Thursday Is Veggiedag in Ghent, Belgium

By the time you read this with your morning coffee, the plates will have been cleared at the first official Veggiedag (Meatless Day) in Ghent, Belgium.

Poster from U.S. Food Administration's war conservation ad campaign. (Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration)

As reported by the BBC, mayor Tom Balthazar has officially declared Thursday meatless in his city of nearly a quarter million people. In an effort to make the connection between meat consumption and greenhouse gases (18 percent of which come from livestock production), Balthazar has asked his fellow civil servants to abstain from meat every Thursday; vegetarian meals will also be served in the city schools.

Earlier this year, Germany’s federal environment czar publicly urged his fellow citizens to reduce meat consumption, but those words have yet to be translated into deeds, as they are in Ghent, which may be the first city in the world to implement an on-the-books meatless day.

Well before most of us were born, the U.S. tried its hand at a government-endorsed Meatless Monday, but for different reasons. As head of the U.S. Food Administration (under Woodrow Wilson), Herbert Hoover spearheaded a massive WWI conservation effort, urging Americans to observe Meatless Mondays and Wheatless Wednesdays, to help feed the troops. The poster, pictured above, was part of a government-sponsored advertising campaign.

As many of you know, last September, I launched a meatless recipe feature in this space every Monday in response to remarks by Rajendra Pachauri, the Chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. To recap, Pachauri said that if there’s one thing we can do to help save the planet, it’s taking a break from meat once a week.

What’s happening in Ghent is undoubtedly intriguing, but I’ve got a hunch that many on this side of the Atlantic will argue against government intervention over what Joe & Jane Public puts into their mouths. As Balthazar said in his audio interview with the BBC, Veggiedag is completely voluntary and the idea is to create awareness of and community around an issue of environmental and health import.

Can you imagine a government-implemented Meatless Day in your city? Is this an issue that should rest in the hands of local officials or should it become an issue on the national agenda, with President Obama setting an example?

I can’t wait to hear what you think. Meanwhile, take the poll and weigh in.

By Kim ODonnel |  May 14, 2009; 7:15 AM ET Food in the News , Vegetarian/Vegan
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That's encouraging news. Meat alternatives are widely common these days. For new comers, check this wonderful website to begin with:

Posted by: DonaldWatson | May 14, 2009 10:14 AM

Encouraging a meatless day is a great way to raise awareness and should be applauded. However, even though we have several meatless nights in our home a week, I don't think trying to make it mandatory would be well received.

Posted by: Stephanie15 | May 14, 2009 10:18 AM

A choice missing from the poll:

... think: "What's the big deal? Our meals are already meatless 24/7."

Posted by: midgecoates | May 14, 2009 11:50 AM

Kudos to the mayor of Ghent, Belgium for officially declaring Thursdays as a meatless day for the entire city! Choosing vegetarian foods is an easy and effective way to help protect our health, the planet and animals.

On a local note, Takoma Park Mayor Bruce Williams recently signed a proclamation declaring April 24 through April 30, 2009 as "Takoma Park Veg Week" -- and Senator Jamie Raskin, Delegate Tom Hucker, and Council Member Dan Robinson all pledged to go veg for one week:

Posted by: emeier | May 14, 2009 2:34 PM

I think it is very cool and very progressive of Belgium's mayor to have a weekly "meat-free" day. I would love it if we had the same thing here in the US, but I agree with some of the other posters that making it mandatory would probably backfire. Instead of forcing that decision upon people, I think it should be used as an opportunity to raise more awareness of the global impact of a veggie lifestyle.

Posted by: runnerchic | May 14, 2009 6:58 PM

In honor of Meatless Thursday in Ghent my fellow livestock producers are feeding their herds a special organic diet every Thursday that encourages our livestock to fart more and triples their output of methane gas for next 72 hours!

Mayor and Kim when billions of Chinese and Indians aren't doing squat about global warming in doesn't matter.

Eat more meat, pass more gas and make a vegan cry!

Posted by: sheepherder | May 15, 2009 6:42 AM

Just wondering... do these things ever work? Aren't most folks more likely to double up on Friday if they are forced to skip their habitual burger on Thursday?

Bittman has been advocating "meatless until dinner," which sound harsher but has the potential for a greater impact.

Posted by: 12thManTrainingTable | May 17, 2009 8:21 AM

12thManTrainingTable, if you're referring to government implementation of a meatless day, I'd say let's check back with the town of Ghent in a year to see how things are going. But the incremental approach is key to the success of such a concept, according to Meatless Monday, the public health campaign in association w/ Johns Hopkins University. If you think about it, one day without meat means reducing your consumption by 15 percent. That's pretty substantial, yet doing it only one day feels manageable within the context of our busy lives.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | May 18, 2009 11:23 AM

As Rajendra Pachauri emphasized in his UN address, we need to conserve as a global community in order to address the current climate crisis. In past times of crisis, Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Hoover recognized the need to save resources by instituting Meatless Monday. FDR carried on the tradition of conservation, instituting meatless Mondays during World War II. Why doesn't Obama institute Meatless Mondays to address the global climate change?

The Meatless Monday movement is sweeping the world. Sir Paul McCartney, as well as his daughter Stella McCartney, are advocates of Meatfree Monday in the UK. Environmental scientist David Suzuki has challenged his audience to observe a Meatless Monday in Canada. From the US food academics such as Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman are celebrating Meatless Monday in their own homes- and encouraging readers to do the same.

Going meatless every Monday is a simple lifestyle change anyone can make to better their personal health as well as the environmental health of the planet. Working for the campaign has shown me going meatless once a week is an important and simple step anyone can take. If you need meatless recipe ideas, check out The Meatless Monday recipe archive ( For more of the facts and figures behind the historical origins and potential environmental benefits- check out the Meatless Monday youtube (

Happy Meatless Cooking! Go Ghent!

Posted by: JoeyLee091185 | May 19, 2009 12:04 PM

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