Meat-free Monday

15 Jul 2019

Meat Free Mondays

Paul, Mary and Stella McCartney launched Meat Free Monday in 2009 as a not-for-profit campaign that raises awareness of the environmental impact of animal agriculture and industrial fishing. Encouraging people to eat only plant-based food at least one day each week, the initiative has been so successful that the term ‘Meat-fee Monday’ has worked its way into kitchens across the world. Other groups like Meatless Monday predated it, and there are spin-off groups in more than 40 countries and 20 languages, demonstrating the universal appeal of simple yet effective idea.

Obviously, vegetarianism is not new. Traditionally, people have adopted vegetarianism for religious, economic, health or animal rights reasons. However, what is relatively new is people become vegetarians to reduce their environmental impact.

Environmental impact

An article published in October 2018 in the journal Nature suggests that the environmental impacts of the food system could increase markedly due to changes in food consumption and production. The article states that without targeted measures, key ecosystem processes could be at risk of being destabilised. The article concludes that we need a holistic approach to addressing this issue by combining improvements in food production technologies and management, reducing food waste, and dietary changes towards more plant-based diets.

And similarly, National Geographic quoted a report published in the British medical journal The Lancet, which purports to have devised a diet that could be adopted by governments to meet the challenge of feeding a growing world population. We need to be able to feed 10 billion people by 2050.

‘Even small increases in the consumption of red meat or dairy foods would make this goal difficult or impossible to achieve,’ a summary of the report states. It recommends a largely plant-based diet, with small, occasional allowances for meat, dairy, and sugar.

Changing shopping habits

On average, Australians eat 26 kilograms of beef per person per year, with the gross value of cattle production contributing $16.8 billion. There is no denying the importance of the meat industry to the Australian economy. However, the meat industry in Australia is facing challenges to respond to the concerns of consumers and environmental activists about the provenance of meat including animal welfare, environmental sustainability and social license to operate.

Shopping habits are further changing with consumer demand leading to many new plant-based products now being available. Take, for example, the US plants-based meat company Beyond Meat. After publicly listing in May 2019, their stock price has increased by about 400 per cent.

How to find a balance

However, there is a need to be careful. For example, a marked reduction in animal-product consumption must be accompanied by an increase a plant-based diet made up of fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains and rich in raw products.

CSIRO has published guidelines for how our dietary strategies can reduce our environmental impact. CSIRO states that while greenhouse gas emissions are important to consider, we also need to look beyond them because efforts to reduce one environmental impact can very often exacerbate others.

Although more research is needed about low-environmental diets in Australia, the researchers recommend three ways to reduce your diet’s environmental impact:

  1. Know your serving size and stick to it
    Over-eating is a form of food waste. Data suggests that greenhouse gas emissions are positively correlated with total energy intake — that is, the larger the portion size, the higher the greenhouse gas emissions. The super-sizing phenomena has considerably impacted the environmental footprint, and your body. CSIRO says it’s time to re-think the value and amount of resources that go into our food.
  2. Eat according to your needs 
    Reduce your discretionary food intake, but ensure you have adequate nutrients by increasing core foods. This approach also helps you excess energy and food consumption.
  3. Reduce food waste and only buy as many groceries as you need 
    Although it isn't a dietary strategy, reducing food waste is an immediate way to ensure we aren't wasting resources. Plan your meals and use a shopping list when going to the supermarket. Food wastage directly relates to environmental impact because of the amount of energy and resources that are needed to go into making that piece of food. In Australia alone, it’s estimated that food makes up 35 per cent of household and council waste.


Cheng, A (2019) ‘Beyond Meat, Other Plant-Based Alternatives Still Have Long Growth Runway’, Forbes, 30 June

Gibbens, S. (2019) ‘Eating meat has ‘dire’ consequences for the planet, says report’, National Geographic, 16 January,

Mariotti, F. (2017) ‘Vegetarian diets and health: the voice of science needs to be heard’ The Conversation, 13 December 2017,

McCosker, A. (2018) ‘Beef Australia 2018: What lies ahead for the industry as 'locavores' and digital disruption loom closer’, ABC,  8 May,

Springmann, M. et. al. (2018) ‘Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits’, Nature, 562, pp. 519–525. 

Vorwerk, R. (2017). ‘Poor diets affect more than just our health’, ECOS, Issue 237, November.