Reducing meat consumption is an urgent matter: you can do it by decreasing quantities and choosing quality.
Meat production and consumption are becoming increasingly unsustainable for the climate, for our planet, for the living conditions of billions of animals who are raised without regard for animal welfare in order to meet the growing demand of the market, and for our health. If global meat consumption doubles between now and 2050 (as the FAO has predicted), growing from over 250 million tonness of meat consumed annually to 500 million tonnes, the system will collapse.
That is why Slow Food is pursuing the Slow Meat campaign, which aims to raise awareness among co-producers about better, cleaner, fairer consumption habits, encourage a reduction of industrial meat consumption, and promote the work of small- and medium-scale producers who respect animal welfare.
Because it is not necessary to eliminate meat completely from our diet: protecting the planet, our health and animals is more complex but also much more interesting. We interviewed Richard McCarthy, member of the Slow Food Executive Committee and Meatless Monday Ambassador, for an interesting point of view directly from the United States, one of the world’s leading meat consumers.
Meat production and consumption are becoming increasingly unsustainable. In particular, the United States is one of the main consumers of meat, but, in recent years, it is precisely from the United States that there is a strong tendency to oppose this situation, in order to find a solution. There are therefore two great polarities: from the most extreme in vitro meat to veganism. What do you think is the viable way out and how does Meatless Monday fit into this context?
Is America a land of extremes? Its large scale devotion to confinement in animal agriculture is extreme. Some may also find responses to this system equally as extreme: In-vitro meat and veganism. While it may be true that both challenge Slow Food’s philosophical commitment to a balance of pleasure with responsibility, they also provide opportunities for our movement to engage with others who share our urgent desire to upend industrial animal agriculture.
America normalized daily (or thrice daily) meat consumption after WWII. America industrialized so much of everyday life: food, sports, housing, entertainment, etc. Whereas traditional livelihoods in extreme environments may also consume a lot of meat in their diets — in the arctic or Sahara, for example — America’s extremes are different. The scale of how Americans raise, slaughter and consume meat relies upon a complex system that segregates each step of the process from the other. It also strives to keep the system out of public view. When eaters begin to learn how the average pig or chicken is confined (in facilities of 5,000 – 100,000 animals), a quiet outrage emerges, motivated by a number of compelling concerns: animal welfare, ecological degradation, air and water quality near these factories, etc.
Vegans. This outrage has yielded different responses. The vegan response rests upon the philosophical position that animals should not be treated as a means but as ends unto themselves. As a result, the human diet should evolve by removing all animal products. If you’ve not paying attention, veganism has increased by 600% in the USA during the last three-years. Like the rise of the farm-to-table, locavore movement of the early 2000s, today veganism is moving swiftly and into the mainstream. While it may not sit well with Slow Food’s commitment to preserve traditional animal husbandry practices, vegans do share our passion for and discovery of fruits and vegetables. The space vegans are carving out provide ample opportunity for us to promote biodiversity and to value the Ark of Taste. But it’s more than that. Ask kitchen staff. Vegan chefs and tastes are expanding eaters’ ideas about flavor, ingredients and adventure. Slow Food Gastronauts should take the time to learn culinary trends that are accelerating shifts away from the destructive and antiquated “culture of confinement” that has, until recently, defined a meal in America: A hunk of protein at the center of the plate, surrounded by a supporting cast of characters (i.e., vegetables). This plate is changing in the public imagination and in public health discourse, with meat migrating from focus to flavor of meals. Whatever your position on vegans, they deserve credit for freeing up our imagination about meals and ingredients. In many ways, vegans are mainstreaming traditional peasant food more than anybody.
