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Monday greens for Earth

Publication Date : 23-09-2012


Consider this. Despite its reliance on agriculture and despite that beloved folk song, “Bahay Kubo”, which celebrates the vegetables around us, the Philippines has the lowest average intake of vegetables in the world, with each Filipino eating only 39 kilogrammes of the stuff in a year. That’s according to Dr. Custer Deocaris, molecular biologist and chair of the Luntiang Lunes (literally, Green Monday) movement, which has launched the “Meatless Mondays” campaign in the Philippines.

Luntiang Lunes is pushing for a lunch each Monday that excludes any kind of meat—beef, pork, chicken, fish, or animal-derived product. It may be a hard sell for Filipinos who are known to be heavy meat eaters, but Deocaris points out: “This is an action that will affect the planet and public health, just by eating only vegetables one day a week.”

Started in 2003 by the Columbia and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, the campaign now boasts of over 20 participating countries and aims to make Meatless Mondays a staple international environmental activity, much like the World Wildlife Fund’s Earth Hour.

The Philippines’ first Meatless Monday is scheduled on October 1; it will be joined by all its meat-free allied countries in observance of World Meatless Lunch. The hope is that it will become a yearly event here in coordination with the Commission on Climate Change and Nurturers of the Earth, among others.

Luntiang Lunes is working hard to make Meatless Mondays a weekly occurrence in the country, and it is being backed by various sectors. Rep. Teddy Casiño of the party-list group Bayan Muna has filed House Bill 6311, which seeks to require both private and public schools to provide meatless lunches every Monday for their students. “For a lot of Filipinos, ‘ulam’ is the main course while ‘gulay’ is the side dish. But vegetables can be the star, too,” Casiño said.

The bill has received vocal support from the Nutritionist-Dietitians’ Association of the Philippines, which released a position paper calling for the approval of the measure.

“House Bill 6311, should it be passed into law, will aid in the campaign to control greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change and environmental degradation, as well as lessen the risk [of incurring] noncommunicable diseases such as hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus, cancer and obesity,” the association said. This is important because a 2008 study of the Department of Science and Technology-Food and Nutrition Research Institute found that one-fourth of all Filipino adults had hypertension, and ranked the Philippines among the world’s top 10 epicentres for diabetes.

The most obvious benefit of Meatless Mondays—and vegetarianism by extension—is the prevention of these physical ailments. Beyond that, however, it is aimed at helping push back climate change. October 1 is also World Vegetarian Day, which is promoting the theme “Fight Climate Change, One Plate at a Time!”

Deocaris says that eating less meat will have a long-term impact in view of the massive land and resources required for the livestock industry. There is also the matter of greenhouse gas emissions—also a major cost of raising livestock—which help raise the planet’s temperature, leading to global climate change.

The Philippines, struck by earthquakes and fierce typhoons, understands this first hand. Echoing the cry of “One plate at a time,” Casiño said: “Our geography has always caused us weather problems, but year after year it has worsened due to climate change. This is not surprising anymore as the Philippines has long been cited among the most vulnerable countries affected by climate change. The logical question that should be asked is, How do we mitigate, if not stop, climate change?”

Already, Meatless Mondays is being observed in certain schools in the provinces of Bulacan and Tarlac and the city of Davao. A number of other cities have expressed either interest in or support for the campaign. This is an excellent time for the government to bring its resources to bear on this advocacy. The wholehearted support of not only the government but also the private sector will help the Filipino people make this healthy and environmentally friendly switch: truly going green by eating more greens.


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