Students Aim to Reduce Meat Consumption During ‘Veguary’

In an effort to encourage students to eat less red meat this February, Harvard’s Environmental Action Committee is bringing a national campaign called the "Veguary Challenge" to Harvard’s dining halls.

The committee, a student group centered on campus issues of sustainability, has focused on reducing meat consumption this year. In an email, EAC co-Chair Naomi G. Asimow ’18 linked animal agriculture to increased methane emissions and Amazonian rainforest destruction.

As part of the challenge to reduce the amount of meat students eat, Asimow said EAC has been working with Harvard University Dining Services to increase students’ understanding of their typical meat consumption.

The Veguary challenge, to eat less meat this month than usual, aims to excite students about the group’s broader campaign, Asimow said.

“We thought it could be a cool culmination of this meat project we’ve been working on,” Asimow said. “We’d like to raise enough awareness of the issue that students will continue to be conscious of their meat consumption beyond the month of February.”

Frank B. Hu, a professor at the School of Public Health specializing in nutrition and epidemiology, said eating red meat is most detrimental to personal health when it reaches over-consumption. Processed red meat has been linked to adverse health outcomes such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and even some cancers, so cutting back, especially in high consumption, is a good idea, he said.

Still, Hu cautioned students against cutting red meat without considering protein alternatives. “It’s very important not just to recommend people cut back on red meat, but also recommend healthy alternatives,” he said.

According to assistant professor Gary Adamkiewicz, who is an environmental health researcher at HSPH, the current global diet is not ideal. Particularly, he said, beef production in excess is an inefficient way to feed the planet due to its larger footprint, which requires a disproportionate amount of carbon, water, feed grain, and land.

“Dietary changes are certainly among the most promising leverage we have as individuals to reduce our environmental footprints,” he said.

Adamkiewicz said personal diet is becoming a growing part of the discussion about sustainability, environment, and health.

While 'Veguary' lasts for only a month, Asimow said her ultimate goal is to reduce the overall amount of meat or have “more sustainable meat” served in undergraduate dining halls.

“We don’t have control over the type of meat we eat because we all eat in the dining hall, so for us the best thing we could do is to eat less meat,” she said.

—Staff writer Ifeoluwa T. Obayan can be reached at ifeoluwa.obayan@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @itobayan.

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