In a recent study published in the journal Nutrients, researchers conducted interviews and online surveys with hospital cafeteria employees to investigate support and implementation variables towards the Meatless Mondays (MFMs) movement. More than half of the 194 participants in the survey were actively contributing to the movement, and almost 60% supported the movement. The results of the study showed proof of the benefits of MFMs, and inclusion and greater consultation with café employees were the most influential variables in making the movement successful.
Study: Meatless Mondays in Hospital Cafes in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Image Credit: Created with assistance from DALL·E 3
The qualities of a non-vegetarian diet
Unprecedented anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, the Earth is at the tipping point of sustainable environmental health. The resulting climate change already poses serious threats to public safety, affecting weather (increased occasional floods and droughts), disease (increased pathogen burden), and food availability (decreased soil fertility and over-reliance on chemical growth enhancers and genetically modified crops).
Surprisingly, the food system is a key driver of climate change – the agricultural industry was one of the most significant contributors to climate change, with methane and nitrous oxide emissions from livestock rearing (14.5%) the top gas source largest single heater in the world. Meat production requires more land, water and feed availability than crop production. Alarmingly, a growing body of research recognizes that livestock farming combined with antibiotic overuse is central to the recent risk of disease, both infectious and non-infectious, worldwide.
Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the leading cause of global mortality, accounting for an estimated 89% of human deaths. NCDs are associated with a complex interplay between genetics, socioeconomics, and individual health behaviors. These health behaviors are modifiable, and diet is at the forefront of interventions to combat NCDs and improve public health. The New Zealand (NZ) Adult Nutrition Survey (2008/09) identified critical deficiencies in the dietary composition of the average NZ citizen, with only 32.8% of NZ adults meeting prescribed food and vegetable requirements and nearly all falling short NZ adults meet the recommended fiber intakes. .
It is alarming that NZ is identified as the 6th largest meat consuming nation in the world (per capita) according to the results of the Economic and Development Organization (OECD). Long-term consumption of red meat is associated with an increased risk of NCDs, including type 2 diabetes (T2D), cancers, coronary artery disease, cardiovascular disease (CVD), and all-cause mortality.
“In 2019, the EAT-Lancet Commission recommended a predominantly plant-based diet, advising that profound changes must be made to the global food system to feed the world’s population of 10 billion within planetary boundaries by 2050. “
The Meatless Mondays (MMs) campaign is a possible response to the growing concerns about over-consumption of meat. Started in the United States, the MM campaign encourages individuals to go meatless every Monday and also seeks to replace 15% of current meat consumption with an equivalent vegetarian intake. It is very popular around the world, with many cafes, hospitals, restaurants, and even schools participating in the movement and advertising the benefits of the movement. However, the impact of MM compliance on public and environmental health has not been documented with insufficient work.
About the study
This study investigates the enablers and barriers to the implementation of the Meatless Mondays (MFMs) policy, a policy characterized by the provision of free or subsidized vegetarian diets across District Health Boards (DHBs). throughout New Zealand. The study was undertaken to identify and provide recommendations to facilitate future policy implementation.
Three of the 20 DHBs in NZ were selected based on their varying stages of MFMs consideration/implementation. DHB1 (DBH Marlborough Nelson) had been implementing the policy for over two years at the start of the study, DHB2 (DBH Northland) was piloting the policy, and DHB3 (DHB Auckland) was not implementing the policy.
This study included a 12-question online staff survey, semi-structured interviews with key job representatives, and an open-ended survey open to both DHB staff and the New Zealand public. The surveys and interviews were designed based on inputs from a seven-member team consisting of three nutrition experts, a DHB manager, and three lay people. The surveys also collected participant demographics, eating habits, and general attitudes towards MFMs.
The χ2 A (Chi-squared) test was used for statistical analyses. More extensive studies were not possible due to insufficient sample sizes.
Results of the study
The online survey sample cohort comprised 194 respondents from DHB1 (54.1%) and DHB3 (45.9%). The majority of participants were female (76.3%) and of Pākehā ethnicity (72.7%). The majority of respondents were allied health or other health professionals (28.9%). More than 60% of respondents were meat eaters (63.4%), with flexitarians (18.6%), pescatarian (7.2%), vegetarian (6.7%), and vegan (4.1%) as the dietary minorities.
Encouragingly, more than 50% of respondents who ate meat reported taking active steps to replace vegetarian options with meat-based foods.
“DHB3 had about one and a half times as many vegan respondents (12.4%) compared to DHB1 (8.9%). DHB1 (25.8%) had about twice as much flexibility as DHB3 (12.4%).”
Health, environmental concerns, and affinity for plant-based dishes were identified as significant enablers of MFM policy implementation. Animal welfare concerns and economic savings were small but significant enablers towards reducing meat consumption. In contrast, knowledge (30.1%), taste (26.3%), and familiarity (16%) were identified as the main barriers to policy subscription.
Awareness was found to be high across the DHBs, with 65.5% of all respondents aware of the movement. However, inter-DBH understanding was found to vary widely – DHB1 showed 79.8% awareness compared to DHB3, which described only 53.3%. Surprisingly, it was noted that awareness in MZ hospitals was lower than that of the general public. A statistical analysis of support showed that 58.8% of all participants supported the movement and played an active role in its implementation.
Interview results identified (in contrast to previous surveys) that environmental concerns and not health benefits were the most important enablers of movement among café managers.
“Some of the respondents did not feel that reducing meat would have a positive impact on the environment. Some people felt that other sustainable actions, such as packaging, recycling, reducing food transport and regenerative agriculture, would have more benefits. The sentiment was expressed that in the interviews and it is aligned with other research in this area.
This study investigates the enablers and barriers to implementing an MFM campaign across three NZ DHBs at different stages of their policy implementation. It identifies misunderstandings and a lack of adequate information as significant barriers to the continued success of the policy. It recommends outreach to key movement agents, including cafe managers, cafe staff, and medical personnel, as the best possible intervention for the rapid and successful deployment of the policy in the future.
- Ewens, E., Young, L., & Mackay, S. (2022). Meatless Monday in Hospital Cafes in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Nutrients, 15(22), 4797, DOI – https://doi.org/10.3390/nu15224797, https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/15/22/4797