A resolution to implement the Meatless Monday campaign that encourages sustainability and increased consumption of fruits and vegetables in an effort to support a healthier community was passed by the Long Beach City Council at its regular Tuesday night meeting.
The agenda item was brought to council by Eighth District Councilman Al Austin at the behest of one of his constituents, Drew Alexis, who wrote the councilman asking him to follow the lead of other cities like San Francisco, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles that had already adopted the program.
Austin and the supporter of the motion, Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price, were careful not to label this a mandate that would attempt to force people to abstain from meat dishes on Mondays going forward. Instead, they focused on the message that the movement is trying to convey.
“If even for one day a week people think about what they’re eating and consider trying new, healthier menu options, then this resolution will have accomplished its purpose,” Austin said.
Price said she already started her support of the resolution by omitting meat from her family dinner this Monday night and explained to her children that making smart choices at the beginning of the week could help lead to maintaing similar choices for the remainder of it.
“This is just another opportunity to raise awareness within our city and to encourage our residents to think about their lifestyle, their welfare, their future health and really to take it as an opportunity to choose if they want to try something different on Mondays,” Price said. “Why not give it a shot?”
Not all members of the council were in agreement with the resolution. The motion carried with a 7-2 vote, with councilmembers Stacy Mungo and Daryl Supernaw providing the only opposing votes. While Supernaw remained mum on the subject, Mungo didn’t hesitate to voice her disapproval, citing the potential hit meat-based businesses could take in the city.
“I’ve had calls from some businesses, specifically that serve meat and steak and things like that, and it really contributes to the health of their business,” Mungo said. “We as an organization can encourage restaurants and eateries to expand their selection. But if we're really passionate about having a meatless Monday, then maybe our own cafeteria should be meatless.”
She went on to say that she’d be supportive of a more positive, less exclusionary resolution like “pro-veggie Monday” or “Sugar-free Monday”, or even using the Meatless Monday program as a promotional tool for restaurants to serve more farm-to-table options. But Mungo said she didn’t think it was the city’s place to make proclamations based on preferences, especially if it could hurt business.
"The meatless part is not excellent for our steakhouses and even if they are struggling on Mondays, I really wouldn’t want to contribute to that,” Mungo said.
Alexis, General Council for the the vegan advocacy group, Farm Sanctuary, cited a 2010 UCLA study that showed over 40 percent of Long Beach children are obese in his argument that a more plant-based diet could help curb that number. After citing the numerous ecological benefits of eating less meat, including the amount of water saved by consuming less animal products, he refuted the councilwoman’s comments about businesses being negatively affected by adopting the resolution.
“Monday is traditionally not a busy day for restaurants, thus a community-based campaign to promote meatless meals on Monday may serve as a very good business opportunity for many of our local restaurants,” Alexis said.
A Long Beach woman also took exception to Mungo's comment that the resolution was based around a personal preference. Pointing out the destruction to rainforest caused by the clearing of trees to create pasture land for raising livestock, the woman illuminated the global impact of the meat industry and some of the negative impacts that is has one everyone, regardless of their diet.
"It is not a personal preference issue, it is affecting everyone," the woman said. "It’s affecting the environment, it’s affecting the rainforest, top soil erosion, the drought."
The show was stolen by eight-year-old Genesis Butler, who wowed the council with her three minute pro-vegan message about why less meat, regardless of the day, would be better for the community as a whole. Butler built on Alexis’s point regarding the carbon footprint of animal consumption, stating that the water used to produce a pound of meat was equivalent to a few months of showering. She pointed to the historic drought that’s been gripping the state for nearly five years in urging the council to adopt the resolution.
“Kids like me deserve a future where they won’t have to worry where they’re getting their water from,” Butler said.
The United States Geological Survey School of Water estimates that it takes 500 gallons of water to produce one pound of chicken, 50 gallons of water to produce one egg and over 4,000 gallons of water to produce one hamburger.
The Meatless Monday campaign was originally initiated by the FDA during the two World Wars in an effort to conserve staples for the troops overseas. It has since been promoted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health as a tool for promoting diverse, sustainable and more balanced diets to help combat preventable diseases like obesity, diabetes and certain types of cancer.
Above right: Genesis Butler. Photo courtesy of Farm Sanctuary and PETA.