In-vitro meat. The cultured (or in-vitro) meat is an entirely different response to the crisis of industrial meat. A far cry from veggie burgers (or the now at Burger King Impossible Burger) that are made of vegetables and legumes, In-vitro is made of animal protein. Scientists raise meat in laboratories with the use of animal cells. The result is a product that is supposed to be indistinguishable from slaughtered meat. The rise of in-vitro meat rests upon two interrelated and important American assumptions: One, that the American right to meat-on-demand is so great that we must accept is as an unfixed given. Two, solutions are technological (rather than political). This second assumption reflects an American devotion to technological fixes. Just think of how many hack-a-thons you’ve read about that began in Silicon Valley. The idea is simple: Do not bother addressing power relations head on (i.e., the power of meat monopolies). Instead, hack the solution with innovative design. It is an odd mixture that could only come from the American West Coast: Climate crisis commerce that leans heavily upon libertarian ideals and innovative design. In-vitro provides ample razzle-dazzle for the deep pocketed IT investor class to hop on board to this potential growth market to provide meat without raising animals.
These are early days for in-vitro; however, at this point there is little indication that it is close to being operational or popular. Only time will tell if it represents a commercially viable strategy to replace industrial animal agriculture. Will it go mainstream? Will it taste delicious? Do the entrepreneurs care about flavor? If we cannot trust the hidden practices of animal husbandry, why should trust the work of food scientists in laboratories to produce safe and healthy meat without animals? Interestingly, does in-vitro serve a niche market for captured audiences who will pay extra for specialty products? Consider the possibility of Kosher bacon. Or at the other end of the spectrum, will in-vitro deliver cheap not-quite-meat for mass canteens: schools, hospitals, armies, prisons?
MM is also an international subject. How does it work at an international level, given that cultural, economic and social contexts are profoundly different? How is the message declined?
Meatless Monday is an instrument that challenges the hegemony of cheap industrial meat upon the world. When the Meatless Monday team attended Terra Madre 2018, they encountered excitement for its concept — even from places not associated with vegetarian cuisine. In this short film, cooks and chefs proudly share meatless dishes from Japan, Israel, Russia, Portugal, Italy, Mexico and Kenya! Wait, Kenya? Wait, don’t Kenyans cherish their meat? Yes, they do; however, they also love their vegetables! International Councilors who were fortunate enough to experience this first-hand in Kenya came to discover, everyday meals in Kenya largely center around greens (nightshade), legumes, and cornmeal (Ugali), and only a small portion of meat. And yet, in Kenya (like elsewhere), Fast Food is gobbling up the popular imagination and market share. It contributes to the spread of chronic diseases (thanks to its high fat, processed and meat-centered ingredients). Meatless Monday provides activists the opportunity to promote the traditional meals that Fast Food is marginalizing. Rally around traditional peasant food! Celebrate grains, legumes and vegetables, and foods from the street: In the Middle East, falafal; in Latin America, rice and beans; in West Africa, fonio and peanut stew; Indonesia, Gado Gado; and China, Szechuan noodles.
Is it right to promote Meatless Monday in the Global South? After all, the Slow Food balance to promote better meat and less meat begs the question: Should strategies differ from place to place? The short answer is yes. Of course, it does. For instance, in Ethiopia, the average annual consumption of meat is 7 kg per capita. This amounts to 10 times less than the average European. Do they need to cut back on their meat consumption? Well, maybe not in the nation as a whole. However, even in Ethiopia the proliferation of Fast Food (as evidenced in this CNBC report) threatens traditional foods: The very same foods we can promote via Meatless Monday: Celebrating and eating misir wat (lentils) and shiro wat (chickpeas) served on injera (made from fermented teff flour) is one way for Ethiopian food activists to resist the pervasive power of Fast Food.
In addition to being a forerunner, twenty years ago, in defending and protecting traditional knowledge and dishes, Slow Food does not promote vegetarianism or veganism but continues to underline the importance of quality farming and believes that it has a fundamental role in sustainable agriculture. It is not easy to spread this message, it is not a position made up of watchwords, but it requires a willingness to know the context and the situation well. What does MM think of Slow Food’s point of view?
One of Slow Food’s alluring attributes is the sophisticated manner in which it unites disparate tendencies in positive and nuanced ways. Slow Meat’s call for better meat, less meat is a paradox. It is also elegant. It avoids the arguments that cannot be easily resolved (i.e., the rights of animals) beneath the Slow Food umbrella. Instead, it finds that ever-important common ground where ranchers and vegans can agree: To improve the welfare of animals in agriculture; and revealing the harmful (and mostly hidden) effects of industrial agriculture. This Venn diagram (between less and better) does not ask that anyone give up their deeply-held values. Rather, it seeks out ways to forge alliances around what we share: A desire to defend traditional livelihoods, culture and biodiversity in the face of money, power and the Big Mac.
