Silly Meatless Mondays question

This is a silly post.

However, it is silly for a reason. There is an interesting hole in the following story — maybe. I mean, there may be a journalistic hole in the story. Then again, there may be a somewhat obvious religion hole in the event or the trend that the story is about. I do not know.

Thus, some may say that it is silly to raise the issue that I am about to raise. All I can say is that this is the first thing that, as a reporter (and as a churchman in an ancient branch of Christianity), I thought of when I read this New York Times story.

So what is this story about?

The headline is blunt: “Meatless Mondays Catch On, Even With Carnivores.” And here is the top of this report from the oh-so-hip environs of Aspen, Colo.

Friction between the health-and-eco-minded hippies who came here for a Rocky Mountain High in the 1970s and the superwealthy second-homers who followed from the intersection of Hollywood and Hedge Fund is an old story here at 8,000 feet.

But now there is a new potential skirmish line: Meatless Mondays.

For whatever reason, chefs and restaurateurs say, the big outside money that fuels economic life here, often flying in by private jet from places like Malibu or the Main Line, tilts heavily toward the carnivorous.

“It’s very interesting, but for some reason when people come to Aspen, they want to eat meat,” said Mimi Lenk, a vegetarian for more than a decade and the manager of Syzygy, a downtown restaurant where elk, bison and lamb are the big sellers.

A new nationwide pro-veggie effort, however — aimed at persuading people to go meatless at least one day a week — has been embraced here more than in any other city in America. At least 20 institutions and restaurants, including Syzygy, are offering vegetarian choices on Mondays under a plan announced this month.

The Meatless Monday trend is in the top restaurants, of course, but it isn’t stopping there. You have government links as well, which means public discussions of this concept and even the use of tax dollars.

In the public school system, which embraced Meatless Monday two years ago, whole grain pancakes, dubbed “breakfast for lunch,” are a popular Monday rotation in the elementary and middle schools. And even during the rest of the week, school lunches, down to and including the ketchup, are made from scratch, overseen by a chef hired away from a downtown restaurant.

So, once again, the basic idea is to encourage people to give up meat one day a week. Note, again, that this includes the menu in public schools which affects lots of local families.

Does this basic concept sound semi-familiar to anyone?

I mean, the two largest branches of global Christianity do fast from meat (and many from dairy) on Fridays (and many other days as well). Catholicism is the largest faith group in America.

Has anyone in the Meatless Mondays world considered, uh, cooperating with these traditions? Meatless Fridays might have started out with a bit of a head start, if this was the case. I have lived in Colorado and I can assure that there are quite a few Catholics out there in the Rockies. The number is going up, last time I checked.

Did anyone from the Times ask about this? Other than alliteration, why did Meatless Mondays emerge from the pack of possible strategies for this national movement? Surely someone involved with reporting and editing this story was curious about this?

Or is Meatless Monday secular in a way that excludes millions of Americans, on purpose?

Just asking. It’s silly, I know. However, I was curious.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Ken C

    First, “meatless Friday” is not alliterative and does not work as a good PR initiative.

    Second, those organizations who support these sorts of things tend not be be traditional Christian groups. I’m sure there are anomalies, but they are few. They are not calling on people to give up meat as penance.

    I work in the ag community and we tend to oppose this because it portrays meat as bad. Catholics don’t give up meat on Friday because it is bad. Some would say it is the opposite — we give meat up because it is so good.

    Where I live, the better restaurants tend to be closed on Mondays. Coincidence?

  • Judy Harrow

    I think Ken (#1) has it exactly right, both about the alliteration and the more important fact that the people presenting this idea for health and/or environmental reasons want to avoid any notion that abstinence from meat is penitential. That would only be a turn-off for many in the demographic this movement is addressed to.

    We *are* cooperating when we do things that have the same effect, even if we do them for different reason. It makes no difference to your body or the Earth which day you skip. Making it Friday offers an extra benefit for those who attach spiritual or symbolic significance to their abstinence, while taking nothing away from the secular group.

  • carl

    What is not at all clear to me in this story is whether the ‘Meatless Monday’ is voluntary or compulsory. Let’s say I go into a restaurant at noon on a ‘Meatless Monday’ and order a cheeseburger. Is a cheeseburger on the menu during ‘Meatless Monday’ or not? If cheeseburger is on the menu, then all we have here is a marketing gimmick featuring a special vegetarian menu one day a week. It’s all about convincing people to walk through the door and order vegetarian lasagna in the name of principle. What is the big deal?

