Meatless Monday, the idea that one day a week you enjoy a vegetarian diet as a way of cutting the carbon footprint of your food supply, has only slowly made its way into the public consciousness. Until recently, the list of signers-on to the Meatless Monday idea was sort of slim: some expected figures like Colin Beavan (aka "No Impact Man"), Michael Pollan (of "the Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food" fame), and the city of Ghent, Belgium.

I'm certainly not intending any knock to the city of Ghent, but Europe is often well ahead of the U.S. in this as well as with so many other environmental activities. So it was a bit of a boost, domestically at least, for the Meatless Monday movement when the Baltimore Public School District last week announced it would adopt a Meatless Monday menu for all 80,000 the students it serves.

From the announcement:

The school system has introduced a wide variety of projects to ensure its students eat and learn about healthy, environmentally-friendly choices. School system staff have been working with local farmers to provide fresh produce, and with distributors committed to finding local suppliers. In addition, City Schools has introduced a teaching farm, Great Kids Farm, and is developing the resources to establish a garden at each of the systems' more than 200 schools.

Making this shift is no small potatoes, either; as we reported back in May, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization published a report showing that 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are due to meat production, as well as water quality issues, land use issues and others attributable to the world's meat diet.

The Baltimore-based Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health has been working with the city's public schools on a meatless Monday campaign for some time. The Center recently conducted research on meat-free meals in two middle schools in Baltimore, and the Center's director, Robert Lawrence (himself long an advocate of Meat-Free Mondays), praised the district's move last week.

Response from the meat industry has been minimal so far; Pork Magazine ran a short item about the news on Friday, which included a statement from the American Meat Institute reaffirming that group's belief that meat is a much-needed part of the daily diet, and should remain a choice for students in the district. MeatInternational.com reprinted the Meatless Monday press release, but ran it right alongside other recent articles on the site, notably the fascinatingly titled, "Saving Money in the Gut Room."

Although it's a small step, Baltimore Public Schools' meatless Monday move is a great idea; I'll be curious to see how it affects students' interest in and perception of food footprint issues.

But where else can meat-free meals take off and have a bigger impact? Company cafeterias certainly could influence substantial numbers of employees (though few could likely have the impact of even one school district). Have you seen any vegetarian campaigns in your workplaces, and if so, how were they received?

Cow photo CC-licensed by Flickr user star5112.