(AP Photo)

(AP Photo)

The United States is a nation of meat eaters. We eat more meat than almost any other people on the planet.

In 2012, the average American consumed 71.2 pounds of red meat–beef, veal, pork and lamb–and 54.1 pounds of chicken and turkey, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The idea of forgoing meat one day a week was first introduced during World War I, when the U.S. government encouraged people to participate in Meatless Mondays and Wheatless Wednesdays to aid the war effort. At that time, more than 13 million families signed up to observe the national meatless and wheatless days.

Meatless Monday was resurrected in 2003, in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, this time due to public health and environmental concerns.

“The goal of this campaign is to reduce meat consumption among Americans,” said Diana Rice, a PR associate for Meatless Monday. “After research about health behavior, we realized that people think about their health care on Monday more than other days.”

Rice says it’s difficult to track how many Americans participate in Meatless Monday.

“Forty-five percent of Americans have heard of Meatless Monday,” she said. “Among those who report awareness of the campaign, 47 percent say the campaign has influenced their decision to cut back or consider cutting back on meat.”

Meatless Monday begins by skipping meat for a day. Then, as it gets easier for participants, they would ideally choose to increase the number of days per week when they don’t eat meat.

Julie Upton, a communications expert specializing in nutrition, says that vegetarians have lower rates of high blood pressure, heart disease, and some cancers such as breast, colorectal and prostate cancer.

“I became a vegetarian because it is healthier,” said Qianqian Tan, a Georgetown University student. “When animals are slaughtered, their fear makes their body release a harmful substance in their body. So it is not good for our health, too.”

Meatless Monday benefits not only public health, but also the environment.

Meat has a carbon footprint of 75kg per pound of meat, which includes everything from raising the livestock to transporting the meat to market.

For every carbon footprint of 132,000 tons, 47,250,000 trees would need to be planted to offset the environmental impact.

While the Meatless Monday campaign started in the United States, other countries, like Britain, Brazil, Holland, Canada, Japan and Taiwan, have also followed suit.