There’s a new star in Albert Square. It’s … doof, doof, doof, doof-doof, duh-duh-duh-duh … Meat Free Monday!
MFM featured prominently in the soap operas EastEnders and Emmerdale earlier this month, as programme-makers collaborated to increase awareness of the climate emergency during the COP26 conference in Glasgow. Five other shows – Coronation Street, Casualty, Holby City, Doctors and Hollyoaks – created storylines about the fight to protect the environment, with characters from one soap appearing in others to hammer home the point.
That MFM has made its first appearance in some of Britain’s most popular and high-profile programmes shows how rethinking the way we eat – for our health and that of the planet – has gone mainstream. The facts are now so indisputable they are seeping into the fictional worlds we turn to for escapism.
Underlining the extent to which young activists are the driving force behind changes for the greener, on November 1, EastEnders showed the character of 12-year-old Bailey Baker trying a vegan diet for World Vegan Month but struggling to find any vegan food in the local burger joint.
Walford’s answer to Greta Thunberg then takes her message to the streets, standing outside the restaurant to warn residents of Albert Square: “We need to cut down the amount of meat we eat to help save the planet, before it’s too late.” She also adds: “If we all stop eating meat for just one day a week, we can help slow down climate change … Meat Free Monday for just one day a week, are you going to pledge?”
In the next day’s episode, when “anti-woke” Peter Beale films a social media video defending his pro-meat menu, Bailey intervenes to tell his character: “You’re killing the planet.” She challenges his claim to care for the environment, and when he asks what he can do to prove it, she recommends: “Go meat free every Monday in your restaurant” – and he agrees.
The EastEnders Twitter account also posted a message from Bailey explaining her decision to boycott Beale’s restaurant, using the hashtags #BaileysBigBoycott and #LetYourGreenBeSeen. In it the character says: “Global mass-produced industrial meat is killing the planet is literally killing the planet. One meat-free day a week is one step to saving the world. You need to start local, and think global. Small changes make a big difference.”
Emmerdale, meanwhile, featured Amy and Amelia discussing the EastEnders characters’ plans to go greener and suggesting they might encourage their local cafe to introduce a Meat Free Monday too.
And important changes are taking place behind the camera too. Meat is no longer served at the Walford caff where EastEnders characters have filled their faces since the BBC1 soap took to the air in 1985. While the residents of Albert Square are seen ordering bacon baps and fill English breakfasts, the actors are actually tucking into plant-based alternatives.
Catch a soap opera not taking the climate crisis seriously? You’re ‘avin a larff, aintcha …?