Belgian city makes Thursday “Veggie Day”
By Caroline Linton
The average Belgian eats 1,800 animals in his or her lifetime, but the city of Ghent is trying to reduce that number by making Thursdays “Veggie Day” — a day without meat.
The Ghent City Council has joined forces with vegetarian activists in a campaign to encourage the city’s 240,000 residents to give up meat for one day a week.
Supporters say fewer greenhouse gases will be emitted by the meat industry and residents will be at lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Ghent officials say they are the first city in the world to take such a step.
On the first Veggie Day last month, the chef of the city council’s restaurant served visitors a lunch of two pancakes, one stuffed with spinach and blue cheese and the other with mushrooms and white cheese, and a mixed salad.
“It’s good to eat vegetarian, at least once a week, and if you want to do it on more days, you’re free to do so,” said Socialist City Councillor Tom Balthazar, a non-vegetarian who helped launch the campaign. “But we want to show that it is good for the health and that if it’s well cooked, it’s very tasty.”
Ghent resident Erika Van Den Hende, 25, a part-time teacher and snowboarder, said one day a week without meat sounded reasonable.
“Once a week, I can (do) without meat, but not every day!” she said.
Balthazar said there would be no “plate police” forcing anyone to give up meat and participation in the campaign was voluntary.
The city is also promoting vegetarian meals in its canteens, schools and restaurants. Kindergartens and primary schools will offer vegetarian meals on Thursdays from September 2009. A city hospital has expressed interested in taking part as well and Balthazar hopes Ghent University will soon follow these leads.
The campaign also includes free vegetarian recipes in the free city magazine, cooking workshops for professionals and distributing a map of Ghent that indicates restaurants offering vegetarian options.
Ethical Vegetarian Awareness, which is behind the campaign, says that if every Ghent resident were to go meatless for just one day a week for a year, it would be the equivalent of taking 20,000 cars off the road.
Balthazar said 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the large-scale meat industry. Going vegetarian would also help water resources because large amounts of water are needed to cook just one kilogram of meat, he said.
“I think it’s a really good idea,” said 23-year-old Ghent resident Barbara Ardenois, a student. “I find the offer in restaurants too small so when you want to eat vegetarian, your choices are limited.”