It’s a cute alliteration, it has appeal to it, but how does it work? How is quitting meat for one day going to save the planet? Well, that is exactly what I will be looking at in this article. Can this actually change anything? Is this something we should support?
What is MFM? Before we even dive into the effects Meat-Free Monday (MFM) may have, we should figure what it actually is. Meat-Free Monday was launched in 2009, by Paul, Mary and Stella McCartney. It is a “non- profit campaign which aims to raise awareness of the detrimental environmental impact of eating meat, and to encourage people to help slow climate change, conserve precious natural resources and improve their health by having at least one meat free day each week.”
Why participate in MFM? According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the livestock sector is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global”. The FAO estimates that livestock production is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. That is a rather conservative estimate, as other organisations have estimated it could be as much as 51%. There is general agreement amongst world scientists on the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere need to be reduced by 80% by 2050 in order to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Meat vs. Cars We all have seen the many advertisements, promoting how it is better to take a bike more often, take public transport, or in general reduce our car usage to help the environment. National Geographic has even reported that eating beef is actually more harmful to the planet than driving a car. EarthDay.org explains that eating less meat significantly reduces your carbon footprint and reduces our use of natural resources. Eating one less burger a week is the same as taking your car off of the road for 320 miles. Skipping steak for a week, is the equivalent of not driving for almost 3 months! If a family skipped meat and cheese one day a week, that would be the equivalent of not driving for five weeks or reducing everyone’s daily showers by 3 minutes. It is isn’t just eating meat that is bad for the planet, it is the keeping and farming of meat that requires a lot of resources we should be more careful with. The world’s cows eat enough to feed 9 billion people. Approximately, 70% of deforestation of the Amazon is to provide land for cattle ranches. Producing an 8 oz steak requires 900 gallons of water. Not all meat requires the same amount of energy. Pigs produce half as much carbon dioxide as cows. Chicken is the most energy efficient meat. However, producing a pound of chicken still requires 500 gallons of water, and while 600 to 700 gallons of water is required for a pound of pork.
The Behavioural Science behind MFM The MFM is more than just a cute alliteration, there is some actually psychology behind it. First off, it explicitly mentions a day – there is a specific timeframe for this action be taken, which makes it much likelier to actually occur. Picking Monday as the time is smart as well; we are much more likely to stick with our “good” intentions at the start of a week. The start of a week is a re-set, even if we have failed the week (or months…) before, we can salvage that now!
Another smart move is that this campaign is focused on much more than the global level. I admit, even the text I wrote is packed with numbers, but those numbers reflect not just what we could do if we ALL contributed. It shows what we as INDIVIDUALS can achieve.
Lastly, the campaign talks about more than the environment; it talks about YOU too. Close to half the campaign is focused on the direct beneficial impact that reduced meat consumption can have on your own health. In 2010, a study carried out by Oxford University’s department of public health found that eating meat no more than three times a week could prevent 31,000 deaths from heart disease, 9,000 deaths from cancer and 5,000 deaths from stroke, as well as save the NHS £1.2 billion in costs each year. Former chief scientific officer Sir Liam Donaldson has said that reducing the UK’s consumption of animal products by 30 per cent [by 2030] would prevent 18,000 premature deaths every year. Many of the world’s leading health organisations now encourage a reduction in the amount of meat people consume. The World Cancer Research Fund recommends we “choose mostly plant foods, limit red meat and avoid processed meat”. MFM doesn’t just tell you to eat less meat, they do actually provide you with help to do so. Their site is packed with recipes telling you how to cook meat-free. So, you’re not on your own there either.
So overall, there is a solid amount of behavioural science behind this campaign, or rather this movement. I enjoy eating meat myself too (I’m mainly a sucker for fish -- sushi), but even I cannot deny the fact that consuming less would be a good thing. For me and the environment. Will you join the movement?
The next two articles will also focus on reducing resource usage and saving the planet. First, we will discuss the issue of plastic, mainly in the oceans. Second, we will discuss why it seems so difficult for us to change our behaviours to become more sustainable, and whether the small things we do manage to do, actually contribute to change.