Meatless Monday. It's about giving up meat once a week, on Monday,but those two words are actually about a lot more. They're about ideas and how they start and spread,sometimes in unexpected ways,and the nature of change,both on an individual and global level. So, I'm going to deconstruct those two words and, hopefully, draw some insights that can be used in your own efforts to create change.
So first, the history. So, Meatless Mondays actually started as an accident. Ten years ago,former advertising executive Sid Lerner was at a conference at Johns Hopkins with Dr.Bob Lawrence,and they were discussing strategies to reduce saturated fat in the diet. At that time, the Surgeon General recommended 15%. So, Sid thought, rather than kind of measure that out at every meal,maybe an easy way to achieve that goal would be to just give up meat once a week. And so, he remembered from World War II, his boy-scout days,the idea of a Meatless Monday. There was actually a Wheatless Wednesday and a Meatless Monday and, at that time, the goal was to conserve food for the troops in Europe. And so, with that series of connections,the modern Meatless Monday was born.
Sid started an organization and he hired mostly advertising people. That's my background. I was at Grey Advertising for twenty years. And we formed an association with Johns Hopkins,The Center for a Livable Future,that served as our scientific adviser. And it's actually quite a unique marriage between marketing and public health and something we're trying to do more of. That was ten years ago and, since then, Meatless Monday has grown exponentially. It's in restaurants, where chefs like Mario Batali put vegetables at the center of the plate,in very creative ways. It's in schools, as part of Healthy School Lunch Program,to get kids excited about eating vegetables. It's in media: 250 bloggers and major media like Prevention have weekly Meatless Monday recipes and it's supported by a range of celebrities,from Dr. Oz to Paul McCartney, to Oprah. Whole cities in the US, from L. A. to, most recently,the land of the philly cheese steak, Philadelphia,have adopted resolutions encouraging their citizens to go meatless on Monday. And meanwhile, around the world,30 countries, in twenty different languages,have some form of a homegrown iniciative to get people to give up meat once a week,and that includes Brazil, the Philippines, Israel and, most recently, Iran. And just last week,we got a request from someone in Zimbabwe,who wanted to start a Meatless Monday.
So, what is it about this idea that resonates with so many different cultures and people and languages? Well, in advertising, it's what we call "a big idea. "And what is a big idea? Well, the first thing: it's simple. The only thing you have to say is Meatless Monday and you get it: you know what to do and when to do it. The second thing: it's memorable,it's got that alliteration going on,it's kind of fun to say and, like any good slogan,it kind of burns itself in your brain. And the last thing is, it has legs. And so, what that means in advertising is it's broad and flexible enough to be adapted to a lot of different settings and contexts. But having a big idea with legs still isn't enough,unless it addresses a fundamental human need,and that's where the meatless part of Meatless Monday comes in. So, in 2003, the main issue was saturated fat in our diet,but, in the last ten years,it seems every year new research studies are coming out,which link not just the amount of meat we consume,but the industrial method we use to produce that meat with a range of health and environmental issues. And so, Meatless Monday met the people's needs on a number of different levels.
One: it provided consumers with an easy way to reduce meat in their diets,without a lot of sacrifice. And really important for the beginning of the movement,it provided advocates who were raising alarm about all of those issues with something specific they could tell people to do. You know, these issues are so overwhelming and sometimes people want to know: "What can I do?" Meatless Monday was something that was simple and yet meaningful. So, it was kind of like a right idea at the right time,but having a big idea with legs,even if they're really cute legs,and addressing a need still isn't enough, unless it can change behavior. And that's where the Monday part of Meatless Monday comes from. Changing behavior is really, really hard and particularly when you're trying to create new habits,but Monday actually incorporates several elements that behavior-change experts think can make it a lot easier. So, the first thing is it builds on an existing pattern,rather than trying to create a new pattern. And that pattern is the week. And so, the interesting thing about the week is that it's not based on any planetary or biological cycles,and yet, it's a unit of time that shapes our lives in fundamental ways and it's imprinted since early childhood. And the days of the week are what orients us. They tell us where we're supposed to be,what we're supposed to be doing and also how we feel.
