Last week’s Meatless Monday was intended to demonstrate the environmental impact of consuming meat. But survey results from after the event show that this message may have been lost in translation.
As a part of Earth Month festivities, Knox Advocates for Recycling and Environmental Support organized with Dining Services to eliminate meat from the menu in the cafeteria for one day. Originally proposed for the cafeteria alone, it was extended elsewhere, exempting the Gizmo and the Grab ‘n Go. Deli meat was still available in the cafeteria.
The endeavor elicited varied reactions from student diners, among them freshman William Riess.
“Here’s what I knew about Meatless Monday: I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get my burgers. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to eat meat. I felt like other people were forcing their choices on me — I think it’s standing behind vegetarianism and the whole cult of not eating meat,” he said.
When asked if he saw any connection between the meat-free day and Earth Month, he responded that he did not, and that he felt they “didn’t really emphasize that — I was like ‘Why? Why is there no meat?’”
Sophomores Adrian Hurst and Colleen Flint, on the other hand, held a generally positive view of the event.
Both environmental science majors, Flint said that they were “really looking forward to there being more vegetarian options. I was really glad they were doing Meatless Monday, and I think it’s really important.”
She explained that many of her friends back home attend big schools where monthly meatless days are an accepted and unquestioned part of the culture.
However, Flint said, “I feel like it’s a lot of the same food, like we’re both eating the same things we usually eat.”
Hurst agreed, adding that, “With vegetarian food, there’s ways to make kind of more original things, rather than just like junk food like the fake meat patties. There’s ways to build a more complete vegetarian meal.”
According to the results of KARES’s survey, which was comprised of roughly 300 responses, 2 percent of respondents identified themselves as vegans, 13 percent as vegetarians, 25 percent as “carnivores” and 60 percent as omnivores.
Further, 41 percent viewed the event as positive, 34 percent as negative and 25 percent remained neutral. Some who listed “negative” noted in the comment section that they were not necessarily opposed to the event, but disliked the way it was presented.
Thirty percent of students would rather not have any more Meatless Mondays, 20 percent responded that Meatless Mondays during Earth Week would be fine, 24 percent would like to see it happen once a month and 26 percent every week.
Secretary of KARES sophomore Emily Cooney felt that, overall, Meatless Monday came off positively, though she saw many changes that they could have made.
A main concern, as identified by the survey, was that they took the meat away without replacing it with fun and creative vegetarian meals. Next year, she hopes to collaborate more with Dining Services and perhaps even incorporate local farms.
Of equal or perhaps greater concern was the matter of effectively conveying the event’s message. Cooney recognized that many students viewed it as promoting vegetarianism, rather than making an impact on the environment by cutting down on meat consumption.
Inspired by the feedback, a follow-up campus-wide email was sent out, stressing the fact that “this day was not about forcing a vegetarian ideology on the Knox populace, but rather to start a conversation about the negative impacts the meat industry has on our planet.” It also listed several facts, including that “the meat industry plays a significant role in climate change and accounts for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions.”
She hoped Meatless Monday would get people thinking about the amount of meat they consume and the impacts of cheap meat and meat production.
“It’s more about presenting an idea,” Cooney said. “We are so focused on meat, especially in the Western world, and we don’t need it every single meal, every single week — [especially when] the meat industry is linked to a multitude of issues.”
Any further changes would have to be gradual and involve campus support and raised awareness.
“We wouldn’t want to polarize the campus — instead we want to explain why we’re doing it and get people to want to do it, because that will influence them more in the future anyway,” she said.
When Director of Dining Services Helmut Mayer was approached by KARES members, he was willing to allow them to give it go. Reflecting on the day, he said, “If I do it again, it would have to be planned properly — what little I can do, I’ll do,” noting resistance to dietary changes at Knox in general as a challenge.
“In general, people are afraid of food; it doesn’t really matter if it’s meat or not,” he said. “I’m the captain of the Titanic — and a big ship is very hard to turn around. So, if it’s planned properly, then a lot of things can be done.”