Tuesday, April 6, 2010

San Francisco Declares Mondays 'Vegetarian Day'

San Francisco has taken a leap into the world of vegetarianism today with the Board of Supervisors voting this afternoon to declare every Monday 'Vegetarian Day.'

It is the first city in the country to dedicate one day a week to vegetarianism, a move that will protect the planet and improve people's health, said Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, who brought the resolution before the Board.

'It feels good. It feels right and it feels important that you're giving people an alternative that used to be on the fringe but is now mainstream. You can go anywhere and have a vegetarian meal and people don't look at you as if you're crazy,' she said.

The resolution means that the city will encourage restaurants and schools to serve vegetables instead of meat for dinner on Mondays, and encourage grocery stores to promote the sale of vegetables.

Supervisor Maxwell has been a vegetarian for over 35 years, ever since she found herself gazing into the eyes of the cows at the Cow Palace. 'I thought, "I don't need to eat you to survive."'

She was strolling to her office after the victory this afternoon. 'Look at elephants. They're the biggest animals on the planet and they're vegetarian. They do okay!' she said.

Behind the resolution were Hope Bohanec, Grassroots Campaigns Director of In Defense of Animals (IDA), and Dixie Mahy, President of the San Francisco Vegetarian Society. Together they spent the last four months writing it to present it to Supervisor Maxwell.

During the public comment time at the Board meeting, Hope told the Supervisors that the latest 2009 report from environmental advisors to the World Bank had found that animals and their by-products were responsible for 32.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, or 51 per cent of the world's total.

Her organization, she said, had discovered that if San Franciscans cut meat out of their diet for one day a week, it would save over 378 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of taking 123,000 cars off the city streets.

Speaking afterwards at the - vegetarian, of course! - party in her office, Supervisor Maxwell said there had been a great amount of media interest in the resolution, much of it asking critical questions about the possible negative economic effect a vegetarian move would have on restaurant businesses.

'I don't think it will have any negative impact. We are just asking for options. It may bring more clients in who are asking for plant-based food,' she said.

'It was my idea to do this,' said Hope Bohanec, whose view on meat is that 'any amount is a risk factor, like smoking.'

Meat, she claims, with its saturated fat, cholesterol, zero fibre and dearth of vitamins causes chronic degenerative diseases, heart disease, strokes and cancer. Whereas plants are high in fibre, anti-oxidants and vitamins and are free of saturated fat.

'I'm not saying if you eat chicken once a week you are going to keel over and die,' she added. But she does see meat as a risk factor to health.

Her opinion of diet advice given by medical associations like the American Diabetes Association and the American Cancer Society is that they are almost vegetarian.

'They just don't come right out and say "eat vegetarian", but that's the way they're going,' she said.

What about the benefits of iron in red meat?

Her answer is that it is also supplied in green, leafy vegetables, and that one needs to look at the balance of benefits.

'If you look at plant foods, there's just nothing but benefits,' she said.

The first title for the resolution, said Dixie, was 'Meat-Out Monday' but Supervisor Maxwell felt that that would have been too radical and would not have been accepted by the Board.

'No meat sounds too harsh,' agreed Dixie. She has been a vegetarian for 52 years, 32 years of those as a vegan, and is a slim, sprightly 76-year-old. 'I don't have any medical problems,' she said.

She and her vegetarian colleagues don't intend to stop at Vegetarian Mondays.

'This is the beginning. We are just getting our toe in the door. We'll embellish it when it feels right,' she said.

'Feeling right' might be in 2012 when the city hosts the annual conference of the International Vegetarian Union.

Will Supervisor Maxwell be promoting further vegetarian options on the political table?

'I believe in consensus and collective leadership,' she said, so will not be campaigning herself. But she would like to see it coming from a grassroots movement among the people.

A second resolution she proposed and was accepted was for the city to commend businesses that use only cage-free eggs, and to encourage others to join them. The resolution was the result of a proposition voted on across the state of California that  produced a 63% support, with 71 per cent support in San Francisco, she said.

 pic shows supporters of the resolution, many of whom spoke during the public comment time, with Dixie in red and Hope, left of Supervisor Maxwell (center)

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