Berkeley is launching Green Monday, a requirement that all meals served at city facilities, council meetings and events held on Mondays be completely free of animal products. Photo: Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

Berkeley residents will have to wait until Tuesdays to have their beef with the city. Starting today, Earth Day, Berkeley will begin a new tradition of Green Monday, a requirement that all meals served at city facilities, council meetings and events held on Mondays be completely free of animal products.

Green Monday is both a day and a national organization, with a goal to encourage communities to make healthier choices for both themselves and the planet.

“Many people who care deeply about climate change, preservation of natural resources, pollution have no idea of the devastating impacts of eating animals,” said Amy Halpern-Laff, Green Monday’s director of strategic partnerships and Berkeley resident. “We can make a tremendous difference just by cutting our meat and dairy consumption one day a week.”

“We’re not asking people to take on a new identity as vegan,” she said. Nor, for that matter, does the program have to take place on a Monday. (The organization provides materials for faith-based organizations interested in observing a Green Friday, Green Sunday, or Shabat Yarok, for example.) But Green Monday does ask people to think more critically about their consumption habits as a whole.

“Once you accept the idea that we have an ethical obligation to future generations, to aboriginal peoples, to the people who are being hurt first and worst by climate change, then it becomes a real ethical question and an ethical imperative, I think, to reduce meat and dairy consumption.”

Berkeley will be the first city in the nation to adopt Green Monday, but the organization is also engaged in discussion with Oakland, Emeryville, Sunnyvale, Palo Alto and Saratoga. The Berkeley resolution was introduced last September by councilmembers Sophie Hahn, Cheryl Davila and Kate Harrison. Davila officially announced the launch of Green Monday at Sunday’s Berkeley Earth Day.

“I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan, but I think eating less meat will help the environment,” said co-sponsor Harrison. “We know by looking at statistics that a great amount of our greenhouse gases are emitted by animal husbandry.”

Berkeley City councilmembers, (from left) Cheryl Davila, Kate Harrison and Sophie Hahn, are the co-sponsors of the city’s Green Monday initiative. Photos: Emilie Raguso

Agriculture accounts for roughly 9% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, mostly in the form of methane and nitrous oxide, the primary gases associated with raising animals for consumption. The seemingly low percentage is due to the gross tonnage of greenhouse gases the United States emits across all sectors. Nine percent still amounts to around 650 million metric tons annually, which means U.S. agriculture by itself produces more greenhouse gases than all economic activities in Australia.

“More greenhouse gases are produced from our consumption habits than through local activities,” said Harrison. “And those emissions, we’re not tagged with them. They’re China’s problem or Missouri’s problem. Wherever the source was.”

“We’re just encouraging people to think about our consumption patterns as also producing greenhouse gases,” she said. “We know whatever meat we eat is being shipped from somewhere else, whereas with non-meat related products, there’s a chance they’re being produced locally.”

Harrison admits that Green Mondays may be more symbolic than impactful. The once a week move to vegan menus applies to city functions only. For everyone else and for all other occasions, observance is strictly voluntary.

“We don’t have a lot of events,” said Harrison. “The public sector does not provide food to a lot of people.”

But the decision nests within a larger effort to reduce Berkeley’s overall environmental impact. Serving foods free of animal products on the occasional Mondays when the city also happens to throw an event is just one small part of a commitment made last June with the drafting of the city’s Climate Emergency Declaration.

Besides meatless Mondays, Harrison is pushing for legislation requiring all new construction in the city be entirely electric, for a greater and more affordable proportion of the city’s electricity to come from renewable sources, and that the city increase its amount of tree cover, and thus potential as a carbon sink. “All these things fit together for me,” she said.

For its inaugural Green Monday meal, the city will offer a dish from organic German slow-food restaurant Gaumenkitzel. On the menu will be lentil cakes on sauerkraut with red radish salad and sweet mustard sauce.

Considering a culinary tradition that gave the world schnitzel and every kind of wurst, “vegan” and “German” may not be natural associations for the casual diner. And indeed, Gaumenkitzel is not a vegan, or even vegetarian, restaurant. But restaurant owner and chef Anja Voth thought Green Monday could be a good chance to challenge the stereotype. “I think it’s a great idea,” said Voth.

Voth co-owns Gaumenkitzel with husband Kai Flache. Both emigrated to Berkeley from Hamburg, where despite American perceptions, the local foods are much less meat-focused than elsewhere in Germany.

“It’s much more with vegetables, fruit and vegetarian dishes by tradition,” said Voth. “Where I grew up we had only on Sundays meat, and then, of course, Fridays are fish day. So by tradition, the foods are not very heavily loaded with meat.”

At their location at 2121 San Pablo Ave., Gaumenkitzel does serve meat, but the restaurant remains deeply committed to the environment. The restaurant serves only organic ingredients, uses 100% renewable energy, and in 2018 won the Acterra Award for Environmental Sustainability.

“It’s our nature,” said Voth, describing her reason for participating in the first Green Monday. “So we agreed.”

Cirrus Wood is a freelance writer and photographer living in downtown Berkeley. There are few things he enjoys as much as playing around with the alphabet.