Our Wicked Healthy Interview Series features individuals who are making a big impact in the plant-based world and beyond. Today we’re featuring Kristie Middleton, Senior Food Policy Director at The Humane Society of the United States!
Meat and dairy? We don’t need them, but here at Wicked Healthy, we’re plant pushers not meat shamers! That’s why we support any effort that encourages people to put more plants on their plate, and why we especially love the philosophy and idea behind Meatless Monday, an outreach initiative that encourages people to go meat free for one day a week.
Like all good ideas, initiatives like this need great people to help promote them to a wide audience and, Kristie Middleton, the Senior Food Policy Director for The Humane Society of the United States, has worked to help shepherd more than 100 schools, school districts, universities, and hospitals into the program. This effort is well-aligned with the mission of HSUS—the nation’s largest and most effective animal protection organization—which works tirelessly towards preventing cruelty before it occurs, seeking a humane and sustainable world for all animals, and a world that will also benefit people.
We recently sat down with Kristie to ask her a few questions about her role at HSUS, what would happen if everyone in the US went meatless every Monday and what her favorite wicked healthy dish is!
First off, can you tell us what you do as the Senior Food Policy Director as HSUS? What role do you play in the implementation of Meatless Monday programs across the country?
In my work at HSUS, I oversee a team of amazing professionals working with institutions across the US to reduce the amount of meat they’re serving and replace those meals with delicious plant-based alternatives. We do that by helping them better understand the trends and growing demand for plant-based foods as well as the health, environmental and animal welfare benefits of serving more such meals. We offer free resources like marketing materials, publicity, and even culinary training. It’s exciting to work in this space, as a single institutional policy can make a dramatic impact. And of course on occasion I’m able to reap the benefits directly by eating the incredible foods our partners serve.
What kind of impact do current factory farming practices have on animals, the environment and our health? How does the Meatless Monday initiative help educate and empower the public to make more conscious food choices?
Animal agriculture has become almost completely industrialized over the last 50 years. Chickens are bred to grow so large, so fast their legs often can’t even withstand the weight of their bodies. They’re packed wing to wing in factory farms and those hens who lay eggs are crammed into cages and can’t even spread their wings. Mother pigs are confined in crates so small they can’t even turn around for most of their lives. And we lop off the tails and teeth of piglets without painkillers. I could keep going, but you get the picture, and it isn’t pretty.
In addition to the animal welfare implications there are huge environmental costs. Meat production is very resource intensive. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that it takes 1,100 gallons of water to produce just two pounds of chicken meat, which isn’t even an entire chicken. That’s enough to fill about 25 bathtubs!
To boot, research indicates that not only is the amount of meat, eggs, and dairy we’re consuming too heavy a burden for the planet and our water supply, but it’s bad for our health too. Reducing the amount of meat we eat may help us feel better and reduce our risk of chronic disease. Brand new research in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded replacing animal protein with plant protein is associated with a decreased risk of death. Now who wouldn’t want that?
What would happen in the short- and long-term if everyone in the US went meatless every Monday?
If we all went meat-free just one day a week, we’d spare over a billion animals from factory farms and slaughterhouses. Of course that’d help with conserving resources and with reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Environmental Defense Fund states, “If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains…the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.”
We’d also be healthier. The American Heart Association writes, “A pro-vegetarian diet that emphasizes a higher proportion of plant-based foods compared to animal-based foods may help lower the risks of dying from heart disease and stroke by up to 20 percent.” Heart disease is the nation’s number one killer, so we may be able to cut back on chronic disease as well as save on healthcare costs. The benefits are endless!
What kinds of opportunities lie ahead for the Meatless Monday initiative in the coming years?
Many people want to eat meat, but many of them are open to cutting back. I only see this space continuing to gain momentum. Chefs, foodservice professionals, and the restaurant industry are recognizing the benefits of serving up more plant-based meals. Eating vegan is sexy and according to a 2015 New York Times article, “glam.” More people than ever are eating meatless at least part of the time.
Last year’s top menu story, according to food industry trade publication Foodservice Director, was “Vegan went mainstream.” Number one in Nation’s Restaurant News’ “Hot food trends for 2016” was “Go veg or go home.” While sometimes it can be easy to despair at all the problems facing the world, I have more hope than ever before.
If people want to start a Meatless Monday program in their schools or other communities, what are some ways they can start and where can they find and access supportive resources?
We’re always networking. You never know when you’re going to encounter someone with influence and the ability to help make a difference for animals. If people want to get started, they should start out by becoming familiar with the issue and existing resources. The HSUS has awesome free recipes and toolkits for foodservice professionals to help them get a program going.
Once you’re familiar with the resources, identify the person in charge of foodservice and email or call to set up a meeting. When you’ve scored a meeting, contact us at MeatlessMonday@humanesociety.org and we can connect you with a regional representative who can help provide some additional guidance. We’ve found that so many of these food industry professionals are interested in eating and serving more meatless meals they may just need some recipe ideas and support before they’re off and running.
Do you have a favorite wicked healthy dish?
That’s like asking someone to pick their favorite child, you know? I’ll go with a seasonal one to narrow it down and say pasta with pesto. It’s so simple, filling, delicious, and an easy way to impress your dinner guests. Paired with a loaf of crusty sourdough bread and a refreshing kale salad with miso-tahini dressing … it’s a perfect summer meal!
Photo credit: Michelle Cehn