The City of San Jose’s Support of Meatless Monday is Step Toward More Food Awareness

By / Photography By Carole Topalian | January 15, 2015
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In June, the City of San Jose folded a new element into its existing plans for becoming a greener city. The city council issued a proclamation in support of Meatless Monday as part of its “Green Vision” strategy, explaining it as a means “to adopt healthier lifestyles, protect animals and reduce our carbon footprint.”

It was a symbolic gesture (there was no legislative action taken), but by vocalizing its support for reduced meat consumption, the nation’s 10th largest city joined a movement that has spread to 35 countries, from Taiwan to Peru, that seeks to curb damaging effects of large-scale animal agriculture.

Nearly 30% of the Earth’s surface is used for livestock. That’s according to the United Nations’ seminal 2006 report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” which found that these many billions of animals account for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions—more than the transportation sector.

Climate change isn’t the only pitfall, either. The UN established that livestock is also a top-three contributor to the other direst environmental problems unfolding today: land degradation, water and air pollution, water shortages and diminishing biodiversity.

Ultimately, said the report, “the impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency.” While it dealt specifically with livestock as it pertains to the planet’s health, there are also public health concerns with the overconsumption of meat and dairy. Studies have linked diets high in animal proteins to heart disease, certain cancers, obesity and high cholesterol.

So what improvements would we see if everyone cut back their meat eating by 15%?

That is the driving question behind the Meatless Monday campaign, which began in 2003 in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Organizers with Santa Clara County Activists for Animals (SCCAA) brought the idea to City of San Jose Councilmember Ash Kalra in 2013. Kalra, who was raised Hindu, was always aware of the practice of abstaining from meat for religious purposes, and had become familiar with other reasons in recent years.

“In the time that I’ve been in office—close to six years—I’ve made an effort to be a champion for issues that involve not just the environment, but also public health. This was really a combination of both in a very meaningful way, and it tied into my own Indian roots,” he says.

After a year of meetings, finding partners, and back and forth on the wording of a resolution, on June 3, 2014, the city council signed the Meatless Monday proclamation—one step below the intended resolution, both of which are non-legislative.

SCCAA member Judy Lindow says the group pursued Meatless Monday because it’s an established campaign with name recognition, troves of resources and materials, and because its formula—one based on achievable baby steps—is working so well across the globe.

“Some people question if a proclamation or resolution is effective, as there’s no legislation that mandates consuming less meat,” Lindow says. “It is, however, an effective tool—an endorsement of sorts—by a respected political group representing our community that can be used to persuade, influence and leverage future actions. For example, [getting Meatless Monday] into the schools. It’s a foot in the door—it’s doable for most people.”

Kristie Middleton, food policy manager for the Humane Society of the United States, has helped bring Meatless Monday to 120 K–12 school districts, 80 colleges and universities and 40 hospitals. She says that Meatless Monday has already caught on at local schools, including in the Campbell Union High School and East Side Union High School districts.

Lindow is working on publishing a list of vegetarian and vegan restaurants in the county (she’s counted nearly 60), and says there are plans under way for a San Jose vegetarian festival in 2015. In the meantime, the activists will advocate for more vegetarian options in omnivorous restaurants.

Councilmember Kalra wants the city to pursue policy that follows in the proclamation’s footsteps. He is currently pushing for an ordinance that would allow fresh fruit and vegetable carts to reach residents for whom access to healthy food is difficult.

“We talk about shortage of water and we talk about our reliance on fossil fuels, and the reality is that by just removing meat or at least a relatively significant portion of the meat from our diets, we have much more of an impact than with almost any other action we can take,” Kalra says. “We have to be able to make that connection for the community so that it’s meaningful, and so they don’t feel like it’s a sacrifice—but that, by doing it, they are making a choice for their children and for the next generation.”

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