Americans are eating significantly less meat than they were even five years ago. Veganism, in particular, appears to have explodedits adherents doubling between 2009 and 2011. And while the number of vegetarians appears to have remained static over the last decade or so, an increasing number of Americans say they follow a vegetarian-inclined diet in which they eat mostly non-meat foods. Suffice it to say, as they celebrate Vegetarian Awareness Month this October, advocates of a vegetarian diet have reason to be optimistic.
The biggest shift has been in awareness, says Brian Graff, president of the North American Vegetarian Society. When I became a vegetarian, most people would say they didn’t know a vegetarian. Today, everybody knows a vegetarian. It goes from being something that’s abstract as an ideal to a reality.
A Short Timeline of Vegetarianism in America
Pre-Industrial Revolution: Little meat consumption
1838: Vegetarianism endorsed in the U.S. by the American Health Convention
1900-1960: As transportation and refrigeration improve, meat consumption increases.
1971: Publication of Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe launches vegetarian movement in U.S. One percent of U.S. citizens describe themselves as vegetarian.
1974: Vegetarian Times magazine is founded by Paul Obis.
1975: Publication of Animal Liberation by Australian ethics professor Peter Singer provides the spark for the birth of the U.S. animal rights movement and the founding of the group PETA, a strong proponent of vegetarian eating.
1983: Dr. John McDougall’s The McDougall Planthe first book promoting veganism by a credentialed Western medical authorityis published.
1987: Diet for a New America by John Robbins further inspires the vegan movement in the U.S. and restarts the vegetarian movement.
1990s: Medical evidence supporting the superiority of vegetarian diets becomes overwhelming. The American Dietetic Association officially endorses vegetarianism, and books by prominent doctors promote low-fat vegan or mostly-vegan diets (e.g., The McDougall Program and Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease). The U.S. government ditches the antiquated and meat- and dairy-industry-sponsored Four Food Groups and replaces it with a Food Pyramid, showing that most of a person’s diet should be based on grains, vegetables, beans, and fruits.
2003: Vegetarian food (such as soy milk and textured vegetable protein) sales double since 1998 to $1.6 billion. Sid Lerner revives Meatless Monday campaign.
2010: The health benefits of vegetarianism are noted in Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
2011: MyPlate replaces MyPyramid, ending 19 years of food pyramid guidelines from the U.S. government. According to the diagram, protein is a component of a healthy diet, but meat is not specifically mentioned.
Who Are the Vegetarians?
Between 5 and 7 percent of American adults consider themselves to be vegetarian.10 percent say they follow a largely vegetarian-inclined diet.American women (59 percent) are more likely to be vegetarians than men (41 percent).Unmarried people are twice as likely to be vegetarian.Liberals are slightly more likely to be vegetarian than conservatives or moderates.42 percent are age 18-34; 41 percent are 35-54; and 17 percent are over 55.57 percent have followed a vegetarian diet for more than 10 years.
Why are Americans vegetarians?
54 percent cite animal welfare53 percent eat a vegetarian diet to improve their health49 percent cite weight loss or maintenance47 percent cite environmental concerns39 percent cite natural approaches to wellness31 percent cite food safety concerns
Top Cities to Be a Vegetarian (based on number of vegetarian restaurants)
Portland (OR)SeattleSan FranciscoNew York CityAtlantaWashington, DCMinneapolisAustinPhiladelphiaChicago
(source: Vegetarian Research Group, Vegetarian Times, Harris Interactive Service Bureau study)
The Latest Health Research on Vegetarianism
For years, physicians and scientists criticized vegetarianism as being nutritionally inadequate. In recent years, however, medical opinion has shifted to advocating for a plant-based diet as lowering levels of obesity, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, and lowering total mortality.
Vegetarians are less likely to develop cancer or other chronic diseases.A vegetarian diet is safe for kids, even raising their IQA vegetarian diet provides adequate nutrition to adults and children.Vegetarians have lower rates of heart disease.Vegetarians weigh less than non-vegetarians and have a lower body mass index (BMI).
Bottom line? No one is going to look at you sideways anymore if you choose to give up meat. Vegetarians are here to stayand considering the health stats above, they might just be here longer than the rest of us.
Are you vegetarian? Why or why not?
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Steve’s story about healthy fast food was anthologized in Best Food Writing 2011. His food and general interest stories regularly appear in Edible Boston, Boston Magazine, The Boston Globe, and other places. Email Steve | @thebostonwriter