LA becomes official 'Meatless Monday' city; will you participate?

Nov. 12, 2012, 1:42 p.m.

Quinoa is a nutritious protein and base for a main Meatless Monday dish. (Flickr via SaucyGlo)

The Los Angeles City Council has passed a resolution in support of "Meatless Mondays" -- an initiative that encourages residents to abandon their carnivorous ways for one day a week. Although this is not a mandatory dietary requirement, the council's public support is meant to spur Angelenos to try and eat like a vegetarian at least once a week.

In addition to personal health benefits, eating less meat can improve environmental conditions across the planet.

"Meatless Monday is about raising awareness," said councilwoman Jan Perry who co-authored the resolution. "It's not a requirement but rather a call for all of us to think about our environment, the food we eat, and how we can be a part of making ourselves healthier."

The Meatless Monday campaign was actually first introduced during WWI as part of the government's efforts to minimize consumption of food staples, and reportedly had widespread effects when about 10 million families pledge to have meat-free days. The effort returned during WWII and was resurrected again in 2003 with help from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future.

Now, Los Angeles is the third city in the U.S. to create a Meatless Monday initiative, following in the footsteps of San Francisco and Washington D.C. Multiple schools and universities in California have already adopted Meatless Monday menus in their cafeterias, including UC Davis and UC San Diego.

One of the central health benefits of eating less meat is a reduced chance of cancer: Red meat and processed meat is associated with colon cancer, so the American Cancer Society champions a diet high in fruits, veggies and whole grains. Going veg may also help reduce the amount of saturated fat you consume, which can help manage long-term weight gain and maintain a healthy heart.

By substituting a burger or steak with a fiber-heavy protein like beans, you will also increase your intake of fiber, iron and magnesium.

"When dealing with issues as big as global warming, or even as personal as battling diabetes or obesity, it's easy to feel helpless, like there's little we can do to make a difference," said councilman Ed Reyes who also authored the resolution.

But Reyes went on to say that by not eating meat one day a week, individuals can make a marked difference not only on themselves but their environment -- through reducing their carbon footprint, saving animals and using less gasoline.

The council's resolution cites the United Nations, saying the world organization recognizes that "Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today's most serious environmental problems," and also that a "plant-based diet helps preserve our grasslands, wetlands and wildlife habitat and reduces pollutants of our waterways, including the Los Angeles River."

But Eating less meat isn't purely selfless; it can be kind to your pocketbook as well. Carole Bartolotto is a registered dietitian with Kaiser Permanente Southern California Regional Health Education. She says that by replacing red meat with protein packed-meals like kale and beans, you can drastically reduce the amount of money you spend on food.

“You're talking about less than a dollar for probably one of the healthiest meals you can have,” she said.

For a cheap but healthy meal, Bartolotto suggests buying canned beans (rinsing them really well to eliminate any excess sodium), and then using your own spice blend to enhance their flavor. Serve with vegetables and quinoa and your Meatless Monday meal is complete. The dietitian also praises collard greens, black and kidney beans, tofu and tempeh as some of the most affordable and healthy replacements for meat products.

“Using those foods its easy to get the high quality protein,” she said.

Bartolotto said that many ethnic groups already highlight the use of vegetarian proteins, such as the Latino community's use of beans and the preponderance of lentils in East Indian dishes.

To help Meatless Monday newbies plan their day of vegetarian meals, the organization's website has an expansive list of recipes and suggestions to help people make the transition. Healthy alternative proteins like quinoa and tofu are nutritious foundations to start with and build meals from, ranging from Baked Indonesian Tofu to Korean BBQ Tofu Tacos and Quinoa Zucchini Burgers.

But why Mondays? While the health and environmental effects would be the same no matter what day of the week you choose to abstain from meat, organizers of Meatless Mondays say this particular day of the week has sets the precedent for the coming days: "For most Americans the week begins on Monday. On Monday we move from the freedom of the weekend back to the structure of work or school. We set our intentions for the next six days. We plan ahead and evaluate progress."

Bartolotto said that that the premise of going meatless on Mondays was also to help people combat the bad behavior or indulgences they gave into over the weekend. Although Meatless Mondays focuses on just one day a week, she hopes it will spur people to begin thinking about their diets the other six as well.

“Even just cutting it out for one day could start a person heading in the right direction in terms of their health,” she said.

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