Have you ever had a “Healthy Monday” meal at a dining hall on campus? If your answer is yes, then you’ve participated in UCSC’s version of a Meatless Monday program. The Meatless Monday movement—which is as self-explanatory as it sounds—prompts all of us to consider the impact that our food choices have on the environment, our health, and other animals. It does not seek to turn meat-eaters into vegetarians, but rather encourages us to put down the bacon and chicken wings for just one day a week in order to move the planet in a positive direction.

The environmental piece is particularly salient in California, where the drought has been on the forefront of our minds for several years. While many of us sacrifice long showers and forgo drinking water at restaurants, we overlook how water-intensive our meat habits are. In fact, cutting just ten hamburgers from your diet is equivalent to skipping an average-length shower every day for a year!

According to the United Nations, animal agriculture accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector—not to mention the animal wastes, chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics that massively pollute waterways and threaten human health. Cutting back on meat intake is a crucial step toward saving water, curbing pollution, and combatting climate change.

The environment aside, your individual health also stands to improve from going meatless on Mondays. A recent World Health Organization study found that processed meats increase the risk for cancer and that red meat is likely carcinogenic. The Mayo Clinic advocates for avoiding meat for one or two days a week to reduce the chances of heart disease and other chronic conditions. Of course, swapping the meat for a vegetarian alternative doesn’t necessarily ensure a healthier meal, but science has shown it’s a good place to start.

You can also participate in Meatless Monday for the nearly 10 billion animals that we raise and kill in this country for food each year. The vast majority of these animals spend their short lives confined to tiny cages or crammed into windowless sheds. They have little opportunity to engage in their most basic species-specific behavior or to even stretch their limbs and turn around. As fellow animals, we have an obligation to recognize the horror of their situation and make personal decisions to alleviate their suffering.

If you would use the term “carnivore” to describe yourself or are otherwise hesitant to make meat-free anything a personal commitment, you are the perfect match for Meatless Monday. The movement does not ask you to go cold turkey on the meat; it simply asks you to take advantage of the variety of meat-free options already available to you and to make a commitment on one day each week.

If you eat on campus, this choice is incredibly convenient: just find the dining hall that is partaking in Healthy Monday for the week and get yourself there! If you make your own meals, start by taking one of your favorite meat dishes and replace the meat with vegetables or beans. For something more meat-like, try a meat analog such as tofu, seitan, or tempeh. And when you eat out, head to one of the many fast food or sit-down restaurants in the area that have vegetarian options.

Here are some more numbers for you: if everyone in the U.S. were to forgo meat for just one day per week, we would collectively spare 1.4 billion animals. Just removing chicken from our diets on Mondays would have the same environmental effect as taking half a million cars off the road. That sounds like a lot, huh? Begin making a difference now. Go meatless on Monday and start each school week in a way that benefits the planet, our animal friends, and your own health!

Roxy Kushner

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology major

Cowell College