By Anna Lothson
Meatless Mondays won't be the law of the land, but there will be an official proclamation from the village of Oak Park encouraging its residents to be more mindful of their meat-eating practices.
Trustees didn't take much time discussing the matter Monday, which stemmed from public comment at a meeting last month, but they did unanimously agree to allow staff to write a proclamation endorsing the concept of Meatless Mondays.
No, the village won't be regulating what its residents eat, but it will encourage people to think twice when they order their meals on Mondays.
The Meatless Mondays concept, as outlined in a village report, is part of an international campaign to cut down on meat consumption — for health and environmental reasons.
The U.S. Meatless Mondays campaign was launched in 2003 in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The goal is to encourage people to reduce their meat consumption by 15 percent to improve personal health and health of the planet, according to reports about the movement.
Cathy Yen, director of the Oak Park-River Forest Chamber of Commerce, spoke up in favor of the concept, offering her perspective on the impact of a public proclamation.
"I am personally torn as someone who supports better eating habits and healthy lifestyles but at the same time holds dear the notions of choice and free market," Yen said. "As you consider the issue later this evening, I ask you to refrain from the question: 'Are you attempting tonight to legislate or even influence consumer choice or are you hoping to raise awareness and educate people such that they will make their own healthier choices when provided with the information."
Yen said she's concerned a proclamation will raise concern that government is trying to regulate people's choices, when in fact that's not what she believes the village is trying to do.
She stressed that wording in the proclamation is critical and urged staff to choose wording that focuses on education, not regulation of the industry.
This should only be about encouraging people to make better choices, Yen said, and not about specifically declaring what local businesses should do or serve to attract customers. What Oak Parkers need most, she added, is proper marketing about eating habits.
"Convincing people to make healthy choices in their own homes is our first priority. If you convince enough consumers to order vegetarian, I assure you the market in Oak Park will respond and the restaurants will put more on the menu," Yen said. "Please do not ask the restaurants to do anything until you have first convinced their customers to go meatless on Mondays."
Trustee Peter Barber referenced Yen's points, saying he's in support of the measure if it's simply a proclamation that doesn't take up any more village time. He suggested it's not a pressing matter in Oak Park, and he doesn't want Meatless Mondays to be a big topic of discussion among the board or staff.
"I would have concern if this becomes a big issue," Barber said. "I hope we don't come down a big path where this has been a distraction for the board."
President Anan Abu-Taleb reminded the group that a proclamation is not a legislative action.
It's simply raising awareness about what people consume and how it impacts their lives and the environment. Trustee Ray Johnson backed up this point, noting the village passes proclamations about various social issues frequently to encourage awareness.
"If it's educating people, I'm all for it," Trustee Bob Tucker added. "We're not legislating anything and it's not taking a second of anyone's time to do this."