Fish on Friday, No Meat on Monday, It Could Catch On

Meatless Mondays.” Although it alliterates—a main attraction for a Mad Man, and Sid Lerner was once that, big time (he worked on “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin”)—Meatless Monday (MM) is not just another catch-phrase gimmick, but a serious initiative to promote better eating, better health, that’s already taken hold in Manhattan and other parts of the country, in restaurants, schools and university dining halls, and that Lerner is advancing in The Hamptons (the movement’s also gone global). Lerner, chairman of the MM campaign, already has Almond Restaurant owner, executive chef and MM partner Jason Weiner on board, and is closing deals with other well-known eating establishments on The East End. The idea’s a kind of carnival about cuisine, keeping in mind that “carnival,” from Italian carnelvare, means “removal of meat.” Not forever, and not even as an exclusion from the menu, but as an emphasis on no meat for one day, the “January of the week,” as Lerner calls Monday, when the restaurant business is relatively slow. Not incidentally, Lerner points out that meatless costs both restaurants and consumers less in prep time and money, and also encourages support for local growers.

The phrase “Meatless Monday” is hardly new, tracing its lineage to war efforts, first, when Herbert Hoover headed the U.S. Food Administration and then during World War II when FDR asked Americans to ration certain foods. The current campaign, only a decade old, is supported by evidence that clearly shows that cutting down on saturated fats may prevent or reduce heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. Research at institutions such The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications has been persuasive enough to lead to affiliated healthy food programs in schools. Add to the advocacy mix a growing number of articles on Meatless Monday in popular and professional magazines, in print and online, many accompanied by fabulous-looking vegetarian recipes, and endorsements from the likes of Mario Batali, “the prince of pork,” Lerner calls him, who  has instituted MMs at all his restaurants, and Wolfgang Puck, Oprah Winfrey and Paul McCartney. A related initiative, Kids Cook Monday, also encourages families to cook and eat together, a move reinforced by curricular developments in school districts such as Bridgehampton, which has an edible garden. The challenge, says Lerner, is to make  “moderation sexy, fun and doable without being a nag or a nanny.” Education, especially about saturated fats and cholesterol, is important, but only changed behavior will make a difference. The goal is to get from the average American’s caloric intake of 2,700 to the USDA-recommended 2,000.

MM’s working, if slowly, Lerner smiles. A recent poll by the online reservation service OpenTable shows a rise in the number of people over the last few years who say they know about MM, are more aware of health and sustainability issues and may be more likely to change their eating habits. Aspen, Colo, for example, a haven for jet set carnivores, has become the number-one city in America to go for Meatless Mondays.

Of course the meat industry counters MM by linking it to animal rights activists and vegan kooks with political agendas, and noting that meat isn’t the only source of saturated fat. Lerner, 81, who notes that his own heart-related “wake-up call” came a decade ago, responds that although MM asks for only a 15% reduction in meat consumption (fish and skinless chicken are OK), some die-hard opponents argue that the campaign is taking away
people’s “constitutional rights.” How diversionary, how ignorant. In fact, Lerner believes that there are data showing that most heart attacks occur on Mondays. Regardless, researchers at Johns Hopkins and other institutions point out the psychological advantage, at least in Western cultures, of starting new projects on Monday, the beginning of a new week, possibly a new life.

Labor Day falls on a Monday. Will Lerner be having barbecued ribs? No. He still eats meat, but Never on Monday, and who knows, maybe down the line he’ll observe Wheat-free Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Ms have it—Meatless Monday has now been joined by Move It Monday, for exercise.

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