The latest issue of Nation’s Restaurant News lists “Meat-Free Menus” as No. 7 in its list of the top 50 “game changers” reshaping the restaurant industry. That got me thinking about how meatless meals—and the Meatless Mondays movement in particular—can reshape both industries and individuals.
For a large portion of my life, my dining experience could pretty much be summed up like this: Chicken sandwiches. Steak sandwiches. More chicken sandwiches. Wings. At restaurants, my eyes would automatically find these items on menus like I was doing some kind of really easy Where’s Waldo. Without thinking, I’d order, ingest, digest and repeat. The most adventurous I’d get was replacing regular fries with sweet potato fries. Needless to say, my palate was pretty limited—a chronic affliction that a (fortunately ever-decreasing) number of Americans seem to suffer from.
When I was in middle school, things started to change. My sister became vegetarian. My mother, adventurous and gracious enough to make two dinners every night, would make something meaty for me and her and something not-meaty for my sister.
At the beginning, those meat-free meals were pretty basic – bean chili or veggie burgers were standard. And I remember purposely chomping loudly on a hamburger while my sister quietly ate her veggie burger. Over time, my sister’s vegetarian meals started looking—and smelling—better and better. So I dabbled: a chicken enchilada with a veggie enchilada, scrambled eggs with a bit of scrambled tofu, beans.
To my surprise, I liked these foods! When I looked at my plate, I saw a whole new world. Thai food, Japanese food, Ethiopian food – options that were totally foreign (literally) and new…and, as it turns out, delicious.
A decade and a half later, these are mainstays in my diet, along with other ethnic foods, tofu prepared 50 different ways, a variety of plant-based “meats” (think: sausage made from mushrooms and quinoa) and best of all, a rainbow of vegetables I never would have found if I hadn’t actively looked for them. Now, food and I have an entirely different relationship – one that enriches many aspects of my life (but most of all, meal time).
This is the beauty of Meatless Mondays. It allows people to dabble in new foods without requiring a total dietary overhaul. Sure, it’s also good for the environment, the animals and our health, but the taste bud benefits alone make it worthwhile. After all, you never know what delicious foods are out there, just quietly waiting for you to try them.
What are Meatless Mondays? Watch this video to find out why they're sweeping the nation, who's taking part, and why you should join too!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matthew Prescott is Food Policy Director for The Humane Society of the United States, the nation’s largest animal protection organization with more than 12 million supporters. Follow him on twitter for more information on food’s connection to animals, the environment and ourselves.