The Meatless Monday project, conceived by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2003, challenges participants to eliminate meat from their diet one day a week in order to improve personal and environmental health. Last year, Eleni Vlachos brought Meatless Mondays to Durham, and it's grown in popularity since. More than 700 Durham residents have taken the Meatless Mondays pledge and 11 restaurants have partnered with the program, adding a vegan dish to their menus. We spoke with Vlachos, who herself is a vegan, to get her take on the present and future of Meatless Monday.
What's been the response from the community? From restaurants?
The response has been outstanding on both fronts. Most restaurants and chefs have been excited to create a dishes for their menus that are both creative and animal-free. With over 700 pledges, we feel confident that our initiative is reaching the community and hope to reach even more people in 2012.
Choosing to try meatless meals on Mondays is perfect because it is a small step that most people can take without noticing a big change. It can be hard to make a huge change right away – so we hope that this first step can lead to many other steps of exploring the adventures of veg cuisine and to thinking about this exploration as an addition, not a subtraction problem. That is, a whole new world of culinary possibilities open up for you when you try meals not based on a meat product.
Eating meatless on Mondays is a great way to start your week and it sends a positive and delicious tone for the rest of the week. It also shows people that eating meatless isn't all that difficult and it can be fun -- especially with more and more participating restaurants.
What kind of impact does a vegetarian diet have on the environment?
Not only is it delicious, it makes a huge impact on the environment. According to a the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalent - 18 percent - than transport. It is also a major source of land and water degradation. Another article lays it out this way: If you go vegan just one day a week for a year, it’s like NOT driving 1,160 miles. Pretty amazing.
Another aspect is that every individual eats roughly 80-100 animals per year. Abstaining for a day or more makes a huge impact. In fact, a new report just came out that American meat consumption is actually down by 12.2% since 2007! That's surprising, considering the size of the meat and dairy industries. So there is hope, and we are empowered to make every meal a choice.
What are some of your favorite places to go for vegetarian/vegan food?
We love all of the participating area restaurants! I especially love that we have so many different types of food from different ethnicities. We even have good old American favorites like waffles and vegan hot dogs. In Durham in particular, we’re fans of Beyu when we want a nice sit-down If we’re feeling like a quick breakfast, we can try Dame’s vegan waffle – though we’re trying to get them to add the delicious Delight Soy chicken (vegan) available at Whole Foods. Broad Street has a nice vegan pizza, and we’re super excited about Mad Hatter joining us as well! Check out our list for all the highlights.
We of course love the food work of the Fiction Kitchen as well, who were hosting monthly vegan brunches to the tune of 100+ people attending and waiting in line. They’re now working on opening up a veg restaurant in Raleigh. Still waiting for that Durham entrepreneur to fill the gap and be the first vegan restaurant in the area. Seattle has over 20 – we can support at least one!
Check out the video to see a Meatless Monday recipe for flavorful Moo Shu Vegetables, as seen on ABC's The Chew! And click HERE for Eleni's very own vegan seitan recipe!