It’s ‘Veggie Day’ in Ghent
May 30, 2009
The Belgian city of Ghent has become the first in the world to go vegetarian at least once a week.
Last year the chairman of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggested that the most useful step ordinary citizens could take to help combat climate change would be to stop eating meat. The people of Ghent decided to take his advice to heart. They’re making every Thursday “Veggiedag” or Veggie Day. Not only are Ghent’s citizens refraining from carnivorous activities but public officials and politicians have given up meat, restaurants are adding vegetarian items to their menus, and starting in September meat-free meals will be served in schools and public buildings.
According to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization, meat production accounts for 18% of annual greenhouse-gas emissions — more than transportation, which accounts for roughly 14%. Each year, millions of acres of rain forest are cleared for cattle ranchers and suppliers of animal feed, further accelerating climate change. Then there are the urgent human-health issues: the world feeds much of its grain to cattle and other animals even as millions of people starve. Those wealthy enough to consume fatty animal products are themselves at higher risk of certain health problems, including heart disease and some cancers.
For these reasons, says Tobias Leenaert, co-director of Ethical Vegetarian Alternative, a nonprofit funded by the regional Flemish government, “it’s almost impossible to be against meat reduction. You can argue against vegetarianism, but not against cutting back on meat.” That’s a view that is gaining traction among those who hope to reshape meat consumption from an animal rights issue into an environmental and public health one.
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, for example, recently spearheaded a “meatless Mondays” campaign in which it and 28 other public health schools run local outreach programs that promote a meat-free start to the week. Germany’s federal environment agency issued an advisory earlier this year urging Germans to return to prewar norms of eating meats only on special occasions. And Leenaert says that since Ghent’s Veggie Day launch, environmental health officers from several other cities — including São Paulo, with a population of 13 million — have expressed interest in mimicking the program.