    If a cheeseburger is not on the menu, then we do have an ‘evangelistic’ component to this story. But I really doubt this is the case. Restaurants are not interested in vegetarian evangelism. They are interested in separating customers from their cash. So I fall on the side of calling this a ‘sleazy niche marketing gimmick.’ The Public school portion is a different matter. That is coercive proselytizing. Of course, all they will be proselytizing for is Burger King – who will make a fine lunch profit when the schools start enforcing “Meatless Monday.”

    Can you imagine what the school cafeterias would be serving on “Meatless Monday?” Neither can I. Neither could Stephen King.


  • Charles Collins

    This was a religious story a few months ago. It seems that Boston College decided to have its dining halls observe “meatless Mondays”. Yet it was Lent, and Boston College dining halls were serving meat on Fridays! It was noted on several Catholic blogs, and in the college newspaper.

    I remember when I was going to public school in Texas in the late 70′s and early 80′s, they only served fish on Fridays in the cafeteria – this to make the probably 10% of the Catholic student population happy (and the Protestants who ran the School District probably had not idea meatless fridays weren’t observed any more). So I probably can’t complain if a public school offers Meatless Mondays in order to keep the hippies happy. Although I guess the students probably hear more sermons about the reasons for being meatless on Mondays than my fellow students heard for Meatless Fridays).

  • Hector_St_Clare

    Re: Some would say it is the opposite — we give meat up because it is so good.

    Also because we can then use the money that we save to do acts of charity. Fasting has a lot of purposes, and it can be spiritually good for you even if you’re not pursuing it with an explicitly spiritual motive. I believe that this ‘meatless monday’ fad, as silly as it sounds, could be a great opportunity for Catholics, Orthodox, and traditionalist Anglicans to educate the secular public about the ancient tradition of Christian fasting.

    I’ve been trying for a while (not terribly successfully) to fast once a week, and then to abstain from fish & meat on one other day. I’m not RC or Orthodox, of course, so I’m not required to do this on Wednesday or Friday, but at least for myself I think it’s more important to do it, period, than to be particular about which day I fast. Friday is a little more difficult for me because it’s a weekend evening and sometimes I’d like to go out with friends, so I normally try to fast on Wednesdays or Mondays.

    Incidentally, I’ve heard (not certain if this is true) that some Christian monastic orders do fast on Mondays as well as Wednesdays and Fridays.

  • Hector_St_Clare

    Re: That would only be a turn-off for many in the demographic this movement is addressed to.

    Maybe with the secular public, but in my experience fasting is an increasingly popular discipline among Christian young people in their 20s.

  • Harold

    Or is Meatless Monday secular in a way that excludes millions of Americans, on purpose?

    Wait. Are Catholics and the Orthodox mandated to eat meat on Mondays? Otherwise, how is this a “purposeful” move to exclude millions of Americans?

  • Julia

    the Protestants who ran the School District probably had no idea meatless fridays weren’t observed any more

    Meatless Fridays, during the regular year, is no longer obligatory; however, if a Catholic isn’t going to go meatless on Friday, he or she is supposed to do some other act of penance in memory of the crucifixion.

    I’m wondering if many younger journalists don’t even know there ever was a manditory meatless Friday rule.

    FYI There is an interesting book by Brian Fagan, Fish on Fridays, about how the influence of Christian Meatless Fridays and climate change caused the Norse to chase cod West across the North Atlantic, eventually to the coast of the New World.

    I remember a lot of breakfast for dinner’s on Fridays. And getting used to fried mush with Karo syrup. yuck

    Boston College is Jesuit. I’m not surprised they serve meat on Fridays in Lent and yet push meatless Mondays. Jesuit colleges are going secular on purpose.

  • Julia

    Otherwise, how is this a “purposeful” move to exclude millions of Americans?

    There are already many restaurants that are careful to offer non-meat dishes on Fridays. Why not piggy-back on that and extend it? Even my local MacDonald’s offers specials on fish sandwiches during Lent.

    It’s got to be a specifically secular movement that is starting all over again with Mondays instead of expanding on what is already done on Fridays in most restaurants.

    My first reaction on reading about this trend was to feel co-opted and disregarded. It’s a definite snub when 2,000 years of fasting/abstaining on Fridays is ignored and the same thing is switched for the non-Catholic and non-Orthodox population to Mondays.

    It’s like the spaghetti and meatball dinners on Fridays at churches during Lent. It’s like a deliberate public thumbing of the nose.

  • Elijah

    @ Carl – Stephen King might well serve one of his favorite meatless dishes. Enjoy!

    Hector: “I’ve been trying for a while (not terribly successfully) to fast once a week” Man, can I identify with that!

    Here is rural Maryland, we don’t do meatless very often (if at all) but locally-sourced foods are becoming more important. I look at the meatless thing as another food fad. Maybe good, maybe not. But not so much a big deal.

