Meatless Monday — a simple idea sparks a global healthy food movement: Peggy Neu at TEDxManhattan

Meatless Monday — a simple idea sparks a global healthy food movement: Peggy Neu at TEDxManhattan


Translator: Leonardo Silva
Reviewer: Mile Živković Meatless Monday. It’s about giving up meat
once a week, on Monday, but those two words
are actually about a lot more. They’re about ideas and how they start and spread, sometimes in unexpected ways, and the nature of change, both on an individual and global level. So, I’m going to deconstruct
those two words and, hopefully, draw some insights that can be used in your own efforts
to create change. So first, the history. So, Meatless Mondays
actually started as an accident. Ten years ago, former advertising executive Sid Lerner was at a conference at Johns Hopkins with Dr. Bob Lawrence, and they were discussing strategies to reduce saturated fat in the diet. At that time, the Surgeon General
recommended 15%. So, Sid thought, rather than kind of
measure that out at every meal, maybe an easy way to achieve that goal would be to just give up meat once a week. And so, he remembered
from World War II, his boy-scout days, the idea of a Meatless Monday. There was actually a Wheatless Wednesday
and a Meatless Monday and, at that time,
the goal was to conserve food for the troops in Europe. And so, with that series of connections, the modern Meatless Monday was born. Sid started an organization and he hired mostly advertising people.
That’s my background. I was at Grey Advertising
for twenty years. And we formed an association
with Johns Hopkins, The Center for a Livable Future, that served as our scientific adviser. And it’s actually quite a unique marriage between marketing and public health and something we’re trying to do more of. That was ten years ago and, since then, Meatless Monday has grown exponentially. It’s in restaurants,
where chefs like Mario Batali put vegetables at the center of the plate, in very creative ways. It’s in schools, as part of
Healthy School Lunch Program, to get kids excited
about eating vegetables. It’s in media: 250 bloggers and major media like Prevention have weekly Meatless Monday recipes and it’s supported
by a range of celebrities, from Dr. Oz to Paul McCartney, to Oprah. Whole cities in the US,
from L.A. to, most recently, the land of the philly cheese steak,
Philadelphia, have adopted resolutions
encouraging their citizens to go meatless on Monday. And meanwhile, around the world, 30 countries,
in twenty different languages, have some form of a homegrown iniciative to get people to give up meat once a week, and that includes Brazil,
the Philippines, Israel and, most recently, Iran. And just last week, we got a request from someone in Zimbabwe, who wanted to start a Meatless Monday. So, what is it about this idea that resonates with
so many different cultures and people and languages? Well, in advertising,
it’s what we call “a big idea.” And what is a big idea? Well, the first thing: it’s simple. The only thing you have to say
is Meatless Monday and you get it: you know
what to do and when to do it. The second thing: it’s memorable, it’s got that alliteration going on, it’s kind of fun to say and, like any good slogan, it kind of burns itself in your brain. And the last thing is, it has legs. And so, what that means in advertising is it’s broad and flexible enough to be adapted to a lot of
different settings and contexts. But having a big idea
with legs still isn’t enough, unless it addresses
a fundamental human need, and that’s where the meatless part
of Meatless Monday comes in. So, in 2003, the main issue was saturated fat in our diet, but, in the last ten years, it seems every year
new research studies are coming out, which link not just the amount
of meat we consume, but the industrial method we use
to produce that meat with a range of health
and environmental issues. And so, Meatless Monday
met the people’s needs on a number of different levels. One: it provided consumers
with an easy way to reduce meat in their diets, without a lot of sacrifice. And really important
for the beginning of the movement, it provided advocates who were
raising alarm about all of those issues with something specific
they could tell people to do. You know, these issues are so overwhelming and sometimes people want to know:
“What can I do?” Meatless Monday was something
that was simple and yet meaningful. So, it was kind of like a right idea
at the right time, but having a big idea with legs, even if they’re really cute legs, and addressing a need still isn’t enough,
unless it can change behavior. And that’s where the Monday part
of Meatless Monday comes from. Changing behavior is really, really hard and particularly when you’re trying
to create new habits, but Monday actually
incorporates several elements that behavior-change experts
think can make it a lot easier. So, the first thing is
it builds on an existing pattern, rather than trying to create
a new pattern. And that pattern is the week. And so, the interesting thing
about the week is that it’s not based on
any planetary or biological cycles, and yet, it’s a unit of time
that shapes our lives in fundamental ways and it’s imprinted since early childhood. And the days of the week
are what orients us. They tell us where we’re supposed to be, what we’re supposed to be doing and also how we feel. So, Monday, as the first day of the week and the day we’re transitioning from the unstructured routine
of the weekend back to the structure of the workweek, has a special cultural connotation. Even though it has this sense
of the Monday blues and another manic Monday, our research actually indicates
that most people see it as an opportunity for a fresh start and a time to get their act together. And, when it comes to health behaviors, our research tells us that most people will be most likely to start a diet, exercise regimen, quit smoking on Monday, versus any other day. So, we also have
some really exciting new research that looks at big data analysis
of Google trends. And so, a team of researchers
from Johns Hopkins and San Diego State looked at health-related Google searches over an eight-year period and what they found was a consistent pattern
of Monday spikes. So, health searches basically peak
at the beginning of the week and then gradually decline. They plunge on Saturday — (Laughter) — and then rebound and come back up. And the thing that the researchers
were just amazed [at] over that eight-year period: it was unfailingly consistent. It’s kind of like this heartbeat that really is synchronized to the week. And so, what this tells us is that healthy thinking and behavior are synchronized to the week, with Monday being the day
that we’re most open to doing something healthy. So, basically by hitching
a health behavior like going meatless to Monday, we can, one, reach people —
