Controversy erupted at Bowdoin College last week after the campus’s main dining facilities went completely meatless for dinner as part of “Meatless Monday,” a national nutritional awareness campaign started at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Dozens of students held an impromptu barbecue outside one facility in protest. Two other students sold McDonald’s cheeseburgers while simultaneously raising funds for a local humane society. Another group of students ate buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken inside the dining hall. Opinion both for and against the awareness campaign has been published in The Orient, Bowdoin’s student newspaper.
These days, veggie options are standard at most colleges -- and some provide for vegan, Kosher or other dietary choices as well. While the range of choices isn't controversial, removing meat options is something else.
Kathryn Shaw, a senior and co-president of the Bowdoin College Democrats and one of the prime organizers of the meatless menu day, said the idea was "to bring awareness about environmental and health benefits of eating less meat in your diets.” Thirteen groups joined the Democrats in sponsoring the day, and they distributed information about the health benefits of such a choice. "The difference between having a straight informational campaign and the way we did it is that one of the reasons people are fearful about cutting out meat and eating less meat is [that they] don’t think there are any viable alternatives, and so the way the event was structured, people tried the alternatives,” she said.
Shaw said she anticipated the event might draw a reaction, but certainly not the counter-culinary protest that broke out.
But Doug Johnston, a junior who helped organize the barbecue (and who said he and his friends consider themselves generally to be liberal), said that as soon as he heard about Meatless Monday, "we were saying, 'This isn’t quite right.' "
He explained that "the assumption that is implied by saying we need to raise awareness by having Meatless Monday is that people aren’t aware,” which he questions. "I think taking away the option to moderately eat meat from those who are aware of the issues -- it upset me, that they decided I shouldn’t have access to meat on Monday, denying the option to eat meat even moderately.”
Johnston found an irony in the fact that much of the "Meatless Monday" campaign focused on eating less meat, in having a more balanced diet, yet the organizers made the day completely meat-free.
Wilson Taylor, who passed out educational materials on Meatless Monday, said he saw the pro-meat camp's outrage as overblown. “It was just one day,” he said. “So we weren’t ever trying to get rid of people’s meat. It really was a day to dramatize the issue.”
“It frustrated me that students weren’t willing to try it,” said Shaw. “Because you missed the table -- whether you were supportive or not -- and missed the opportunity to try the protein-filled vegetarian options that were offered, and we missed out on a conversation. It was certainly their choice though.”
The options included cheese ravioli, sesame and cashew rice noodles, spicy black bean burgers, African vegetable stew, cheese and bean quesadillas, and a stir fry of tofu, broccoli and cashews.
A Facebook page suggested that the pro-meat contingent is proud of their choice. Comments equated the one-night ban on meat to "an attack on liberty." One commenter urged others to "stick it to the man ... nobody's taking away my right to a greasy cheeseburger." But in a sign that the protest could bring people together, those at the barbecue did come in to get some veggies to "round out the meal," according to one participant.