The State of Hawaii should implement Meatless Mondays at public schools to protect the environment and offer healthier choices for our keiki.

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This year, a resolution calling for Meatless Mondays in DOE schools made it very far in the Hawaiʻ State Legislature. In 2020, a bill like this could go all the way.

We can look to New York City for inspiration, as all their public schools are embracing this effort starting in the 2019-2020 school year. And this is no small feat – New York has the biggest school system in the nation, serving over 1.1 million students in 1,800 schools, far more than the 180,000 students and 256 schools in Hawaii’s public school system.

New York’s mayor and presidential candidate Bill DeBlasio supported this effort nodding to the positive environmental impact this will have. Animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of global deforestation, habitat loss, land pollution, and toxic ocean runoff. And conservative estimates from the United Nations attribute 14.5% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions to animal agriculture, more than the entire transportation sector combined.

Cow roaming outside of Pu'u Wa'awa'a Ranch. Hawaii island. Henk Rogers. Blue Planet. 1 july 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Meatless Mondays in Hawaii schools would be healthier for kids and the planet. Cows take a lot of water. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Perhaps the most shocking impact of animal agriculture is its egregious use of freshwater. With drought and wildfire impacting California and places around the world, water conservation is crucial to environmental protection. According to Food Tank, it takes 1,799 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef, or 660 gallons of water for a single burger. And 1 gallon of cow’s milk requires 1,000 gallons of water.

Most of the water footprint of animal products is in the water required to grow the food that they eat, showing us that producing animal foods is highly inefficient and harmful to our natural environment. And growing the food to feed and kill 70 billion land animals every year to become meat, dairy, and other animal foods is a leading cause of deforestation and one of the main uses of genetically modified crops like corn and soy.

We find ourselves today in a climate crisis and mass extinction that has been created and accelerated by human activity. Scientists now give us a little over a decade to take urgent and steadfast action to avoid irreversible impacts on our planet’s climate. With all the compiling data pointing to reduced meat consumption as a leading environmental solution, implementing Meatless Mondays in our schools and our everyday lives is an integral action we must take if we are serious about protecting the stability of the planet for our lifetime and for the generations that follow us.

Shifting our diets to consider the planet and nature is one of the most accessible actions we can take. Most large-scale environmental solutions, like renewable energy and electric vehicles, while important, require a certain level of wealth for individuals and institutions to pursue. Switching to a meatless or plant-based diet is something nearly anyone can do – all grocery stores today offer the grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and nuts that make for a balanced, healthy diet.

Meatless Monday proponents point to the health benefits as well. In 2015, the World Health Organization classified processed meats as carcinogens, verifying that they cause cancer. Nearly all meat offered in public school cafeterias are heavily processed, so the goal to reduce meat on menus is not just an environmental issue – it is a health issue as well. A whole foods plant-based diet is now regarded by most health organizations as one that is not only healthy but also as an excellent diet for preventing major diseases.

The leading causes of death in Hawaii are heart disease and stroke, both of which are preventable by food choices. The American Heart Association reports that plant-based or plant-forward diets reduce risk of both heart disease and stroke along with obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes. Today, 12% of the adult population in Hawaiʻi suffers from Type 2 diabetes, which the National Institute of Health reports is both preventable and treatable through a whole foods plant-based diet.

The movement to eat less meat or none at all is growing fast, with new plant-based eateries opening up all across the State (just look up “vegan” or “vegetarian” on Yelp), and mainstream food establishments like Burger King now offering the Impossible Burger at all locations nationwide. Companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are revolutionizing the market with their convincing plant-based burgers and sausages, and companies like JUST are disrupting the market with their widely popular mayo, eggs, cookies, and more made from plants, not animals.

Given the immense suffering caused by preventable, diet-related illnesses in addition to the serious reality of our environmental crisis, implementing Meatless Mondays in schools is a practical first step to solving the environmental and health crises our communities face today.

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About the Author

  • Doorae Shin
    Doorae Shin is a community organizer and environmental advocate. She currently works as the Surfrider Foundation Oahu Chapter Coordinator and is the co-founder of the Good Food Movement. Shin previously served as the Plastic Free Hawaii program manager for Kokua Hawaii Foundation and the Student Sustainability Coordinator for the University of Hawaii Office of Sustainability.