By Khrysta Imperial Rara, VERA Files
"We lead the change."
This slogan printed on the t-shirts of more than a hundred high school students from Sophia School in Meycauayan, Bulacan says it all. They're helping lead the change among the youth from a daily all-meat diet to a once-a-week meat-free fare. These students eat plant-based meals every Monday in school.
Accompanied by their teachers, they went on a field trip to Makati to celebrate World Meatless Lunch (WML) on October 1 with vegan beauty queens Grendel Alvarado and MJ Lastimosa, as well as Bayan Muna Partylist Representative Teddy Casino.
The students from Sophia School represented the youth sector at the WML celebration, which sought to bring together for the first time health advocates and so-called "climate warriors" from all over the world at a virtual lunch.
Tessa Salazar, one of the WML organizers, said foreigners and Filipinos based overseas posted their participation at the WML Facebook page.
"We also got support from international vegetarian websites like Meat Free Monday of Paul McCartney, Meatless Monday of campaign founder Sid Lerner, Happycow.net and Vegnews, among others," she added.
Among the dishes served at the Makati lunch were tofu caldereta, tofu sisig, chicken ham, mushroom salpicao, veggie embutido, meatless meatballs, and salads.
Other special guests at the WML were vegetarians ABS CBN Eco-Village Project Manager Sona Roy, Dada Shiveshananda of the Maharlika Tai-Yo Wellness Center, and Police Superintendent Redentor Marañon.
"I've never felt better and I'm so much healthier. My outlook in life also changed when I turned vegetarian. I'm more at peace now with life and myself," confided Marañon, who totally dropped meat, including seafoods, from his diet two years ago.
Marie Ann Abacan who, together with husband Lorenzo, manages and owns the Sophia School, said: "We aim for the total development of the children as a whole so they can become leaders of change."
Like the Abacans, who have been vegetarians for two years now, other vegetarians and even non-vegetarians at the meatless lunch agreed with Meatless Monday Philippines founder and WML organizer Dr. Custer Deocaris that the Philippines---which has over 250 varieties of vegetables---should lead in this movement to curb the effects of climate change "one plate at a time."
Tofu kalderetaDr. Deocaris, a neuroscientist and vegetarian, called for a drastic cut on meat intake. "There has been mounting scientific evidence of the direct relationship between the overwhelming livestock population that includes billions of animals and the onset and acceleration of climate change," he stated.
He stressed the need to engage as many people as possible in the meatless Monday campaign. "If 15 million Filipinos would go meatless for lunch on a Monday, that would mean 2 million kg less of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This is equal to 383 jeepneys kept off the road for 12 months or enabling the carbon-removing capacity of 50,000 trees for 10 years," he explained.
In filing House Bill 6311, Representative Teddy Casino aims to institutionalize Meatless Mondays in private and public schools in the Philippines. HB 6311 is the first Meatless Monday bill in the world. If the bill passes, schools will serve only plant-based foods on Mondays. This means no beef, pork, chicken, fish and other seafoods for students on the first day of the week.
"Targeting children and adolescents for dietary change will have a life- long impact on dietary habits and cardiovascular health than when interventions are done on adults," Casino stated in the bill's explanatory note.
Some schools, however, can't wait for the bill to be passed. For a year now, Tarlac State University, like Sophia School, has adopted a meatless school lunch on Mondays.
"We gave them (the students) an orientation about the campaign and how it impacts on our environment. When they understand what they are doing, it's easier for them to accept the idea," Abacan said. "They also encourage their family members to support the campaign at home."
Led by the Johns Hopkins and Columbia University Schools of Public Health, Meatless Monday is a global movement that urges people to refrain from eating meat on Mondays for personal and planetary health.
According to the 2006 UN Food and Agriculture Organization report, titled "Livestock's Long Shadow- Environmental Issues and Options," the meat industry accounts for 18 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and is responsible for the deterioration of land quality, the loss of biodiversity as well as air and water pollution.
Millions of trees are felled every year to clear lands for the rearing and grazing of food animals and the cultivation of crops to feed them.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")