The City of Santa Monica offered a Meatless March promotion to employees last month that aimed to reduce meat consumption while promoting a healthy lifestyle.

The 2015 challenge was the first for the city and staff said 128 employees participated, skipping an average of four meat lunches per week that equated to 369 lbs of meat or about 382 animals. About 80 percent of the participants were not vegetarian prior to the challenge and the challenge prevented 3,043 lbs of carbon dioxide from being released.

“One thing we were trying to do was do our best in the challenge to reach out to people that eat meat all the time and have never considered eating vegan or vegetation,” said Karl Bruskotter, an analyst with the Office of Sustainability and the Environment.

He said the program began with the year-round “meatless Monday” and the Meatless March built on that program. Employees that went beyond the once-a-week vegetarian diet were rewarded with a point-based system. Those points were redeemed for prizes as a means of incentivzing the plant based diet.

There was an online tracking option that allowed employees to log their meals via computer but Bruskotter said given the goal of reaching as many people as possible, the program also included a paper-tracking option for employees who spend their days in the field.

The City provided recommendations regarding restaurants and recipes to kick-start the program and helped broadcast meatless options recommended by participants.

“Santa Monica is not a tough place to go vegetarian or vegan, there’s so much good vegetarian/vegan food in this city. We were trying to catch all the different employees, whether they eat meat or not and we were sensitive to the idea that some places may be more expensive, but a vegetarian burrito is cheaper than a meat burrito.”

Bruskotter said the city took a multi-faceted approach to its arguments including citing the historic precedent set during World War II, listing recommendations from the American Heart Association to reduce meat consumption as a means of preventing heart disease, explaining cost savings from a reduced meat diet and explaining the environmental benefits of a vegetarian diet.

“This wasn’t just coming from us,” he said. “The 2015 dietary guidelines coming from the federal government, one of the primary recommendations in the newest guidelines is to reduce meat consumption, both for personal health and the planet. This is the first time it’s mentioned the environmental link to what we at when it had always been a personal health issue before.”

James F. Conway, Senior Sustainability Analyst, said the Meatless March program was one of several sustainability efforts underway in the city.

“This is part of a broader set of employee engagement programs supporting the Sustainable City Plan. Other notable programs that were launched include the Green Office Certification program and Bike@Work program.”

Those efforts payoff for employees and the city itself.

“When employees eat a little healthier, its good for them but it’s also good for the city’s health care costs,” Bruskotter said. “There are a lot of good things that could come out of it.”

Bruskotter said the response was mostly, but not universally, positive.

“There were a couple who said, ‘The city is trying to make us be vegan,’ but few people were offended by it. We got tons of positive feedback. We’re just trying to nudge them to eat less (meat), we’re not trying to make anyone vegan or vegetarian.”

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