Every lunch and dinner, the Grille station in Café Mac features chicken breasts ready for consumption. The South and East stations can be counted on to provide meat-laden curries or stir-frys, and the pasta station is never without an option of animal-protein mixed in with the noodles of the day.
But when Sustainability Officer Collin Dobie ’19 met with Café Mac General Manager Chuck Parsons in January, the pair discussed making environmentally-oriented changes at Café Mac like “Meatless Mondays.”
Parsons implemented “Meatless Mondays” in some of his prior jobs and, according to Dobie, “recognizes it as [part of a] more sustainable cafeteria.” When Parsons brought up the Meatless Monday idea, Dobie was inspired.
According to the University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems, meat accounts for 47.6 percent of greenhouse gases from food consumption. Reducing meat consumption is often touted as an easy way to increase sustainability.
But on a college campus, with students paying around $8.60 a meal — many of whom eat meat — any plan to reduce consumption is bound to be met with resistance.
When Dobie asked Parsons if the initative could work, Parsons gave him a ‘yes’—with the warning that the student body, especially athletes, would have to be consulted.
Dobie met with the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) in February. He then created a Facebook post on three of the Macalester class pages (’18, ’19 and ’20). “We both felt like we needed to have a more informed conversation,” Dobie said.
The posts had received a total of 647 responses at print time. The original post included a poll with two options: “I support Meatless Mondays” — which had garnered 243 votes — and “I do not support Meatless Mondays”—which had 209 votes.
The written responses to the Facebook posts provide a fuller picture of the debate.
Some commenters said that, while they support sustainability, taking away meat options would be an infringement on their right to decide what they eat.
Others brought up medical conditions that necessitate a balanced, steady intake of protein.
Emily McPhillips ’19, who is a vegetarian, felt people were too quick to dismiss the idea.
“Macalester is a college that purportedly really cares about sustainability,” McPhillips said. “They tout that as one of their core values when they’re recruiting students and in literature, and they don’t back that up with a lot of their actions.”
While she expressed concern that some may take Meatless Mondays as a value judgement, she thought that the measure could be “an important step on the part of the college in showing a commitment to sustainability and to introduce to the die-hard meat-eaters that you can healthily eat protein, without eating meat.”
Nadia Mezic ’19 runs track, and is against the idea as well—but for different reasons. “Being an athlete has nothing to do with it. Everybody needs the same amount of protein, for the most part. I just think there could be other things done to reduce our lack of sustainability,” Mezic said.
Dobie said that he knew when he wrote the Facebook posts that the original plan would be a dead-end.
“After talking with SAAC, I pretty much knew then trying to push just Meatless Mondays wasn’t going to work. But I used it in Facebook posts just because I knew it would be an efficient way to get feedback—and I’m now thinking I should have been a little more careful in what I was saying there,” Dobie said.
While the Meatless Monday proposal was born from a desire to make eating more sustainable, many vegetarians have taken the discussion as an opportunity to advocate for measures that would simultaneously decrease meat consumption and increase the quality of vegetarian options.
“I’m in favor of the idea” McPhillips said, “perhaps not completely taking all meat away on Mondays, but some scaling back, and introducing a wider variety of vegetarian options or non-meat protein substances, because that’s something that’s definitely lacking.”
Dobie shares that sentiment. “I’ve identified and people have suggested to me some alternatives [to] Meatless Mondays,” he said. “My favorite is rotate vegetarian throughout, so like on Mondays pasta is all-vegetarian, on Tuesday it’s stir-fry, on Wednesday it’s another station. So that would provide better vegetarian options, and also reduce meat consumption, which is the goal.”
Dobie is interested in doing education around whatever changes in food offerings there end up being.
“I think table tents are a good way to present the idea,” Dobie said. “As far as raising awareness and understanding the impact of meat production and consumption on the environment, I think that would be a more long-term thing.”
Some ideas for long-term education projects education include working with MacFeast, a student org focused on food justice, to do tabling and host a viewing of a relevant documentary.
Dobie hopes to work with Parsons throughout the coming summer—and be ready to roll out one of his sustainable dining ideas in time for the start of fall 2017.