On Tuesday Nov. 27, the Student Government passed a resolution supporting the implementation of Meatless Mondays in the Great Room. The resolution passed unanimously, with one abstention. President Joe Urgo praised the SGA’s democratic process and said that the real victory was “having students work for progressive change in their community.”
The meeting drew an enormous crowd to the Goodpaster lecture hall. This crowd consisted of students in favor of and against the resolution as well as those who fell in the middle of the debate. Over the course of the hour long speak out, students brought up a huge number of arguments and rationales pertaining to Meatless Mondays. Speak out sessions are not, strictly speaking, supposed to turn into open debates. Students are only allowed to speak once and are dissuaded from directly responding to previous statements. None the less, a clear debate structure began to emerge. The large number of students enabled supporters and the opposition to run a kind of back and forth as an untapped speaker was almost always available whenever a point of contention came up. To be clear, there was no overarching leadership on either side which coordinated this system; it simply emerged naturally.
There were several major points that came up in over the course of the evening. First and foremost was the environmental and economic argument. As a matter of fact, meat production consumes enormous resources and is widely recognized as a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions. Supporters argued that these costs were enough to warrant a concerted effort to reduce meat consumption.
Opposing students responded by questioning the effect that a small college, such as Saint Mary’s, could possibly have on reducing meat production. Junior Rachel Beebe, carried the response to these assertions by citing the numerous environmental impact statistics that she had gathered about the college for her presentation at the meat sustainability forum three weeks ago. Most notable of these statistics was the estimated 90-some tons of greenhouse gas produced from college meat consumption. This sparked an argument over whether the cost to meat eaters outweighed the potential environmental benefits.
The cost being referred to had two big components. First was the nutritional cost to omnivorous students who depend on meat for their diet. As soon as this point emerged, supporters fired back with references to studies indicating the nutritional viability of vegetarian diets. To reinforce this point, a number of vegetarian and vegan students reminded the assembly that they had each foregone meat for many years and suffered no adverse health effects as a result.
The second cost that was addressed was the fairness of forcing people who had paid for meal plans to give up their right to meat. Opposing students cited the cost of Great Room meal plans and made the case that they would, effectively, be deprived of three meals a week should the resolution pass. This argument prompted vehement responses from supporters who tried to dispel the idea that meat is guaranteed by the Great Room meal plan. Rather, the meal plan promises to provide a nutritionally balanced diet. They argued that, since the Food and Drug Administration has stated that vegetarian diets can be nutritionally balanced, meat was not a necessary part of the plan.
In addition to those who supported and opposed the Meatless Mondays proposal in its entirety, there were a number of students who occupied the varied middle ground. One such student argued that the proposal was a good idea but that the SGA lacked the authority to pass such a motion. Another student brought up the issue that the lack of meat might force students to drive off campus for meals, thereby retarding any reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by putting more cars on the road.
Junior Alex Roca spoke out about how “excessive resource consumption steals from future generations.” He was also the first of many speakers to advocate that, if passed, Meatless Mondays be put on a trial basis in order to gauge its effectiveness. His suggestion was eventually included and passed with the resolution. A number of other students brought up the idea that the goals of Meatless Mondays could be accomplished by reducing meat in other ways. One student suggested a low meat week that would cut the equivalent of one day of meat out of an entire week. Others seized on the idea of reducing meat options in the Great Room instead of eliminating them completely.
Sophomore Caroline Senator Serra Erbas said that the resolution was “very controversial and caused a great deal of debate among the senators.” In the end, the student discussion resulted in a number of crucial changes to the resolution. Despite the lack of a name change, the actual resolution is more aptly referred to as Low-Meat Mondays. Normal, omnivorous, options will still be available at the Grab-n-Go and the Upper Deck. In addition, the Great Room will still serve luncheon meats in its deli line. The program has been approved on a trial basis and, if implemented, the SGA will review its effectiveness as well as student response before supporting it as permanent menu feature.
In an interview several weeks before the vote, Ashok Chandwaney predicted that “even if [Meatless Mondays] is passed by the SGA, implementation will depend upon Bon Appetit.” He was correct in that the, now passed, resolution does not ensure that Meatless Mondays will, in fact, become a reality. There are still a number of hurdles that the resolution needs to go through before being implemented. Most importantly, the administration needs to decide on course of action for the program.
Dean of Students Roberto Ifill has said that “there are a great many issues, including costs and logistics, which the administration will have to work through if the [SGA] resolution is to be implemented.” Also, Bon Appetit will have to agree to formulate new menus, if they are requested. However, a successful SGA resolution was a prerequisite to both of those events and so represents a large step forward for the program.