It’s World Meat Free Day, but Maybe We Should Call It Something Else

CC BY 2.0. Stacy Spensley -- Tempeh breakfast hash

The name suggests deprivation, which is unfortunate, because people will only give up meat if they believe there's something fabulous to be gained.

Today is World Meat Free Day, when people are encouraged to eat more sustainably for the sake of the planet by reducing consumption of animal products. There are a lot of reasons why meat and dairy are terrible for the Earth, from their resource-intensive production, to methane pollution, to the terrifying spread of antibiotic resistance; but arguably, the biggest concern is the future.

As the population expands to a predicted 11 billion people by 2050, and as many of those people grow wealthier and start eating more meat, the future of food security looks ominous. The organizers of World Meat Free Day state:

“If the world continues consuming meat at its current rate, we’d soon need 3 Earths just to feed us. Even if the world could stop food waste entirely, food production would still need to increase by 60 percent in order to feed this larger, wealthier and urban population. That means a meat production of over 200 million tons at the current rate of consumption.”

Hence, initiatives such as World Meat Free Day, which hopes to get people eating less meat overall so that the future isn’t so dire.

world meat free day

© World Meat Free Day

This is a noble intention and an important message for the public to hear, but I question the wisdom of calling it “World Meat Free Day.” Similar to “Meatless Mondays,” the name signals to meat-eaters that one is missing out on something. In the words of Bee Wilson, who wrote an excellent article on this topic for The Reducetarian Solution anthology:

“A meatless meal sounds less than a carnivorous meal. It is defining itself by what it is not... Thousands of people have a Monday night dinner of black bean chili sin carne, feel virtuous for abstaining from meat, and then return with relief to short ribs and hamburgers for the rest for the week.”

Wilson’s article argues that, in order to shift public opinion and change dietary habits on a large scale, we need to focus on what will be gained by eating a plant-based diet. The emphasis should be placed on the health, ethical, and planetary benefits of meatless eating, in order to make it more appealing than the old way of eating. People always respond better to positivity than to fear-mongering scenarios of what animal agriculture will do to our planet (although, admittedly, I am guilty of using this approach in past articles).

We’d do better to hear about how plant-based eating will energize us, improve our hair and skin, strengthen our bones, heal diseased hearts and clogged arteries, and decrease inflammation in the body. This knowledge will shape new preferences, helping us “to see a vegetable-centric diet as something delicious and superior, rather than a deprivation.” Over time, we’ll get there:

“A meal of falafel and hummus with crunchy pickled carrots and soft roasted eggplant [will] seem like more of a treat than a greasy meatball sub.”

So maybe we should be celebrating World Vegetable Extravaganza Day, the Plant-Based Planet Party, or Terrific Tofu Tuesdays, instead. We should be watching documentaries like “What the Health,” “Forks Over Knives,” and “Cowspiracy,” and reading books likes "How Not To Die" by Dr. Michael Greger, that, despite the inevitable doom and gloom, do an excellent job at showing how powerful a plant-based diet can be at slowing, or even reversing, chronic diseases. Moving away from meat will only be successful once people are convinced that they’ll be better off – not martyrs to a cause.