Israel, politician Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly backed the movement and Israeli hospitals and restaurants have gotten on board. Cities in Holland, Korea, Indonesia, Sweden, and Brazil have also shown love to the meatless movement. “A city council putting up a banner is very gratifying, but what really makes Meatless Mondays work is when local groups get restaurants, schools, and hospitals involved,” Lerner says.