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Peak meat: is animal consumption falling out of style in the US?

 
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As environmental and health concerns grow, and as we become more aware of how animals are treated on factory farms, Americans are going to be eating less meat, humanely raised meat or no meat. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Peak meat: is animal consumption falling out of style in the US?” was written by Marc Gunther, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 10th December 2013 17.32 UTC

What will be hot on restaurant menus in 2014? The National Restaurant Association, which surveyed more than 1,400 chefs, says the top three trends for next year will be locally sourced meats and seafood, locally grown produce and environmental sustainability. That’s welcome news for people who care about the health of the planet, but the chefs may have missed an even bigger change coming to the US diet – the decline of meat.

Today, Americans consume more meat – approximately 270lbs per capita – than carnivores elsewhere (except Luxembourg). But meat consumption in the US has been declining for nearly a decade, according to the research firm Packaged Facts. About 12% of US adults strongly agree and 19% somewhat agree that “they are eating many meatless/vegetarian meals,” says David Sprinkle, publisher of Packaged Facts. Beyond the data, there are signs all around us that meat is falling out of favor, for health, environmental, ethical and economic reasons.

The decline of meat creates opportunities for an array of competitors in the protein business. They include the developers of sustainable aquaculture, producers of vegetarian analogs like Beyond Meat and Beyond Eggs, and consumer products firms whose vegetarian products like Boca and Gardein have moved from natural foods channels to mainstream retailers like Target, Safeway and Kroger. Fast-casual chain Chipotle recently launched Sofritas, a tofu sandwich, under the headline, Vegans and Carnivores Unite, while Subway is rolling out a vegetarian falafel sandwich. On its website, Starbucks says: “If you’ve ever heard someone dismiss vegetables as “rabbit food,” you should introduce them to our Hearty Veggie & Brown Rice Salad Bowl.”

There are, of course, many reasons why people turn away from meat. Eating as little as four ounces of red meat a day increases the risk of heart disease. Meat prices have been rising. And the carbon and water footprints of beef and lamb far exceeds those of chicken, fish or plant proteins. Of course, that’s all been true for years.

What’s changed is the ever-increasing number of bold-faced names are reducing their consumption of meat, or talking about doing so. In a celebrity-drenched culture like the US, when TV stars, musicians, politicians and religious leaders diss meat, others will follow:

• Musician and entrepreneur Jay Z and his wife Beyonce are in the midst of a 22-day experiment with a vegan diet, as People magazine reports.

• Pastor Rick Warren, one of America’s most influential religious leaders, says a faith-based vegetarian diet helped 15,000 members of his church lose an average of 17 pounds per person. His new book, The Daniel Plan, advises people to eat plants and work out.

• Al Gore recently adopted a vegan diet, just like former president Bill Clinton, with whom he once served.

• After Oprah Winfrey and 378 colleagues in her production company went cold turkey on animal products for a week, they created a vegan starter kit for readers and viewers.

Business people, too, are going meatless. On his website, Bill Gates writes about the future of food and says that food scientists who devise substitutes for meat will “benefit everyone”. (Gates is an investor in Beyond Meat and Hampton Creek Foods.)

Peter Thiel, a founder of PayPal, has invested in Modern Meadow, a startup that says it is “applying the latest advances in tissue engineering to culture leather and meat without requiring the raising, slaughtering and transporting of animals”. Google founder Sergey Brin invested $330,000 to help Dutch scientists make a hamburger from cell cultures in a lab.

In my own travels in the world of sustainable business, I run into vegans and vegetarians more often these days too. Mark Tercek, the former Goldman Sachs partner who is now president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy; Neville Isdell, former CEO of Coca-Cola; Levi Strauss CEO Chip Bergh; and Mark Way, head of sustainability for Swiss Re America, all are vegan. ”It’s striking,” Way says, “when you compare the energy/carbon needed to create a pound of beef compared to a pound of veggies.”

And while some people still may wonder whether vegans get enough protein to be healthy, they clearly don’t know Scott Jurek, one of the world’s great ultra-runners who set a US record by running 165.7 miles in 24 hours in 2010. Scott only eats plants.

There’s something happening here, folks. As environmental and health concerns grow, and as we become more aware of how animals are treated on factory farms, Americans are going to be eating less meat, better (i.e., humanely raised) meat or no meat. As Jonathan Safran Foer writes in Eating Animals: “One of the greatest opportunities to live our values – or betray them – lies in the food we put on our plates.”

I’m neither a vegan nor a vegetarian but I eat very little meat and fish – a couple of times a month, if that. You?

 

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