  • Emile

    I find it ridiculous that you are not supposed to eat a $2:00 hamburger but you can stuff yourself with $40:00 lobster

  • Elijah

    @ Carl – my mistake – I have a book where the same recipe is quoted without the burger but with a stick of butter. Didn’t read this one too carefully before pasting – sorry!

  • carl

    12. Elijah

    I was going to say. Your recipe wasn’t meatless, and sounded kind of tasty in any case. I was thinking more along the line of soy-burgers with castor oil as a condiment. Healthy stuff (I guess) if you manage to survive it. Certainly worthy of the great minds who run public school cafeterias.


  • tmatt

    UH, could we have some journalism talk?

    So who ignored the Friay meat issue, the Times or the officials at the schools?

  • Jerry

    Or is Meatless Monday secular in a way that excludes millions of Americans, on purpose?

    I have no idea what this sentence is about. Where is it written that we have to eat meat every day or risk “excluding millions of Americans”? Should we now require all food to be both kosher and halal at the same time to avoid “excluding millions of Americans”? What about the millions of Americans who get excluded when meat is served (Hindus/Buddhists). That is why I find that snarky comment incoherent.

    And did anyone Terry included look at the web site to see what it’s all about and the wide variety of recipes that are available? for example. Maybe people should try something other than meat and potatoes once in a while especially well-cooked, interesting menus before condemning the food.

    And maybe if some people actually looked at “Why Monday”, they might learn why that day of the week was chosen rather than engage in incorrect speculation:

    Why Monday?

    For most Americans the week begins on Monday. On Monday we move from the freedom of the weekend back to the structure of work or school. We set our intentions for the next six days. We plan ahead and evaluate progress.

    From an early age we internalize this rhythm. And studies suggest we are more likely to maintain behaviors begun on Monday throughout the week. That makes Monday the perfect day to make a change for your health and the health of our planet.

    Monday is the call to action built in to every calendar each week. And if this Monday passes you by, next week is another chance to go meatless!

    To learn more about the utility of Monday to start and sustain positive behavior change, please visit

  • Fr. Ignatius

    As a Orthodox monastic, we at our monastery (HTM) keep the Angel’s day (Monday), by fasting on that day too, along with the normal Wednesday and Friday fast days. Of course, monastics never eat meat, but a lot of pious Orthodox keep Monday as a fast day to honour the angels.

    Of course, that is not the reason that they have instituted this “Meatless Monday”, but unwillingly or not…I do not have a problem with it.

  • Gina Nakagawa

    Emile, When abstaining from meat, you are supposed to be doing just that, abstaining for the purpose of sacrifice. Forty dollar lobster should *not be on the menu. The meal should be small and penitential. The lobster is a misconception left over from the ’60′s. Enjoy honoring Christ’s death for us. More of us need to do just that.

  • TeaPot562

    In our area some percent (less than ten) of the population are vegetarians or vegans. For some of them, it is not about or only about health practices but a philosophic belief – solidarity with others in the animal kingdom. There is also a practical result that if we Westerners consume less meat, more food grains will exist to feed the world.
    I don’t subscribe to the extreme vegan approach, but I am aware of their existence. __TeaPot562

  • Daniel

    “Why Monday?

    For most Americans the week begins on Monday.”

    All of my calendars show Sunday as the first day of the week – and as a Christian, I understand the reason for that.

    All the ideological mush that follows is just more cultural revolution propaganda.

    But, perhaps “interesting menus” are really what it’s all about, and I’m just a paranoid homeschooler.

  • Rachel K

    I find it ridiculous that you are not supposed to eat a $2:00 hamburger but you can stuff yourself with $40:00 lobster

    Emile, according to my priest, this is why they made the switch to “do some kind of penance on Friday.” Giving up meat isn’t much of a sacrifice to some people. Now, to my dirt-poor husband and me, who can only afford really lousy fish, it works . . .

    Getting back to the journalism question: regardless of how you feel about meatless Mondays, it’s deeply silly to not mention meatless Fridays at all. Even if it’s a young, religiously illiterate writer with an equally young, religiously illiterate CE who doesn’t even realize that meatless Fridays used to be mandatory all year long, you’d think that they’d at least mention Fridays during Lent. I remember an article a few years ago that mentioned how Lent was great for the environment because the global consumption of meat plummeted. It was on the radar for journalists at some point, at least.

    • Andrew Patton

      For the record, lobster isn’t actually filling. It’s mostly water and less than 100 calories per serving. I stopped eating lobster when I realized that I could get a full plate of seafood that would fill me for dinner and lunch the next day for the same price as a lobster that will leave me hungry again in 15 minutes.

