Anyone hearing that São Paulo’s government was considering a bill to introduce Meat Free Monday would be forgiven for thinking it was about to change the way it eats for ever. But in fact the Brazilian state is already eight years into the campaign, and has achieved far more through persuasion and popular support than it could ever hope to via the statute book.
The bill, introduced by state congressman Feliciano Filho, was intended to force public institutions to serve only plant-based food at the start of the week. However, by not fully recognising all the fantastic work the authorities have been doing voluntarily for many years, it appears to have backfired somewhat.
Huge numbers in São Paulo state, which has a population of 40 million, are already part of our sister campaign, Segunda Sem Carne, set up by Brazilian Vegetarian Society (SVB) in 2009. It quickly received the political backing of environmentalist and state congressman Roberto Tripoli and the government of São Paulo City. MFM was introduced to city schools in 2011, and the state government came on board in 2013. Now, in 100 cities across the state, 2 million pupils tuck into a Meat Free Monday meal every week. Government subsidised restaurant chain Bom Prato has been taking part since 2015, adding meat free offerings to the R$1 (20p) meals it serves, and the campaign is also being introduced to prisons.
The Filho bill was approved by the legislative assembly, then vetoed by the state’s Governor Alckmin, who felt – as do many MFM supporters around the world – that when it comes to reducing meat consumption, the carrot is preferable to the stick. The language of the bill also turned out to have a very prohibitive tone. Because of the veto, however, the message seemed to be that the governor was against the Segunda Sem Carne campaign itself. Some of the schools already taking part did indeed pull out, worried about going against the governor.
While the bill was setting out to do good – and won plaudits from MFM founder Paul McCartney when it was first announced – it makes it clearer than ever that the best approach to changing the way we eat is not by edict and law, but by education and encouragement. As Paul explained in a letter to Filho: “Large-scale meat production creates harmful greenhouse gases, depletes precious resources to increasingly unsustainable levels and is a major contributor towards global climate change. With mounting evidence of the growth of the global meat industry having alarming environmental consequences, meat reduction is now more important than ever.”
The SVB’s Mônica Buava, MFM Brazil’s national coordinator, believes the move away from meat-eating is unstoppable: “This is what we believe and promote, for the health of people, the environment, and animals. It is a one-way road,” she said. Congressman Tripoli added: “It is time to expand the possibilities and discover new ways of ethical consumption. The population, especially young people, should be informed about new possibilities of consumption and behaviour, including food.”
The huge steps forward São Paulo state has taken on a voluntary basis over the past eight years prove that there’s more to achieving lasting changes than imposing rules; you have to convince people of the importance of cutting down on their meat consumption, not simply instruct them. So to Segunda Sem Carne and the enlightened authorities in São Paulo we say well done and keep up the good work!