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A sometimes vegetarian

Picking up on a post from a few months ago, Ian Ayers at the Freakonomics blog has an interesting proposition.
I’m toiling away this summer writing a book about commitment contracts. And out of the blue, I received an email from an aspiring economist (who is planning to apply to PhD programs this fall), named Matt Johnson, who has an interesting new wrinkle. Matt writes:

I am a carnivorous being. I love all kinds of meat. However, in recent years I have become very sympathetic to the vegetarian cause. The environmental, ethical, and even economic issues with the world’s meat consumption are too compelling to ignore. My roommate was a vegetarian for a year last year, and during that time I found myself eating substantially less meat just from being around him. Having grown up believing that I had to have meat at least once a day to sustain myself, I now cook up delicious meat-free meals several days a week. But I still love a good cheeseburger.

Here is the idea. I figure there are many people out there who, like me a year or two ago, are sympathetic to the veggie cause but are just so used to eating meat that it is ingrained in their daily routine. But if you put several of these like-minded people together, perhaps something could come of it. This is where the commitment contract concept comes in.

The idea that occurred to me was: What if a group of people collectively signed a contract that said one of them would be vegetarian everyday of the year? More specifically, say a group of 7 people signed a contract saying that each of them would go meatless on an assigned day each week. Thus, within the group each member could eat meat 6 days a week, but there would be one vegetarian at all times. The group could be 7 good friends, or it could be 7 individuals matched by the “commitment store.” And of course 7 is an arbitrary number - more ambitious folks could form a team of 2 or 3.

The effect may seem marginal, but I have seen tons of sources which say that just a bit less meat consumption could have immense environmental benefits. Here is one: According to Environmental Defense, if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.

. . .



I like Matt’s idea very much. I’ve heard of car-sharing and even pet-sharing, but I’d never thought of the idea of vegetarianism sharing. In fact, I like Matt’s idea so much that my spouse, Jennifer Brown and I have created stickK.com contracts where we commit to “not knowingly eat meat on Wednesdays for the next 52 weeks.” I’ve backed up the commitment by putting $150 at stake each week. Plus, I’m offering a bounty. I am committing to pay a $100 to anyone who first catches me eating meat on any Wednesday. So if I fail on any particular Wednesday, I am out a total of $250 ($100 to the person who catches me and another $150 to a charity). It gives new meaning to the phrase, carrots and stickKs.


If ya'll recall the earlier post, Mark Bittman suggested eliminating animal products in the early part of the day, leaving dinner time for a more carnivorous life. This is a slightly different approach in that a single day is proposed as the non-meat-consumption day. The proposal isn't quite vegan either. As far as I can tell, dairy products are still in.

Ian Ayers interest is the economic one. He's studying contractual obligations for social or personal goods rather than regular goods and services. There's some evidence that contracting to pay, say $5 to the Republican National Committee every time you charge something on the Visa card you're trying to pay down, helps you stick to that particular goal.

But I think that both approaches are interesting and worthy of pursuit. One of the more successful eating habits (that I've since fallen out of) was one where I allowed myself to not worry about what I was eating on specific days of the week. Knowing that I could knock off a whole chocolate cake on Sundays without internal reprecussion or guilt helped me to avoid eating refined sugars for the rest of the week. And I never really did go crazy on Sundays, even though I had "permission" to.

At any rate, since January, I haven't really pursued the conscious limitation of animal products, and I do think that it's probably a good idea. Maybe I'll declare Thursdays to be the Salad Days (ha ha, I kill me). It's certainly help me get through shares at the Central City Co-Op.

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( 1 comment — Say something )
(Anonymous)
Jun. 22nd, 2009 01:03 pm (UTC)
Meatless Monday
This idea of giving up meat one day a week is definitely gaining concept, with most recently Paul McCartney advocating people to go meatless on Mondays. The non-profit health initiative, Meatless Monday, for which I intern, works with Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health to encourage cutting meat consumption for improved personal health as well as a reduced carbon footprint. The website has various recipes (like these delicious Black Bean and Potato Tortillas: http://www.meatlessmonday.com/black-bean-and-potato-tortillas/) as well as nutrition facts and health news. Also, check out the Youtube video for the history and science behind the campaign: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bpnKeYmR1NM.
Best, Ashwini
( 1 comment — Say something )