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Environment

Ghent ditches meat and makes 'Thursday Veggie Day'

More people, eating more meat is causing significant environmental problems worldwide. Two years ago, Belgium's Ghent went on the offensive with 'Thursday Veggie Day.' It aims to stir change and is gaining momentum.

Woman holding fruit.

Ghent locals now have more vegetarian food on offer.

Going 24 hours without meat is a struggle for most people. But the Flemish city of Ghent is trying to ease the challenge by instigating 'Thursday Veggie Day'.

The campaign, which started in 2009, is an attempt to stem meat consumption, due to a concerning number of meat-related environmental issues.

Although it's non-compulsory, 'Thursday Veggie Day' has drummed up momentous support. Over 35 primary and city schools, 100 restaurants and even IKEA have reopened their cookbooks to find a vegetarian alternative for Thursday customers.

"We don’t demand that people are switching to vegetarian diets," said campaign organizer Melanie Jaecques. "But we think one small step, like one vegetarian day a week is feasible for everybody, and it's doing a lot for the environment and ourselves."

According to an Australian National University report, people should only eat 90 grams of meat daily. Despite this, the average Belgian eats about 240 grams per day, inspiring organizers to motivate dietary change.

"If we would continue eating as much meat as we would right now, and if developing countries will follow, we will have big problems in the future," Jaecques said.

Environmental Problems

Logo crossing out a cow producing co2 gas.

The livestock industry produces 18% of all green house gas emissions.

Globally, 115 000 animals are killed for consumption every minute, a figure expected to double by 2050.

Already, the livestock industry is responsible for 18% of all green house gas emissions, which is more than all transport emissions combined.

Feeding the mounting number of animals also demands a great deal of space. In South America, meat-production is the chief cause of land degradation and globally it is responsible for the land clearance of an area the size of Belgium every year.

The United Nations has identified agriculture's impact on the planet as an area of growing concern.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, meat consumption "should be a major policy focus when dealing with issues of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution and loss of biodiversity."

"The impact is so significant it needs to be addressed with urgency."

Thursday Veggie Day campaigners also stress that going vegetarian for one day a week can have positive health impacts, as high meat intake increases the risks of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Indeed, the latter accounts for nearly half of all deaths in Europe, and costs the EU 169 billion euros per annum.

Food sustainability is an additional concern.

Raising just one kilogram of beef requires 15, 000 liters of water, and with high malnutrition in developing nations, Western consumption habits have been labeled "unethical" by UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Oliver De Schutter.

Getting Involved

Thursday Veggie Day was founded by non-for profit organization EVA (the Ethical Vegetarian Alternative), corporate backer Alpro-Soya, the City Government of Ghent and the Flemish Government.

Jaecques told Deutsche Welle, that school participation helped boost the campaign's exposure, with 3000 vegetarian meals served in Ghent city schools every Thursday. On the first day, 97% of students chose the vegetarian option without adult persuasion.

"I like vegetarian…It's delicious," said 10-year-old Inga.

Testing whether businesses could successfully fuse traditional Belgian foods with vegetarian recipes was also a risk. But fries shop De Frietketel has managed to incorporate veggie burgers and sides into the menu, and refuses to cook chips in animal fat.

"I believe in it. It sells" said De Frietketel owner, Anika, "I have to be honest, veggie brings on the money."

Restaurants like Anika's have also helped break stigmas attached to vegetarian foods. He said many have been experimenting with new and exciting veggie dishes, and most restaurants in Ghent offer anything from vegetarian risottos to pastas and burgers.

Those relying on the meat trade however, have been less enthusiastic.

When Belgian city Leuven tried to instigate a veggie day, the proposal was marred with protests from the national farmers union. Protestors handed out flyers containing meat recipes, and the idea was ultimately abandoned.

Main Square in Brussels at night.

Brussels, the EU Capital, is the next city to embrace Veggieday.

Others join the cause

EVA and Ghent have managed to inspire other cities to take part. In Belgium, Antwerp and Hasselt have instigated a meatless day and soon Brussels, the EU's capital, is expected to join them.

Elsewhere, San Francisco, Washington, Austria’s Gloggnitz and even Germany's Bremen have jumped on the veggie day bandwagon.

Although a lot needs to be done, EVA is optimistic that their work can motivate change in consumption habits.

"I think it's making a difference, I'm sure of that. But if it's good enough, that I don’t know." said Melanie Jaecques.

"I think we have to see how the world population's changing their habits, and I think it's good to show other people in other countries that we can do it and that we think it’s important and then other people will follow."

Author: Hannah Wandel
Editor: Nathan Witkop

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