Ever do a “Meatless Monday”? Millions of Americans — including myself — have tried it, and going one day without beef, chicken, pork, lamb, buffalo, emu — whatever your protein of choice — is not as bad as it seems. After a weekend of burgers, pepperoni pizza and restaurant appetizers, it's almost a pleasure to sit down to a dinner of legumes, grains, tofu and vegetable.
The idea first appeared in 2003 as a non-profit effort partially funded by animal welfare groups, with assistance from the Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health. Since then, going meatless periodically garners attention as new initiatives are launched in which vegetarianism is a component.
That's what's happening right now. Ingrid Newkirk, the president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, wrote to the White House to ask whether President Obama and his family would consider participating (that would put First Lady Michelle Obama's organic garden out back to good use, now, wouldn't it?).
In her letter, Newkirk noted that going meatless has a long history and is as American as, well, apple pie:
“On October 5, 1947, in the first televised White House address, President Truman asked Americans to refrain from eating meat on Tuesdays and poultry on Thursdays to help stockpile grain for starving people in Europe,” she wrote.
There is also a perennial effort, which peaks every August just as the back-to-school bells start ringing, to reform school lunches as offered under the Child Nutrition Act. Some public health and food advocacy groups want the government to overhaul the menu to include more meatless options beyond the Friday fishcake.
Are supermarket retailers seeing any kind of shift in their aisles? Going meatless for at least one day a week seems to be catching on. Some Americans are doing it out of necessity — they just can't afford animal proteins right now. Others are concerned about the nutritional profile of today's food animals growing up with added hormones, antibiotics and the like.
Still others avoid meat because of their belief in animal rights. Such vegetarians and vegans obviously go way beyond the Monday suggestion and make every day meatless.
Now, store dietitians and in-store chefs have a prime opportunity to steer their shoppers to non-meat choices. Stores in college towns probably already experience higher-than-average sales of produce and grains, as numerous studies note increases in the number of college students asking for vegetarian options in their meal plans. Stores that host cooking classes or demos can probably combine two trends — vegetarian and ethnic — to stir up some excitement and interest.
Best of all, retailers don't have to take an ethnical or political stance in merchandising non-meat dinner ideas, though they may have some explaining to do to the folks in the meat and seafood department.
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