To increase sustainability, Carmichael Dining Center implements Meatless Mondays

One of the EcoReps explains Tufts Meatless Mondays at Carmichael Dining Center to students, on March 22. Mina Terzioglu / The Tufts Daily

Students on campus this semester may have seen their phones light up on a Monday afternoon with a notification from the Tufts Mobile Order app encouraging them to try one of the plant-based options at Carmichael Dining Center. This notification is a part of Tufts Meatless Mondays, an initiative implemented by Carmichael Dining Center this semester in which each Monday the dining hall serves solely meatless options for dinner. The program began on Feb. 22. 

Taite Pierson, a senior and coordinator of Tufts Eco-Representatives, explained that the Eco-Reps have had a Meatless Mondays program since 2014. However, according to Pierson, the decision for Carmichael to serve only meatless dinner options on Mondays was made by the dining center itself. 

According to Pierson, the Eco-Reps’ version of Meatless Mondays did not involve a completely plant-based menu at Carmichael or Dewick-MacPhie Dining Center but rather involved Eco-Reps’ asking students to select a meatless option over the other options served that night.

“The Eco-Reps would stand in the dining hall, in both dining halls, actually … and basically ask people as they were coming in for dinner if they wanted to try eating meatless, and if they did, they would mark themselves on a whiteboard and we would tally how many people were going meatless,” Pierson said. 

When COVID-19 hit, the presence of the Eco-Reps in the dining halls diminished due to social distancing guidelines, leaving the program searching for other ways to engage with students.

“This whole year we were trying to figure out how to do Meatless Mondays and how to emulate that same spirit,” Pierson said. 

Pierson explained that this year there is a specific section within Eco-Reps focused on food sustainability that had been meeting with Tufts Dining. This semester, the food sustainability area was excited to hear Carmichael’s decision to have fully meatless dinners on Mondays.

“They were meeting with Dining this semester, and then we got the news that Carm was going meatless on Mondays which, it wasn’t even really born from those meetings … this was just honestly a great decision on their behalf,” Pierson said.

Although the decision was implemented by Carmichael, Kristen Kaufman, the recycling and waste reduction coordinator in the Office of Sustainability, explained that Meatless Mondays involves a collaboration between the dining center and the Eco-Reps. 

“We’re trying to make it collaborative and Dining wanted to help connect the chefs and the Carm managers to the students who are helping to spearhead this initiative on the ground for their peers,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman explained how the Eco-Reps plan to measure how many people actually go meatless for the night.

“[The Eco-Reps are] doing Instagram posts like stories, newsletters … and part of those communications is a prompt basically saying ‘Hey, if you go meatless tonight text “meatless” to this number.’ And then we get a tally of how many people do that and one, have engaged with us, and two, have actually gone meatless or red meat-less,” Kaufman said.

According to Kaufman, Meatless Mondays has the potential to inspire students to make small behavior changes that can have a positive impact on the environment. 

“I think the spirit of Meatless Mondays isn’t ‘Oh, the only desirable outcome of Meatless Mondays is that this person doesn’t have meat for dinner today,’ but to really empower people to think differently about the sustainability of food — what the impact can be of not eating meat with us once a week and just to educate about the sustainability of our food decisions,” Kaufman said. “If someone loves red meat and even decides to go red meat-less for a day and maybe have chicken, that’s a big behavior change.”

This desire to encourage sustainability within the dining halls is shared by members of Tufts Dining. Michelle Joseph, dining service manager at Carmichael Dining Center, spoke about why Carmichael came to the decision.

“We are aware that lowering the intake of meat makes a significant difference on our overall health, but also [on] the environment,” Joseph said. “We want to contribute to making our environment a better one and support Tufts’ mission of becoming carbon neutral.”

According to Joseph, some of the plant-based meals that students can explore on Meatless Mondays include a lentil loaf, fried spicy cauliflower, eggplant parmesan and Mediterranean pizza.

