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Most people probably think of Meatless Mondays as a fairly new phenomenon. The idea was given new life in 2003 by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, but it actually started during WWI, when the U.S. Government began urging citizens to reduce their consumption of what they considered staples–wheat, sugar, fats, and meat–in order to help the war effort. A common slogan was “Food Will Win the War”, and people began observing not only Meatless Mondays but Wheatless Wednesdays.
Some 10 million families, 7,000 hotels and nearly 425,000 food dealers pledged to observe national meatless days. In November 1917, New York City hotels saved some 116 tons of meat over the course of just one week. According to a 1929 Saturday Evening Post article, “Americans began to look seriously into the question of what and how much they were eating. Lots of people discovered for the first time that they could eat less and feel no worse – frequently for the better”. (link)
Of course, the purpose of saving all this food was not for the animals, for the environment, or even for health, but the fact that people successfully organized en masse to change their eating habits to achieve a common goal should serve as an encouraging lesson in a world where people often seem very resistant to dietary changes. You can see an old leaflet with a “Meatless Monday” recipe on it here. Note that not only do they suggest fish in lieu of meat, but Welsh rarebit–otherwise known as Welsh rabbit. (You can see why your grandparents might be confused when you announce that you’re no longer eating meat, and yes, that includes chicken and fish, too.)
In WWII, Meatless Mondays was reinstated so as to provide extra foods to war-ravaged Europe. Going without meat one day a week was an established part of the culture, referenced in popular radio shows like Fibber McGee & Molly. Apparently recipe booklets, leaflets, informational films, and advertisements were everywhere.
But what’s going on with our modern version of Meatless Mondays? Lots and lots of stuff! I’ll go more into that in part 2.