The Environmental Spectator

Meatless Meatheads

The people's republic of Cambridge unveils a tasty solution to climate change.

By 2.24.10

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Why did the chicken in Cambridge, Massachusetts cross the road?

So it could combat the climate emergency on the other side.

Tip O'Neill, the late House Speaker born in Cambridge, marveled at the ability of left-wing activists to "come up with a cure for which there is no known disease."

How else can one explain the Cambridge Climate Congress? Chicken Little is alive and well and living in the People's Republic of Cambridge.

Established by Cambridge City Council in May 2009, the Climate Congress has put forth a series of recommendations "to respond to the climate emergency" in Cambridge. According to the Congress, it is an emergency that has been "created by the growth of local greenhouse gas emissions." These recommendations include the institution of a local carbon tax, the taxation of plastic and paper bags, and the elimination of street side parking. But the one recommendation that grabbed my attention was the establishment of "Meatless Mondays." To be precise: 

Asking/mandating that local restaurants and schools institute "Meatless or Vegan Mondays" to increase community awareness and reduce reliance on meat, dairy and eggs as food sources.

I guess Free Range Fridays just couldn't make the cut.

The Cambridge Climate Congress seeks to "raise awareness and promote action about the connection between food choices and climate change." What exactly the connection is between climate change and not serving meat on Mondays isn't made clear in their recommendations.

However, according to a report issued by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in November 2006, livestock generates more greenhouse gas emissions than automobiles. The report also concluded that raising livestock is a major source of land and water degradation. In September 2008, Rajendra Pachuari, chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, called on people to refrain from eating meat one day a week in an effort to combat climate change. Last December, shortly before the Copenhagen Climate Conference, Pachuari was joined by Sir Paul McCartney in a presentation before the European Parliament to promote this idea with the slogan, "Less Meat=Less Heat." Needless to say, eating fish fingers on Penny Lane is a distant memory for the ex-Beatle.

Yet nevertheless "Meatless Mondays" is beginning to catch on. Indeed, it was recently instituted in the Baltimore public school system. But the Cambridge Climate Congress wants to take it a step further and extend this policy beyond schools. It wants to include local restaurants.

Upon reading this policy recommendation the first thing that came to mind was Frank's Steak House, a family restaurant I have occasionally patronized. Frank's has been a fixture in North Cambridge for over seven decades. It was a favorite haunt of the aforementioned Tip O'Neill. How would have good old Tip reacted had he been told he couldn't enjoy a plate of steak tips? If Cambridge ends up "mandating" that local restaurants implement "Meatless Monday" at their establishments, how exactly would it affect Frank's Steak House? Would there be no porterhouse served near Porter Square?

"We're not going to do that. We're a steakhouse." That was the reaction of George Ravanis, co-owner of Frank's Steak House, to whom I spoke over the phone. Ravanis went on to say if the city had any intention of acting on this recommendation that he would be in "the front row at city hall asking them if they had lost their minds." Yet he was more amused than he was angry. "It's typical Cambridge," said Ravanis. "It's typical of what people think of Cambridge." Besides what exactly is Ravanis to do if a family from Rhode Island drives all the way up to Cambridge on a Monday night to enjoy a sizzler only to find out his establishment isn't allowed to serve it?

Now it is certainly possible that Cambridge City Council will be practical enough to recognize that imposing such a recommendation would be little more than chicken potpie in the sky. Would they compel McDonald's on Massachusetts Avenue not to serve Big Macs on Mondays? Would they have Legal Sea Foods in Kendall Square stop serving New England Clam Chowder to the lunchtime crowd at the start of the workweek? Unless you serve vegan fare, who in their right mind would want to open an eatery in Cambridge? Does Cambridge really want its meat lovers to go on the lamb to Somerville to satiate their carnivorous cravings? Why would Cambridge want to subject itself to such ridicule and ribbing?

Yet one can never underestimate the capacity of government to butt in places where it does not belong. If Cambridge should decide that restaurants must go meatless on Mondays, what is to prevent them from telling grocery stores they cannot sell meat on Tuesdays? Then, again, even if Cambridge went completely meatless somehow I don't think it would stop the city's pork barrel spending.

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About the Author
Aaron Goldstein writes from Boston, Massachusetts.