“The Chinese Restaurant” is far-and-away my all-time favorite Seinfeld episode. We’ve all experienced that sort of lost-in-translation, completely horrendous, surreal customer experience (therein lies the enduring genius of the show). It’s all captured by Elaine, in utter disbelief of the madness going on around her asks, “Where am I? Is this a dream? What in God’s name is going on here?!”
Ever since I first saw the episode, that line has stuck with me. It’s a regular response of mind in bizarre scenarios, “Where am I?” And it’s the very questions I asked when I first saw Bill DeBlasio’s statement announcing NYC Public Schools will be implementing Meatless Mondays for the coming school year.
DeBlasio proudly proclaimed he was spending time with fourth- and seventh-graders because, “they are passionate about wanting to make sure they are healthy and the earth is healthy. And they believe in Meatless Mondays.” So, we’re supposed to believe that 10- and 13-year-olds understand Meatless Mondays, let alone they’re invested in promoting the concept. I’m struggling with that concept.
But worse yet, the implication is that removing meat from our diets will make us healthier and the reverse climate change. But it didn’t end there. He expounded about the virtue of Meatless Mondays in NYC public schools:
"And I want you to know why we’re going to do it for the whole school system. Because we need our kids to be healthy. And a more balanced diet, more vegetables, more fruits, more meatless options, are good for everyone. Good for the earth, too. We know that we’re going to have to do a lot to fight global warming. That includes looking at how our food is produced and choosing some other options, striking a better balance. That’s what this is all about. And I got to tell you, when you’re talking to a 10-year old and they know this good for their body and good for the earth, that proves we’re going in the right direction. There’s a lot of enthusiasm. Kids told me that the food tastes better now that they have these meatless options. They’re getting a lot of great tasting food that they’re excited to eat. They don’t want to throw away or pass by. They actually want to eat their lunch. And, as a parent, that is music to my ears. Always wanted our kids to eat their veggies, and now they’re actually doing it. Enjoy!"
For now, let’s overlook the health claims (more on that next month) or assertions “the food tastes better now” (I’ll take that bet). Let’s keep the focus on climate change. With that in mind, I did some simple math around DeBlasio’s claims. The NYC public school system is indeed the largest in the U.S. with some 1,700 schools representing 1.1 million students. Surely, this is a big deal.
But now consider NYC schools represent only 0.35% of the U.S. population (~330 million people). Meanwhile, Meatless Mondays during the school year equate to 36 lunches out of a possible 1,095 meals annually – or about 3.2% of all meals eaten by any student during the year.
Therefore, we’re left with 0.35% of the population influencing 3.2% of their meals on Mondays at school for a total effect of about 0.01% of all meals eaten in the U.S.
Now compound that with the fact the entire sector of animal agriculture is responsible for about 3% of total U.S. GHG emissions. Meatless Mondays in the NYC public school system will thus reduce U.S. GHG emissions by 0.0003%.
Meatless Monday’s were established to raise awareness about perceived negatives effects associated with eating meat. However, it’s meaningless if we avoid meat on Monday – just to make some statement – and then disregard the other six days of the week. Not to mention, the premise – healthy bodies and a healthy planet – is completely bogus.
No doubt, the timing of this column is seemingly political given the Presidential primary campaigns are now underway – and DeBlasio has thrown his name in the ring. None of it is meant to be political commentary (there isn’t room here for all that on either side). What’s important here is to recognize the NYC initiative serves as nothing more than virtue signaling.
Meatless Mondays in public schools are a pretentious endeavor that serve no real purpose.
The Mayor’s rhetoric is empty. If DeBlasio truly believes we “have to do a lot to fight global warming,” then he surely understands this is a wasted campaign – a diversion from the real work that needs to be done. He’s wasting his breath talking about something that in the end will never matter. Given that reality, I just keep asking myself, “Where am I?”