Image-concious Angelenos have always been into healthy eating (you'll find a sushi or salad joint on almost every corner of the city), but last week, Los Angeles city officials went a step further.
On Friday, the L.A. City Council unanimously passed a Meatless Monday resolution supporting "comprehensive sustainability efforts" and extending efforts to get Angelenos to adopt more veggie-rich diets.
The idea behind Meatless Mondays—a campaign to reduce meat intake one day a week—is that by skipping the steak, we can reduce food-related illnesses and deaths and shrink our carbon footprint. Meat, which is high in saturated fat, has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Production of meat also takes an environmental toll. According to the Meatless Monday Campaign, a single pound of beef requires 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of water to produce. Meanwhile, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that nearly one-fifth of man-made greenhouse gas emissions come from the meat industry.
And of course, there's a third reason to be a part-time vegetarian: a kinder cuisine. Human lives aren't the only ones spared; cutting back on a meat-filled diet helps protect animals, too.
Compassion Over Killing (COK), a nonprofit animal welfare organization, worked with council members on the initiative. They've applauded the decision as a victory.
"This is an important step in further mainstreaming the idea of vegetarian eating," Jaya Bhumitra, Campaigns Director at COK, tells TakePart. "We're thrilled that the Council is officially recognizing the benefits of eating more plant-based foods and encouraging residents to participate in Meatless Mondays."
Animal rights organizations are stuck in a tricky position to support Meatless Mondays. To organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), for example, endorsing one meatless day per week implicitly condones meat-eating the other six days of the week. But COK approaches the issue pragmatically.
"For many, change happens gradually, and sometimes easing into change can make it more sustainable," Bhumitra explains.
COK helps beginners get started with a Vegetarian Start Guide and easy vegan recipes. One week per year in April, the organization also hosts a VegWeek campaign—think potlucks, movie screenings, and community events—to help people stretch Meatless Monday into a seven-day pledge.
Every meal, Bhumitra notes, is a chance to make a difference. "What we ultimately hope to convey is that we have the opportunity to stand up for our health, the environment, and animals each time we sit down to eat, simply by choosing vegetarian foods," she says.
Her perspective echoes the sentiments of LA Councilmember Ed P. Reyes, a co-author of the resolution.
"When dealing with issues as big as global warming, or even as personal as battling diabetes or obesity, it's easy to feel helpless, like there's little we can do to make a difference," he said. "But the small changes we make every day can have tremendous impact. That's why this Meatless Monday resolution is important."
The Meatless Monday campaign is becoming a familiar term across American dinner tables. In a 2011 nationally representative survey of 2,000 American adults, 50.22 percent of survey participants were aware of the campaign. Twenty-seven percent reported that the campaign had affected their eating habits, encouraging them to cut back on meat.
Restaurants in L.A. have taken notice too, Bhumitra says, pointing out that the city has one of the most vegetarian-friendly dining scenes in the country, with hundreds of meat-free options. And the facts support her: The New York Times recently reported that vegan food is "mainstream" in Southern California.
No surprises there—lean legs and healthy skin are staples in the City of Angels. After all, nothing's glamorous about heart disease. Wheat grass shot, anyone?