Meatless Mondays have come to New York City’s public hospitals.
NYC Health + Hospitals joined Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and the Monday Campaigns at Coney Island Hospital on Mon., Jan. 14, to mark the kick-off of a campaign whose goal is to improve the health of the city’s residents, and which draws on the past to benefit the future.
Meatless Mondays began after America’s entry into the First World War as a way of encouraging people to ration high protein foods needed by soldiers in the field. The program was re-enacted during World War II for similar, patriotic reasons. Today’s version is a front in a different battle, enlisted in the war against such devastating conditions as diabetes, hypertension, colorectal cancer and heart disease.
The conference room at Coney Island Hospital contained a distinctly Mediterranean aroma, heavy on oregano and roasted cumin. Chefs Charles Smith and Bruce Mendes had prepared a meatless Bolognese with spaghetti and three-bean chili over yellow rice for members of the press to sample.
“Food must not only look good, and be good,” said Adams, a convert to and relentless advocate for meatless, plant-based diets after his diagnosis with diabetes. “It must taste good. We have the opportunity here to turn the ocean liner away from its course, to end our reliance on meat. As goes Brooklyn, so goes New York; as goes New York, so goes America.”
Lifestyle changes are key, stressed Dr Mitchell Katz, NYC Health + Hospitals CEO. “As a primary care physician, I spend most of my time talking to patients about their lifestyles, rather than drugs they might take or other medical regimens, which really only have a minor impact on long-term health. Nutrition is far more impactful. We all want to live longer, and plant-based diets are the way to achieve that.”
To that end, on Jan. 7, all 11 NYC Health + Hospitals began offering patients and staff plant-based options to mark Meatless Mondays, which they hope will extend into regular, lifelong dietary habits.
“We’re trying to show people that don’t have to sacrifice quality and good taste to eat healthy,” said Smith, whose Bolognese relied on soy proteins to substitute for the slow-cooked meats traditional versions use.
By and large, it was flavorful, and textured well enough that a casual consumer wouldn’t mark the substitution of soy for red meat. Like all of the dishes offered in NYC Health + Hospital’s sample menu, both the chili and Bolognese went beyond “meatless,” and seemed to employ no animal proteins at all. Essentially they were vegan rather than merely vegetarian.
“We want to encourage people to move in the direction of avoiding red meats,” said NYC Health + Hospitals/Coney Island CEO William Brown. “Going all the way from a meat-based diet to veganism is far too great a step for most people to undertake right away. This is a process.”
Another issue that sometimes hinders the adoption of healthier diets is the paucity of fresh produce in many lower-income urban centers, which are all too frequently “food deserts.” Adams pointed out that pantry items such as canned and frozen vegetables can be used in place of fresh, or costly out-of-season produce.
Using the slogan “Power Up With Plants”, Meatless Mondays is planned to tie in with NYC Health + Hospitals’ Plant Based Lifestyle Medicine Program. New Meatless Mondays menus will be developed over time.