Ex-Mesan takes meatless agenda nationwide - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Ex-Mesan takes meatless agenda nationwide

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Posted: Saturday, June 21, 2014 12:00 pm | Updated: 2:17 pm, Mon Jun 30, 2014.

Meat consumption is a hot topic across the country and the world, with health, environmental and animal rights organizations all decrying the woes of the meat-eating culture in which we live. One Arizona native is working to make a change by promoting Meatless Monday, a holiday from eating meat.

Ashley Rhinehart grew up in Mesa, attended Skyline High School, as well as the University of Arizona, and then spent five years as a pediatric nurse at Cardon Children’s Medical Center.

“Meatless Monday is a growing phenomenon and it’s spreading across the world, but it’s also getting bigger in the Phoenix area,” said Rhinehart.

She now works in Washington D.C. with the Humane Society of the United States as a food policy coordinator, convincing schools and other organizations around the country to embrace the idea of skipping meat for one day out of the week.

Rhinehart described the benefits of a meat holiday as promoting health, protecting the environment and being kinder to animals, but she said the childhood health problems she witnessed as a nurse in Mesa were her biggest motivator to take action.

“We had so many teenagers coming in with diabetes,” said Rhinehart, describing her work in pediatrics and subsequent nutrition research. “We found that virtually all kids have signs of heart disease by the age of 10. I wanted to have an impact on a large scale.”

She also sited statistics from well-known organizations concerning the environmental impact of Meatless Mondays. The Environmental Defense Fund estimates replacing one meal of chicken with vegetables per week would be tantamount to taking out 500,000 cars off the country's roadways. According to the Sierra Club, 20 percent decrease in American meat consumption would equate to replacing all sedans with hybrids.

Rhinehart said one of the movement’s biggest accomplishments is in the Los Angeles school district, where 650,000 meals are served daily. The district participates in the Meatless Monday program.

In Arizona, the idea of a meat holiday is slowly taking hold. Arizona State University observes Meatless Monday in all of its residential cafeterias. Representatives from Mesa and Higley school districts said, while they don’t participate in Meatless Mondays, per se, a vegetarian option is offered any day of the week.

“It’s great to see changes and the ripple effect,” said Rhinehart. “It’s essentially very encouraging. I may see some small side, especially as a bedside nurse … but doing it on a national level, I’m able to see the big picture. It’s actually changing people I’ve never met.”

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