  • carl

    “So who ignored the Friday meat issue, the Times or the officials at the schools?”

    No one ignored the Meatless Friday issue. It wasn’t relevant. It’s no more relevant then Holy Communion is to a Wine and Cheese party. Wine is consumed at both events. There the comparison ends.

    This is a story in search of a fight. In fact this story seems to be reaching for ‘friction’ where none actually exists. I would bet that restaurants are still serving meat to customers who are not interested in ‘Meatless Monday.’ I would also bet that there is a frustrated gaggle of activists who want people to listen to their earnest exhortations about reducing meat consumption. Finally there are the marketing guys who have developed a strategy to appeal to that part of the market that cares about reducing meat consumption. Everybody wins – except for the activists who stand by the side of the road waiting for someone to pay attention.

    I don’t see a ghost here. I see restaurants capitalizing on an ideology to make money.


  • Maureen

    I suspect the real reason for Meatless Monday is that many chef tell-all books have told people never to eat in (non-fast food) restaurants on Mondays, and if they do, never to eat meat or fish or anything that can spoil easily.

    It seems that a lot of restaurants put out food to defrost for the weekend, and then try to get rid of it on Monday if they have leftovers from Fri/Sat/Sun, before they start using the new food delivered on Mon/Tues. So if you’re going to get sick from food poisoning, it’ll probably be on a Monday. Thus the reason that restaurant people like the chefs avoid eating out on Mondays.

    So if significantly fewer people are eating meat on Mondays to avoid the haut cuisine heaves, you can see why they’d market Meatless Mondays in the frou-frou foodie places.

  • Jim Hicks

    Meatless Monday is a common concept in the more extreme Orthodox Celtic movement, Celi Dei. They follow not just fasting on Wednesday and Friday, but Monday as well. This includes no meat products, such as eggs and cheese.

    A meatless Monday is nothing new to those of the Celtic Orthodox tradition.

  • Elijah

    Spot on, Carl. The self described “silly” story doesn’t have particularly strong legs, I think.

  • tmatt

    Elijah et al:

    I would not have written the post without the school angle, making the idea a public policy issue. That adds journalism hooks.

  • carl

    As for public schools, this kind of coercion is old news. A couple of years back, my daughter’s high school eliminated vending of all soft drinks in an effort to promote healthy eating. There is now noise about preventing kids from bringing their own lunches. Their agenda is two-fold.

    1. We are the public school system and we know best what you should eat.

    2. You must purchase our food to keep our cafeteria financially viable.

    The problem is simple. The food served in a cafeteria is terrible. Kids won’t eat it unless you put a gun to their heads. The school system keeps looking for that metaphorical gun.

    So the motivation between restaurant and school is totally different. One seeks to serve a market by catering to its desires. The other seeks to coerce a captive audience ‘for its own good.’ Neither particularly care about Meatless Friday for RCs.


  • Elijah

    Terry, I didn’t mean to sound dismissive, but in this day of (general) religious illiteracy I’m not sure it even registered in the minds of most people that there was ever such thing as ‘Meatless Fidays’. I have not encountered a Catholic who practiced them in over 30 years, probably more, and I have attended more than a dozen Knights of Columbus fish frys on Friday afternoons where there were prodigious appetites everywhere. Public schools everywhere are rushing to ‘do something’ about child obesity – how feeding them grains fits into that is a dietary, rather than journalistic matter – and I see no reason to suspect there is any other reason.

    I can explain the restaurants more easily: what could be more hip these days than going vegan?

    I still think Carl is right: “No one ignored the Meatless Friday issue” because there isn’t one.

  • Michael

    I’m a Catholic who has been been practicing meatless Fridays for about 25 years. As many know, the Church has never released Catholics from meatless Fridays or some other suitable penance on Fridays (see Canon 1251 / yr1983). I love it how my former music hero, Beatle Paul, a baptized Catholic no-less, is the one of the main “supporters” of all this non-sense. Agreed that we should eat a reasonble amount of meat and should preserve God’s creation the best we can – but why hijack a Catholic tradition that seeks to honor our Lord’s great Sacrifice? Paul, Yoko, and the usual certainly supporters / suspects love to stick-it-to Catholics. Sincerely, Michael

  • Cathy G.

    I tend to agree that there’s not much to this story. It’s just an effort to get people to eat better on a day that’s easy to remember, and it’s open to everyone, regardless of religion. I don’t think it’s “hijacking” anything.

    I’m a young, religiously literate copy editor (gasp!) and mostly vegetarian, for religious and environmental reasons. I might encourage other Christians interested in “creation care” to try Meatless Mondays, but it might be cool to work in some of the fasting traditions of the church too.