About three times a day, we make choices about not only what we want to make part of our bodies but also the kind of impact we want to have on the environment. For our planet, the difference between the Standard American Diet and a vegetarian diet is bigger than any change one can make in the car they drive, how long they shower, or which lights they leave on. Standard consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs is not only harmful for human health but supportive of industries responsible for the majority of U.S. water consumption and Amazon deforestation. Meat production especially has an enormous carbon footprint and contributes to several forms of irreversible pollution. Nevertheless, the rate at which animal products are consumed in the United States has steadily increased.
Every Monday evening throughout the school year, Driscoll Dining Hall serves Williams students a dinner that breaks away from that trend. By excluding just a handful of foods from the menu, Driscoll dramatically decreases both money spent on the meal and greenhouse gas emissions from its preparation. Despite massive taxpayer subsidization of animal agriculture in the United States, meat continues to take up well over its fair share of dining hall budgets.
While the financial benefits of eliminating meat are substantial, they weren’t the original inspiration for Driscoll’s Meatless Mondays. These dinners started six years ago as a response to the new Parsons Garden’s inability to provide enough produce for every dining hall on campus. Those working on the garden decided to partner with Driscoll and began discussions about bringing in other local, organic foods. So Meatless Mondays began primarily as a meal meant to showcase different vegetable dishes, and they continue to be an occasion for working with local, organic, and seasonal foods.
Staff and students alike appreciate the opportunity for a more sustainable, healthful, and creative menu. Meatless Monday dinners are planned separately from regular menus and student input is especially prioritized. Molly O’Brien, Driscoll’s manager, told me how much she values student feedback and that suggestions are much appreciated. She says, “what I like best is when students send me recipes from home that are geared toward Meatless Mondays. They’re responding and it makes my job easier, too, because I don’t have to research it, I just have to produce it.”
Meatless Mondays have also benefited recently from a new chef who joined Driscoll last year and happens to be a vegetarian. The award-winning dining hall has enjoyed increased success of their “most creative night” and patron counts are going up.
People participate in Meatless Mondays for a variety of reasons. Whether you come for the community-oriented menu, environmental focus, or because you happened to be on Driscoll’s side of campus, a whole array of issues benefit from your patronage. As the New Year approaches, consider using the fresh start to go meatless or animal product-free, even if it’s only for one meal or one day a week. Your body, planet, and pocketbook will thank you.
MaKaila DeSano-Smith ’18 was a Summer 2016 intern at the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives.