On Its 20th Anniversary, Meatless Monday is More Relevant Than Ever
This month marks the 20th anniversary of Meatless Monday—the revolutionary public health campaign that continues to grow in influence, relevance, and importance. As we reflect on its extraordinary evolution, we are reminded of the mounting reasons that meat reduction must be front and center on our public health agendas.
Meatless Monday was created by Sid Lerner, who was a legendary marketing executive (one of advertising’s original “mad men”) and a passionate public health advocate. The Bloomberg School helped launch the Meatless Monday campaign, with technical assistance from our Center for a Livable Future (CLF). From the beginning, the message was simple: One day a week, cut out meat for the health of people and the health of the planet. The ongoing success of the campaign is rooted in its simple approach—it’s an accessible, achievable action that individuals, families, communities, or organizations can take on.
Over the past two decades, Meatless Monday has proven to be remarkably versatile and adaptable, growing steadily into a global movement that has advocacy and communication support across many sectors. Meatless Monday has been embraced by high-profile chefs, food systems writers, and celebrities and adopted by a range of organizations and institutions worldwide, including schools, municipalities, restaurants, NGOs, and corporations in more than 40 countries. And Meatless Monday isn’t alone in its push for reductions in meat consumption: The call has been echoed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the World Health Organization, the World Economic Forum, the American Heart Association, the National Kidney Foundation, and countless others.
We are proud of CLF for its continued role in Meatless Monday, particularly as the evidence supporting the benefits of reducing meat consumption expands and grows stronger every year. There are numerous interrelated, public health threats that share high meat diets as an important contributor:
High meat diets are linked to increased chronic disease burdens. Chronic diseases are currently the leading causes of death globally and are accompanied by enormous health and productivity costs. Diets high in red and processed meat and lower in whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruit are associated with higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. A 2023 analysis of data from the Global Burden of Disease study found that global deaths attributable to diets high in red meat increased by nearly 30% between 1999 and 2019.
High meat diets are destructive to planetary health. Climate change and other disruptions to Earth’s natural systems are crisis multipliers, with profound implications for our ecosystems and human health. The animal agriculture system enabling high meat diets is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and other planetary health concerns. According to the IPCC, food systems are responsible for between 23–42% of global greenhouse gas emissions; of this, the IPCC estimates that meat production accounts for approximately 60% of those emissions.
High meat diets drive the occurrence of antimicrobial resistance. Global deaths from resistant infections recently surpassed mortality from HIV/AIDS and malaria, according to a 2022 report in The Lancet. The routine use of medically important antibiotics in industrial food animal production is a contributor, as the practice has been shown to select for bacterial pathogens that can cause infections in humans that are extremely challenging to treat. These use of these antibiotics in animal agriculture has been recognized as a key driver of antimicrobial resistance; uses for livestock accounted for an estimated 72% of total global antimicrobial sales in 2017 and are projected to increase by 8% over this decade.
The urgency of these issues is clear, and Meatless Monday is continuing to evolve to help meet the growing challenges ahead. In 2024, Meatless Monday will be launching a new open access, web-based resource center hosted by the School and curated by CLF. I look forward to sharing this new tool when it’s available, and we will continue to draw on Meatless Monday as an effective public health approach and valuable resource.
The Meatless Monday movement has made a powerful impact and continues to make significant contributions, but it can also serve as an inspiration to raise our ambitions and set new goals. As members of the public health community, we must find new ways to incorporate meat reduction into our work, as we continue to build evidence and develop interventions to address the numerous, interrelated public health threats fueled by high meat diets.
Research shows that Monday is the day of the week when people are most open to making positive change. I hope that on this Monday in particular—and on Mondays throughout October—we can truly harness that feeling, embrace the joy and purpose of a meatless meal, and continue to think of ways we can individually and collectively work toward a healthier future for our planet and ourselves.
Ellen J. MacKenzie, PhD ’79, ScM ’75
Bloomberg Distinguished Professor