Many times, a seemingly impossible victory for a cause is won, not overnight, but by taking slow and steady steps towards winning over the mainstream. In this case, The Monday Campaigns is an organization making amazing leaps in the movement for a healthier America, and indirectly, is allowing vegans to bask in the successes of little battles with its Meatless Monday campaign. Vegan Mainstream recently had the opportunity to sit down with Tami O’Neill, program associate for The Monday Campaigns, to chat:
Tami O’Neill: You’re absolutely right. Meatless Monday originally began in WWI, when American citizens were asked to voluntarily ration how much meat they ate in order to feed soldiers and starving civilians overseas. In 2003 we reinstated the campaign as an easy way for people to reduce their saturated fat intake and cut their risk of associated chronic diseases, like diabetes, stroke, heart disease and certain cancers.
TO: All of us at The Monday Campaigns wear multiple hats, working on various projects and overseeing their progress. My day-to-day responsibilities include the upkeep of our website, Facebook and Twitter, along with maintaining our press archive and partnerships. It’s always exciting to come into work on Monday and see what new projects we’ll be taking on this week!
VM: What first inspired you to work with MM?
TO: The idea of better health through improved diet really hits home for me. I spent my childhood and teens overweight, eating highly processed fast food and not understanding the connection between diet and health. Over the past few years I have taken gradual steps towards a better diet which, for me, included going vegetarian. I hope that Meatless Monday allows people everywhere to start their week with a focus on healthy, plant-based options (even if they never go meatless beyond Monday). I want to show others how easy and delicious it can be to incorporate more produce, beans and whole grains into their diets.
VM: For our readers, explain why Monday?
TO: Monday is universally accepted as the start of the week, the day we dust ourselves off after a weekend of indulgence and refocus on work, school and other obligations. This rhythm makes Monday the perfect day to evaluate our behaviors from the previous week and set our intentions for the next seven days. Weekly reminders to make positive changes also increase the likelihood that we’ll stick to our guns. If you fall off the wagon, there’s always next Monday!
VM: How does Meatless Monday fit into Healthy Monday overall? Tell us a little about that program.
TO: Healthy Monday follows the Monday philosophy to its logical conclusion: if Monday can be a weekly reminder to cut back on meat, why not use it as a prompt to encourage other healthy behaviors? Started in 2005, Healthy Monday covers fitness, nutrition, smoke cessation, mindfulness and sexual health. The initiative is very popular on college campuses and with work site and hospital wellness programs. We offer the tools and tips organizations need to get started and they customize the program by hosting weekly events and providing information to their clients.
VM: What would you say is your biggest achievement to date?
TO: Meatless Monday has really taken off in the past two years! There are now sister programs in 15 countries (Indonesia and France are our latest additions) and we have the support of a nation-wide network of universities, celebrities, restaurants and organizations. Most recently, we’re celebrating Sodexo’s pledge to bring Meatless Monday to hospitals, campuses and work sites across the country. Personally, I’m most proud of our work in K-12 schools. The current state of school lunch leaves much room for improvement. When a district embraces Meatless Monday they are not only making a transition towards healthier choices, they are introducing students to food they may never have tried before, which can leave a long-term positive impact.
VM: What are some of your favorite meatless recipes?
TO: Much credit is due to our recipe editor Joey Lee, who hand-picks four fantastic meatless meals for our website each week. Some recent additions that have had me drooling include the Roasted Eggplant Sandwiches, Sweet Potato Pita Pockets, Pumpkin Stringbean Curry and Asian Pear Butternut Squash Soup.
VM: Who are some big names involved with the MM campaign? (i.e. Icons and idols in the movement?)
TO: Meatless Monday Movers & Shakers come from all backgrounds! We recently welcomed Olivia Wilde to the movement and earlier adopters include celebrity chef Mario Batali, environmental activist and author Laurie David, NASCAR driver Leilani Munter and even former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney!
VM: What would you say is the global impact of the MM movement?
TO: In many countries (including the U.S.) a meal just doesn’t seem complete without animal-based protein. Since Meatless Monday is [so simple] it cuts across cultures, encouraging people everywhere to at least sample vegetarian options. As the movement continues to spread we hope that people across the globe will learn about the connection between meat consumption and chronic, preventable illness, which will in turn lead to a healthier world population and further acceptance of plant-based meals.
VM: On that note, how would you say MM complements veganism as a whole?
TO: Meatless Monday shows even the most die-hard carnivore that there are options beyond meat. Unlike “meatout” days, cleanses, or veggie-months, the campaign has a quick reset cycle, allowing people to get comfortable with more plant-based options. For many, the campaign is a safe middle ground in an all-or-nothing battle, allowing them to join the conversation, explore meatless alternatives and discover healthy, delicious meals.
Though we’re not asking people to give up meat, I’ve had quite a few followers come to me saying that Meatless Monday paved the way for more meatless meals and even vegetarianism or veganism.
VM: How can someone start a MM campaign in their area?
TO: Starting a Meatless Monday in your area is easy! Our website offers tool kits to help you organize school, campus or community-wide events. Of course you can always contact us if you need additional support or advice.