“Tempeh Whiz wit'!” “Vegan cheesesteak!’’ Will these words soon be part of the cacophony of sizzling onion and clanking steel that echoes between Pat’s and Geno’s? Probably not, but recent activity in Philadelphia’s City Council indicates that this may not be as far off as you might imagine.
Well, OK, it's pretty far off. But it has reached the highest levels of government. Earlier this month, the City Council of Philadelphia unanimously approved a resolution in support of “Meatless Mondays.” The resolution, which is completely symbolic and includes no regulatory measures or spending, encourages residents and businesses across the City to curb carnivorous consumption on the first day of the work week. Simply put, the resolution is an attempt to raise awareness about healthy diet—a good thing from a public health perspective.
Councilman Bill Green (D-at large) was quoted in a press release from The Humane League stating: “I am happy to bring attention to this important issue. We can combat the epidemic of obesity, improve long-term health outcomes and potentially reduce the impact of livestock on global warming though this one, simple effort. And we can make our moms happy by eating our veggies and trying new things – a win-win-win!”
Philadelphia now joins other cities like San Francisco, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and Oakland that have passed similar resolutions.
The Meatless Mondays movement emerged out of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Public Health in 2003. That top public health institution took interest in the issue after the federal government's Healthy People 2010 campaign named as an objective reducing saturated fat consumption; the next iteration, Healthy People 2020, calls for what amounts to a 15% decrease in saturated fat intake by the end of the decade. One day is 14.3% of a week, if the days are divided evenly at least, and red meat is a primary source of saturated fat. So cutting meat for a day is a major step toward achieving the goal.
In addition to fat intake, excessive meat consumption is associated with a number of other public health problems, such as antibiotic resistant infections and climate change. A report from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations found that the livestock sector was a larger source of greenhouse gas emissions than transportation. The agricultural driver is consumer demand for meat.
“What are folks going to do on Mondays?” said Donald F. Schwarz, commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, when asked about the Meatless Monday movement. “To help, the department is doing a variety of things to promote fruit and vegetable consumption among low-income Philadelphians, including Philly Food Bucks.”
Philly Food Bucks is an initiative that provides low-income residents who are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, with a $2 fruit/vegetable coupon for every $5 spent at a farmers’ market. A recently published study found that shoppers using Philly Food Bucks were twice as likely to report increasing fruit/vegetable consumption and trying new fruits/vegetables than shoppers not using the bucks. The program’s implementation was also associated with a substantial increase in SNAP sales at city farmers’ markets, suggesting that SNAP beneficiaries may be eating healthier (since there generally are fewer unhealthy options at farmers’ markets than supermarkets). Philly Food Bucks is one of many public health interventions that are part of Get Healthy Philly.
It’s not every day that all 17 members of Philadelphia City Council vote to contradict one of the city’s core images, as cheesesteak capital of the world. Such progressive thinking in City Council, combined with effective public health interventions, like Philly Food Bucks, could be a sign of healthy changes to come—vegan cheesesteak on the menu or not.
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