The Baltimore City Public School System became the first district in the nation to adopt Meatless Mondays. Meatless Mondays is a non-profit initiative whose goal is to improve personal health and the health of the planet. On October 5, 2009 the school cafeteria workers began prepping their first vegetarian fare.
This is huge, considering we are talking about a major public school system. BCPS is paving the way for other large school systems in the country to get on the right track. In Baltimore, not only do kids have a chance to eat whole fresh produce, they can learn about plants and animals by visiting the system's 33-acre farm.
As the health care debate continues, the rising concern over childhood obesity and the environmental impact of factory farming adds another dimension. Movies like Food, Inc. are shedding light on the mysteries of the Standard American Diet. The connection between our food, our environment and our health are vital when considering, "what to eat?"
BCPS is following the lead of a growing number of people all over the country who are joining the Meatless Monday movement and are pledging to eat meat-free once a week. Meatless Mondays suggest that just by reducing animal protein in your diet, you could lessen your risk of heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes. Many people have found that reducing animal protein consumption can help with low energy and sugar cravings.
If you are interested in lowering your impact on the environment while investing in your health, try incorporating more vegetables into your meal. Vegetables are high in fiber and will make you feel full and satisfied. Beans, peas, lentils, nuts and seeds are also a great meat alternative. They are high in protein, iron and magnesium and contain little to no saturated fat.
You'll reduce your carbon footprint by cutting back on meat just once a week. According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, the meat industry generates nearly 1/5 of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change worldwide. Our precious water resources are exhausted daily and the demand continues to grow. Approximately 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water go into a single pound of beef. This total far surpasses the amount of water needed for vegetables and grains.
People are confused about how to start making improvements to their health, let alone make sizable changes to the environment. Start with what you put on your dinner plate. Start today. You don't have to become a vegetarian to make a difference. Michael Pollan recently stated on the Oprah show: "Even one meatless day a week -- a meatless Monday, which is what we do in my household -- if everybody in America did that, that would be the equivalent of taking 20 million mid-size sedans off the road."
What can you do? Call your local school system. Tell them that you want to instill healthy habits in your children with Meatless Mondays. Show them the model BCPS has created and let them know you want changes.
If every major school system in the country adopted Meatless Mondays, with the children enjoying local produce of a plant-based variety, the progress would be tremendous. If every family then extended that commitment to their dinner table, we could see the impact of a movement on our health, the health of our children and the environment. The possibilities are endless!
Joshua Rosenthal is the founder of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, the largest nutrition school in the world. Visit the site for a free "14 Days to a Healthier You" coaching program.