I stumbled upon this excellent infographic through a post on Reddit, and it got me thinking about the role the rise of modern veganism on the decrease in meat consumption in the United States. Through some research on the topic, I have come to discover that only 1% of the US population reported to be vegetarian or vegan in 2009, wherein we see a relatively high figure of 190.9 pounds of meat consumed per person based on the statistics provided in the infographic above by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). By just last year (2015), this figure has moved substantially to be around the 5% mark of individuals reporting to be vegetarian or vegan.
Given that a meat based diet has been popular in the United States from very early days, it is a unique time that we live in to see such a rise (4% of the total population in the U.S. is huge!). The Plant-Smart movement is becoming increasingly popular as portrayed in the rise of veggie based diets, documentaries, media outlets, and vegan targeted products. It is no surprise that as meat consumption is decreasing, the number of vegans and vegetarians around the country are increasing in substantial numbers.
Why are people making the change to a plant-based diet?
I like this quote by the musician Moby, as it provides an easy to understand reason for "why" people are making this change. As the consumption of meat and it's processing continues to be studied in more depth by modern researchers, it becomes increasingly known that meat has a negative impact on health and environment, both directly and indirectly.
I understand that making the switch towards a plant-based diet is not easy for many, who over the years have seen their body adapt to the dangers of a meat heavy diet. It is quite possible a person may feel healthy without really being healthy. On any given day, you may not be fully aware of what is going on inside of your body. I think of the beautiful ravines I saw while visiting Watkins Glen in Upstate New York, and how a river was able to cut through the Earth through erosion, slowly over time. A meat dependent diet can be much like erosion to the body. It may not be immediately present, and you might even feel healthy on any given day; but in the large scheme of things, those who consume meats on a frequent basis (especially red meats), are at a higher risk for a number of health problems such as heart disease, high cholesterol, and plainly: dying young. Research is still expanding, but if you heed the warnings of many doctors and scientists, you will want to make the change towards a vegan lifestyle immediately (if you haven't already!).
Of course, we cannot discuss the value of switching to a plant-based diet without talking about the impact meat consumption has on society and the environment. We can sometimes be short sighted and a little selfish when discussing foods we eat and preference. If a primary reason for eating meat is just because "it tastes good," then no consideration is being had for the process by which the meat is being processed, the animals harmed, the pollution created, and the sometimes poor working conditions people have to endure to bring this to your table. I don't believe everyone has to be a political or social activist when it comes to these topics, as I know they are complex and never as simple as they are laid out in the media or even on many other vegan blogs and websites, but there is value that comes from, at least, considering the larger impact of the things we do and the food we eat.
I personally face no moral or ethical dilemmas in my heart and mind when I go outside into my garden and harvest the many fruits and vegetables that grow there, whereas I would imagine that, at least, your average person would take pause and have to consider whether or not they would put down a pig or a cow for the ultimate pleasure of eating them.
Another major reason why people tend to eat meat is for the protein content. However, so often this conversation ignores the naturally occurring proteins found in the plant life around us. Plant-based protein is an expanding market, and has been a valuable focus when eating whole food sources. It is entirely possible to get enough protein from a plant-based diet, and I might add the quality of the proteins can, in fact, be superior. Take for example quinoa, which is a "perfect" protein source and plant based.
A final thought
It can be difficult at times to have conversations about diet with friends and family. While vegan and vegetarian lifestyles are becoming increasingly common, they are still a substantial minority in the USA. Meat consumption is on the decline, but there is still a long way to go. It starts by each individual making the conscious decision to do away with meat in their diets, and move towards a life of self-sustainability and a plant-based diet. This ends up impacting our planet for the better, our bodies, minds, families and friends.