So, Monday, as the first day of the week and the day we're transitioning from the unstructured routine of the weekend back to the structure of the workweek,has a special cultural connotation. Even though it has this sense of the Monday blues and another manic Monday,our research actually indicates that most people see it as an opportunity for a fresh start and a time to get their act together. And, when it comes to health behaviors,our research tells us that most people will be most likely to start a diet,exercise regimen, quit smoking on Monday,versus any other day. So, we also have some really exciting new research that looks at big data analysis of Google trends. And so, a team of researchers from Johns Hopkins and San Diego State looked at health-related Google searches over an eight-year period and what they found was a consistent pattern of Monday spikes. So, health searches basically peak at the beginning of the week and then gradually decline. They plunge on Saturday --(Laughter)-- and then rebound and come back up. And the thing that the researchers were just amazed at over that eight-year period:it was unfailingly consistent. It's kind of like this heartbeat that really is synchronized to the week. And so, what this tells us is that healthy thinking and behavior are synchronized to the week, with Monday being the day that we're most open to doing something healthy. So, basically by hitching a health behavior like going meatless to Monday, we can, one, reach people -- as we would craftily say in advertising --when they're "open to buy",and then, also, because Monday comes around every seven days,we could have a built-in cue to action that could help people sustain health behaviors over time. So, it's kind of like these mini New Years,but rather than just one time a year,you get 52 chances to stay on track and because it's all on the calendar,you don't even have to write it down. It's already there. So, it's really easy.
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To me, though, the most powerful aspect of Monday as a behavior-change idea,is that we can do it together. Because people are together at school and work, at home,they can join together in a Meatless Monday ritual. And, I mean, how cool is it that, this Monday,there are going to be people in Iran that will be doing a Meatless Monday?And they're doing it because they share the same goals to be healthier and to have a healthier planet. And I think, sometimes, by synchronizing even simple actions,we can synchronize our hearts and our minds around bigger ideals. At this point, you're probably thinking,"Wow, this Monday idea would probably work for other health behaviors. "And you would be right. We see this similar pattern across a range of health behaviors and actually our organization, the Monday Campaigns,has a range of initiatives that encourage people to exercise more, to quit smoking,to get tested for HIV-AIDS. And really, what we're trying to do is this bigger, bigger, bigger idea of making Monday the day we collectively recommit to our healthy behaviors,or, as we like to say,we want to make Monday the day all health breaks loose. (Laughter)This is a great idea, it's a big idea,it addresses a need, it changes behavior,it can even create new habits,but still, no one knows about it. So, the question is: how do you get it out there?And so, actually the answer is quite radical:to give it away. And so, rather than thinking about this as this kind of top-down, public health initiatives that people sign on to our initiative,the idea was to take the idea and encourage other organizations to incorporate it in their own program sto achieve their own goals. And it was kind of like an open-source philosophy,where people could come, take the idea and we just asked that they share how they're using it,so we could then spread it to other people.
Before we could get going,we really had to plant the first flag and to kind of define the tone and the philosophy of the whole movement. So, we wanted it to be as mainstream as possible,making it science-based with leveraging our association with Johns Hopkins. We wanted to make it about choice and moderation. So we weren't taking meat away,but adding vegetarian choices. And we wanted to make it fun and positive. You know, so it wasn't about a big sacrifice. It could be a fun ritual that people were looking forward to. With that, it was really just a question of getting the first triers. And so, we went to the innovators and the leaders,in each of the categories of types of organizations,you know, that had some interest in cutting down on meat. And we talked to them about the health and environmental benefits of reducing meat, but, you know,kind of as hard-core business people,we also talked to them about what was in it for them. So, if you were a restaurant,you could get more business on a really slow night;if you were a healthcare organization,you could save healthcare costs;if you were a food company,you could sell more products on a Monday. So, it was really a combination of wanting to do something that was good,but also that helped achieve the core objectives of that organization. Some of these first triers saw success and it worked for them. We then told other people about that and then they told other people,and then, suddenly, it just jumped the rails,morphed into a movement and you didn't know who started it or what central organization was behind it. It had really become a true movement. And I think, you know, the reason for that is partly that it's a great idea,but I think had that decision early on not been to make it open-source,it wouldn't have had the breathing room that allowed so many different types of organizations to get on board. I mean, just in the last couple of months,the Norwegian military and Filipino Beauty Contestants both joined Meatless Monday. I mean, where else is that possible?And so, it's really, I think, the simplest actions that can unify us the most.
So, what can you do? Well, the first thing is,when you get up this Monday,you know, I think it's to think about your goals and your ideas of how you think you can improve your health,improve the health of your community,your family, your friends,and then, think about taking one small action that can get you towards that goal and, when you think about that,think also about all of the other people around the world,who are taking the same action. And I think by doing that,you can just draw inspiration and feel part of a larger movement that is truly trying to improve our health and the health of the planet. So, I'd like to end my talk with what I feel is the most inspiring part of this story for me:one person, basically, came up with this idea and had the wisdom to know that it was a big idea and also had the generosity to just give it away. And so, actually, Sid Lerner,the man behind Meatless Monday, is in the audience. So I'd like you to join me in thanking him for bringing this beautiful idea into the world.Thank you.