as we would craftily say in advertising — when they’re “open to buy”, and then, also, because Monday
comes around every seven days, we could have a built-in cue to action that could help people
sustain health behaviors over time. So, it’s kind of like these
mini New Years, but rather than just one time a year, you get 52 chances to stay on track and because it’s all on the calendar, you don’t even have to write it down.
It’s already there. So, it’s really easy. To me, though, the most powerful aspect of Monday as a behavior-change idea, is that we can do it together. Because people are together
at school and work, at home, they can join together
in a Meatless Monday ritual. And, I mean, how cool is it
that, this Monday, there are going to be people in Iran that will be doing a Meatless Monday? And they’re doing it
because they share the same goals to be healthier
and to have a healthier planet. And I think, sometimes,
by synchronizing even simple actions, we can synchronize
our hearts and our minds around bigger ideals. At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Wow, this Monday idea would probably work for other health behaviors.” And you would be right. We see this similar pattern across a range of health behaviors and actually our organization,
the Monday Campaigns, has a range of initiatives
that encourage people to exercise more, to quit smoking, to get tested for HIV-AIDS. And really, what we’re trying to do is this bigger, bigger, bigger idea of making Monday the day we collectively recommit
to our healthy behaviors, or, as we like to say, we want to make Monday the day
all health breaks loose. (Laughter) This is a great idea, it’s a big idea, it addresses a need, it changes behavior, it can even create new habits, but still, no one knows about it. So, the question is:
how do you get it out there? And so, actually the answer
is quite radical: to give it away. And so, rather than thinking about this as this kind of
top-down, public health initiatives that people sign on to our initiative, the idea was to take the idea and encourage other organizations to incorporate it in their own programs to achieve their own goals. And it was kind of like
an open-source philosophy, where people could come, take the idea and we just asked that they share
how they’re using it, so we could then spread it
to other people. Before we could get going, we really had to plant the first flag and to kind of define
the tone and the philosophy of the whole movement. So, we wanted it to be
as mainstream as possible, making it science-based with leveraging our association
with Johns Hopkins. We wanted to make it
about choice and moderation. So we weren’t taking meat away, but adding vegetarian choices. And we wanted to make it fun and positive. You know, so it wasn’t about
a big sacrifice. It could be a fun ritual
that people were looking forward to. With that, it was really just a question of getting the first triers. And so, we went
to the innovators and the leaders, in each of the categories
of types of organizations, you know, that had some interest
in cutting down on meat. And we talked to them about
the health and environmental benefits of reducing meat, but, you know, kind of as hard-core business people, we also talked to them
about what was in it for them. So, if you were a restaurant, you could get more business
on a really slow night; if you were a healthcare organization, you could save healthcare costs; if you were a food company, you could sell more products on a Monday. So, it was really a combination of wanting to do something that was good, but also that helped achieve
the core objectives of that organization. Some of these first triers saw success and it worked for them. We then told other people about that and then they told other people, and then, suddenly,
it just jumped the rails, morphed into a movement and you didn’t know who started it or what central organization
was behind it. It had really become a true movement. And I think, you know, the reason for that is partly that it’s a great idea, but I think [that],
had that decision early on not been to make it open-source, it wouldn’t have had the breathing room that allowed so many
different types of organizations to get on board. I mean, just in the last couple of months, the Norwegian military
and Filipino Beauty Contestants both joined Meatless Monday. (Laughter) I mean, where else is that possible? And so, it’s really, I think,
the simplest actions that can unify us the most. So, what can you do? Well, the first thing is, when you get up this Monday, you know, I think it’s to think about
your goals and your ideas of how you think you can
improve your health, improve the health of your community, your family, your friends, and then, think about taking
one small action that can get you towards that goal and, when you think about that, think also about all of the other people
around the world, who are taking the same action. And I think by doing that, you can just draw inspiration and feel part of a larger movement that is truly trying to improve our health and the health of the planet. So, I’d like to end my talk
with what I feel is the most inspiring part
of this story for me: one person, basically,
came up with this idea and had the wisdom
to know that it was a big idea and also had the generosity
to just give it away. And so, actually, Sid Lerner, the man behind Meatless Monday,
is in the audience. So I’d like you to join me
in thanking him — (Applause) — for bringing this beautiful idea
into the world. (Applause) Thank you.

21 thoughts on “Meatless Monday — a simple idea sparks a global healthy food movement: Peggy Neu at TEDxManhattan

  1. It's a great Ted Talk because it's an idea that was shared and grew until it changed the world.  I love her suggestion to imagine everyone else who's waking up on a Monday from Iran to the beauty queens in the Philippines to the Norwegian military to a nearby school, and let that inspire you to try it.

  2. Wow! We really set the bar high when it comes to human decency and compassion… for 1 day a week: refrain from hurting yourself, the Planet, fellow humans, future generations, the animals.
        Don't worry, you still have 6 days of the week to wreak havoc.

  3. I think I will buy some extra steaks on Mondays. Of course after watching a halal slaughterhouse literally torture the poor cow to death. I do avoid halal meat.

  4. This is about the most abhorrent thing I’ve ever seen in YT. NO science whatsoever behind the colossal assumption that “meat is bad”. She is so happy the global conspiracy is going well.

  5. Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 2Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 3Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. 4For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: 5For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

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