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St. Mary’s College of Maryland is trying out a meatless Mondays concept at its cafeteria, an initiative that spurred some heated debates on campus.

The college’s student government association recently voted unanimously to not serve meat during lunches or dinners for the next eight Mondays. After that trial period, the association will vote again to determine whether to make permanent the vegetarian initiative.

“People here are pretty conscientious about their choices,” Andrew Reighard, president of the student government association, said.

The college senior, who is a vegetarian, said the vote was not about pushing a lifestyle on students, but instead was meant to uphold the college’s mission to be environmentally sustainable, including by decreasing its dependence on factory farming.

He said that cutting out meat purchases and consumption is a way to take a small but meaningful stance.

On Feb. 4, the first day meatless day, conversations for and against could be overheard during the busy lunch shift. Vegetarian students loved the idea. Others who said they generally do not eat a lot of meat, or who cited the environmental impact of eating habits, said they supported the concept.

Others who were accustomed to having a burger, breast of chicken or other meat with their meals were not so easily swayed by the student association’s arguments. A comment board in the cafeteria had some negative remarks. One said the meatless meal ruined the joy of the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl victory the night before.

Becky White, the vice president of the student government association, said she is looking forward to comments from students about the new initiative. Members of the association along with the Student Environmental Action Coalition were manning a table at the cafeteria to talk to students about meatless Mondays.

David Sansotta, the manager of the cafeteria, which is part of the company Bon Appétit, said that vegetarian options are offered daily. He estimated that as many as 10 percent of the students who eat at the cafeteria are vegetarians.

Sansotta said the number of students coming in for lunch was low Monday, and that next door at a Quiznos sandwich shop the lines seemed longer than normal.

St. Mary’s College is easing into the concept, and plans to still offer meat options at other campus eateries, including the sandwich shop and the grab-n-go food area. The main cafeteria also continues to offer deli meats for sandwiches on Mondays as part of a compromise during the initial student government association vote, Reighard said.

“It’s smart to be smart about what we put into our bodies,” President Joseph Urgo said in a statement, adding that he supports students’ self-governance. “I am pleased to know that we are encouraged to be thoughtful and to include what happens at meal time as within the realm of our mission as an honors college.”

A meatless Mondays campaign was launched nationwide in 2003, led by health advocate Sid Lerner and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for a Livable Future. Other colleges, universities and some public school systems have adopted the program.

jyeatman@somdnews.com