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Beef – It's What's NOT For Dinner, Increasingly

June 27, 2011

NEW YORK - It's Monday. Do you know where your next meatless meal is coming from?

Chances are it won't be hard to find in a New York restaurant. A nationwide campaign called "Meatless Mondays" encourages diners to explore plant-based options once a week, and it works with restaurants to get those options on the menu. The goal is for people to reduce their meat consumption by 15 percent.

Chris Elam, program director of Meatless Mondays, says restaurants, chains and celebrity chefs are embracing the concept or, at the very least, adding veggie options.

"We want it to be very simple for a restaurant. We encourage restaurants not to take meat off the proverbial table, but just to add veggie options, or even highlight them on Mondays to encourage people to think about this idea of cutting back just one day a week."

Started in 2003, in part by the Columbia University School of Public Health, Meatless Monday is on the move. Celebrity chefs including Mario Batali are on board. Elam says a recent research poll they commissioned showed 50 percent of the American public was aware of Meatless Monday.

He says that among those who've heard of Meatless Monday, 27 percent said it had influenced their decision to cut back on meat.

"Our recent data shows that over 50 percent of the country is aware of the term, 'Meatless Monday.' So we're just sort of seeing it exploding all over the place and we're delighted."

Erica Meier, executive director of the Washington-based group Compassion Over Killing, says Meatless Monday points up what her group considers cruelty to animals raised for food, while promoting healthy eating.

"It's exposing people to these options, letting them know they're available. They want to make the right choice when they realize that vegetarian foods are better for their health, it's better for animals, and it's better for the environment."

Meier and her group regularly work with restaurant chains to help them build more vegetarian options into their menus. Currently, they're campaigning for the Subway chain to offer a meatless deli slice.

"Having these options on the menu increases the chances that a consumer's going to be interested in trying these. It makes it easier for people to make these choices and it makes it easier for them to explore new foods."

Some restaurant chains already offering meatless options include Chipotle Grill and Moe's Southwest Grill.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY