Sherman Dining Hall served a variety of vegetarian and vegan options, but no meat dishes, in its first “Meatless Monday” on Oct. 5. Members of the Sustainability Committee worked with Sodexo to produce a healthy, sustainable and appetizing dinner without using any meat.
One of the organizers of “Meatless Monday,” Matt Smetana ’17, hoped that the night would encourage students to consider the economic and environmental benefits of meatless meal options. Smetana is the chair of the Brandeis Sustainability Committee and chair of the President’s Task Force on Sustainability. In an email to The Brandeis Hoot, Smetana explained the motivations behind the event.
“We chose to have this event because we wanted to reduce our meat consumption just for the night,” he wrote. “Livestock produce tons of greenhouse gasses, particularly in the form of methane and carbon dioxide. The production of meat is also the cause of 80 percent of Amazonian deforestation and extreme runoff heading into the Gulf of Mexico.”
Smetana emphasized the impact of reduced meat consumption on public health, arguing that “The factory farming industry is also known for the overuse of antibiotics on their animals, causing superbugs that infect tens of thousands of humans; with no antibiotics that can work, almost all the people who receive them die.”
He related the factory farm issue to Brandeis’ history of commitment to social justice. “Being that we are a social justice institution, people understand that environmental and animal rights issues are important,” he argued.
According to Steve Canario, general manager for Sodexo, the event “did not have any financial impact, either positive or negative.” Canario was involved in the planning process along with Smetana and other students, and believes that feedback on the night has been overwhelmingly positive.
Though most students were enthusiastic about “Meatless Monday,” some felt limited by the lack of meat. Student organizers of “Meatless Monday” had students take a survey to record their opinions on the program as they exited the dining hall.
Smetana said that the program “received a few criticisms from people talking about their love for meat and that it’s their right to eat it. I think that they see this as us trying to take away their beloved items when really we’re trying to inform people that you can eat meat (and dairy) free, and it doesn’t have to be disgusting, bland food.”
Of the students that dined at Sherman on Monday, about 300 were surveyed immediately after their meal. According to the survey, around 86 percent would like to see more “Meatless Mondays” in the future. Smetana believes that the few negative comments they received “clearly do not represent the rest of students surveyed.”
For students that regularly follow meatless diets, the themed night offered many more options than usual. “We had numerous vegetarians and vegans voicing their appreciation for having numerous options for the first time since coming to Brandeis,” Smetana wrote. “But the majority of people are not vegetarian/vegan, yet they enjoyed it as well!”
Students who eat vegetarian and vegan diets often find that they have few options when eating at the dining halls. Elana Rombro ’18, a vegetarian, told The Hoot, “I don’t think there are enough options at regular meals. Sometimes I eat three veggie burgers a week because there aren’t other appetizing dishes.” The “Meatless Monday” event gave her and other students with similar concerns the opportunity to choose from many more options. While having events catered toward vegetarians on certain nights is helpful to these students, Rombro expressed that she “would also like to see more varied and appetizing vegetarian food at regular meals.”
Smetana has approached Sodexo with other proposals for other environmentally conscious meal programs. One of these ideas involved alternative meal plans that would include a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) for students with access to kitchens. He also proposed starting composting programs in the dining halls. So far, only the “Meatless Monday” proposal has taken shape.
Sodexo, on the corporate level, has several initiatives aimed at reducing their negative environmental impact. The company’s website states that in 2015, they will reduce organic and non-organic waste produced by their services. They are also focused on reducing energy consumption and on sustainable sourcing for fish and seafood.