Happy Meatless Monday, July 4th!

Recently, people in America and all over the world have begun to embrace the Meatless Monday movement, a project designed to encourage less meat consumption due to the ill effects of meat on our bodies and on the environment. But can we still celebrate Meatless Monday on a holiday that's all about eating abundant hot dogs and hamburgers fresh off the grill? 

It's a bit ironic that July Fourth falls on a Monday this year, as Mark Bittman points out in his column last week in the New York Times.  Bittman's article brings up the important point that we have come to revere protein to the extent of extreme overconsumption - Americans eat at least twice as much protein, mostly from animal products, than we actually need. And on a meat-focused holiday like the Fourth of July, that protein obsession is emphasized even more strongly.

Eating meat is also a difficult habit to quit. Not only have our taste buds become trained to enjoy the taste of meat, our digestive systems, the body's second pleasure receptor for food after the tongue, also crave animal proteins, so even meat substitutes like veggie burgers don't always satisfying the urge. However, excessive consumption of meat has been linked to numerous ailments such as heart disease, obesity, and cancer, so it's definitely an urge worth fighting.

That's why Johns Hopkins and Columbia University teamed up to create the Meatless Mondays movement in 2003. Since then, it has spread from dinner tables at home all the way to entire towns. Aspen, Colorado, recently announced that it was becoming the nation's first Meatless Monday community, and many public schools are also adopting the trend to provide no-meat meals on Mondays. Read more about its history here.

This Fourth of July, don't abandon the tradition! While Independence Day may not be the best time give up meat entirely, there are lots of healthy options you can try this holiday besides just veggie dogs and burgers. Have you thought about grilling a thin-crust vegetarian pizza, or adding some in-season zucchini or asparagus to your holiday plate? Filling up on a delicious salad can also keep you from over-doing with the meat.

Even if you don't forego the meat this year, this Fourth of July is a good time to turn our attention to the amount of meat we really do eat and to reflect on conscious consumption.

Will you observe Meatless Monday this Fourth of July?

Photo: Erica Morris