Those of us who work in this muddy field of food may be happy with the complex messaging that comes with paradoxes. However, if we truly wish to engage those who are just arriving to our cause, we must find simple, practical things to move eaters from talking about food to actually doing something. That’s why Meatless Monday is so attractive, why it has gone global, and why we can play a role.
Mondays are the beginning of a journey, much like they are the beginning of each week. For those who are still confused by our messages — and heaven knows, we have many — Meatless Monday provides a new point of entry. Embrace Meatless Monday to send a signal to industrial meat. It should not be so available that we eat it at every meal. And yet, Mondays should not be a sad occasion to recognize the absence of meat. Rather, it should be a Slow Food day: Discover the biodiverse world of flavors and traditional foods. Or, turn to the chefs who inspire us with imaginative uses of vegetables, legumes and grains. It need not be a day to give in and serve substitute, processed meats. Mondays can spark new conversations, new opportunities to rediscover food we ate before the arrival of cheap, industrial meat. Look around! The dishes and (Ark of Taste) ingredients are many!
So, is this a call to embrace the vegetarian agenda? Of course, not. It’s a call to embrace less meat on one day of the week, so that we can inspire those around us to change the food in their lives. It’s just one day!
Should there be a Better Meat campaign? Of course. The Slow Meat community has experimented with many: Heritage breeds at sporting events, the promotion of nose-to-tail cooking, women butchers and the rediscovery of the funky (and affordable) cuts of meat with which most eaters are no longer familiar. We need more. Thank heavens for Meat the Change.
So, where do we deploy this amazing marketing call-to-action? For one, Slow Food chefs are masters at balancing innovation with tradition. They are also important influencers. Incentivize chefs to experiment with Ark of Taste ingredients, to reinvent traditional dishes that are vegetable-centric. Utilize key dates on the kitchen calendar to reinforce traditions that already exist: Lent, is a great start for Catholics; Tish B’Av for Jews. What others can you imagine utilizing? Two, major cities around the world are taking up the Meatless Monday challenge: Barcelona and New York are two that recognize how their municipal budgets have the power to move the needle by reducing industrial meat purchases from school, hospital and administrative canteens. Which city will join these leaders? Three, use the Ark of Taste to challenge everyone from grandmothers to farmers to share recipes that popularize forgotten food in the places where we work, study, worship, and live.What’s the best key to encouraging people to change their lifestyle?
To quote Carlo Petrini, “Don’t do it with sadness. Do it with joy!” There is much sadness in the industrial meat economy: Animals, people, ecosystems and imagination all suffer beneath the weight of the dull sameness of Fast Food. And yet, once we fall into the pot of despair, it is difficult to climb out. Instead, let’s use Meatless Monday to attract new people, young people, public health people, meat eating people to consider the joy of discovering ancient flavors that will disappear (should we allow for the global obsession with cheap meat to marginalize these strategic assets). Meatless Monday is one tool. Let’s use it and let it start conversations — difficult ones — about our food system, power, and leverage we have every week to change the world. But, please, let’s do it with joy! Going Meatless on Monday should not be a drag! It should be an adventure.
Slow Food International is looking for the Magnificent 7: Yes, seven leaders from around the world who want to shape how and where we deploy Meatless Monday to engage newcomers to our movement, to promote meat reduction. If there’s someone in your network whom you believe will understand the value of this proposition, please direct them to the Meatless Monday Platform. Executive Committee member Richard McCarthy is excited to assemble the community of Meatless Monday Ambassadors: https://meatless-monday.hivebrite.com/
For more information:
Slow Meat campaign of Slow Food International https://www.slowfood.com/what-we-do/themes/slow-meat/
Meatless Monday visits Terra Madre video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BOdU88RaNw&feature=youtu.be
Richard McCarthy’s essay, “Going Meatless Shouldn’t Be a Drag” https://www.thinklikepirates.com/2019/07/going-meatless-shouldnt-be-drag.html