Lyza Bayard, marketing and communications specialist for Tufts Dining, spoke of how Carmichael’s chefs and cooks work to develop new sustainable meals. 

“Tufts Dining is part of a larger initiative called Menus of Change,Bayard said.

Bayard explained that Menus of Change “is a groundbreaking initiative from the Culinary Institute of America and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The chefs are “developing the menus, and they’re doing them weekly,” Bayard said. “They’re referencing sources we have like the Menus of Change from the Culinary Institute of America where there are all kinds of phenomenal recipes,” Bayard said.

Menus of Change is “really looking at how we can create menus that don’t just revolve around meat so that we can make a greater impact on positive change in our environment,” emphasizing “dining with healthy, fresh, flavorful food and plant-based options,” Bayard said.

Bayard added in an email to the Daily that some of the principles of Menus of Change include plant-based cooking; whole, minimally processed foods; a reduction of added sugars; and better agricultural practices. 

“They’re working to realize the long-term practical vision of integrating optimal nutrition, public health, environmental stewardship, restoration and social responsibility within the food service industry and the culinary profession,” Bayard said. 

According to Bayard, Dewick has been inspired by Menus of Change to develop more sustainable and healthy menu items. 

Sophomore Janya Gambhir has been a vegetarian since she was 8 years old. Gambhir said she finds the meatless options at Tufts to be more plentiful than at other schools.

“I think that compared to other colleges, and compared to other stories that I’ve heard from my vegetarian friends, I think Tufts definitely has a lot more options,” Gambhir said. “So in that sense, I think that there it’s much easier to be vegetarian at Tufts compared to most other universities in the U.S., and I’m really grateful for that.”

That being said, Gambhir noted that at times, she does experience some difficulty finding vegetarian options at Tufts.

“I do think that it varies a lot based on the dining hall … so I would say that it’s not as automatic as just being able to walk into any location and being able to find options,” Gambhir said.

Gambhir said that Carmichael’s Meatless Mondays initiative seems to be a step in the right direction.

“I think that it’s definitely a good route to go,” Gambhir said. “I think it’s definitely something that we all need to do. And you’re seeing the trend increasingly of college students going vegetarian and vegan, and people becoming more plant-based. It’s definitely something I’m seeing within my own community.” 

However, Gambhir noted that in addition to an increase in plant-based options, she would also like to see Tufts reduce plastic waste.

“I think that if Tufts wants to become more sustainable, an equally important, or arguably even more important, aspect is reducing plastic waste,” Gambhir said.

Sophomore Sam Markowitz, an Eco-Rep who is a part of the food sustainability area, explained the effect that meat consumption can have on the environment.

“There are a lot of different ways in which consuming meat impacts the environment and carbon footprints … you have livestock grazing, and the amount of energy that goes into taking care of cows or chickens from when they’re a baby … up until they’re killed,” Markowitz said. “And then even through the processing and preparation, the amount of energy that these meat plants consume, and then the transit cost of traveling from a meat plant to a center of distribution to Tufts; all along the supply chain there are different emissions costs and then also the water cost as well, mostly with raising animals.”

Markowitz explained that an understanding of this supply chain is essential for conceptualizing the impact that meat consumption has on the environment. 

“I think that when people think about eating meatless, it’s important to consider how the footprint of the meat you eat starts way, way before it gets to your plate,” Markowitz said. “It starts from the day the animal’s born or even the day that these seeds are planted or livestock farms are created.”

Markowitz believes eating meatless, even for one night, is worth giving a try.

“I would definitely encourage students who might be initially scared of trying to eat meatless for one night to give it a shot, just once,” Markowitz said.

Markowitz added that in terms of getting students to try plant-based meals, “the ultimate goal is to encourage students to … see if it works for them and then try and apply what they’ve both learned from us and the kinds of recipes and food they’ve come to enjoy from the dining halls and hopefully apply a more sustainable outlook on their diet and life going forward.”