Meat Consumption (or lack thereof) is Swiftly Changing

What was once a niche lifestyle choice has expanded across mainstream culture in just the past few years. Now you can be a vegan and a professional athlete, teacher, government worker, accountant, or podcast host—whatever it is you already are—without the same judgments and assumptions of yesteryear’s stereotypes. In part, this is because of how society and culture are shifting to meet new demands and anticipating continued change, as evidenced by several new trends.

Hip, new lingo

It turns out that you can be a vegan, meaning you do not consume any animal products, whilst maintaining a relatively healthy lifestyle. Many Americans are already practicing this kind of diet, at least part-time, without realizing it. How? Chips, soda, Oreos, unfrosted Poptarts, instant mashed potatoes—the list goes on—contain no animal products. That is partially why the lexicon around veganism is changing to plant-based. Being plant-based entails not consuming animal products, as well as centering your diet around whole fruits, vegetables, and grains. This diet delivers the health benefits of fiber, nutrients, and vitamins. Furthermore, the word “vegan” has been plagued by negative connotations that can be polarizing. Using new language to describe this lifestyle is a way to rebrand it and build a more positive identity.

Vegan by accident

New restaurants are popping up that contribute to the rebranding of vegan and vegetarian foods and lifestyles. Chains such as Chop’t, Sweetgreen, Beefsteak, and others offer meals with the message that they are delicious and easy to grab on the go. Although their menus offer mostly vegetarian and vegan options, this feature is not their main selling point. Being plant-based does not have to be on purpose; it can also be for people who enjoy fresh and tasty food.

Science summer BBQ

For those actively trying to reduce or eliminate their meat consumption, there are now a myriad of products available at most grocery stores. The first meat-substitute products focused on an American classic: the hamburger. It is, therefore, no surprise that this is the area where science is taking the next step by creating an entirely vegan burger patty that bleeds like beef. Instead of veggie burgers that are unmistakably another serving of vegetables, players like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have products on the market that compete on both flavor and nostalgia. These new burger patties—and additional meat substitute products—help make the lifestyle choice of not eating meat not such a disruption or sacrifice as it once was. This potential is reflected in optimism for future growth in this industry, with estimates showing that by 2020 the market could reach above $5 billion. In other words, bleeding beef is likely the first of many innovative products that change how we think about meat in our diets.

Still have to have meat? Most people still eat meat on a regular basis, but perhaps people can meet halfway. This idea is behind the newest trend of compromising between the love for a meaty hamburger at your local drive-in and not wanting a role in pumping emissions into an already struggling atmosphere. Instead of selling a 100 percent beef burger, some chains are offering a blended burger, where the patty is a mixture of meat and mushroom. This recipe maintains the rich, umami flavor of a traditional burger, whilst reducing the emissions associated with it. The blended burger is just one example of how companies and individuals are responding to greater awareness about the impact of meat consumption on our health and our environment.

Where next?

People pursue vegan, or plant-based, and vegetarian diets for many reasons: the environment, health, animal rights. These are all applaudable motivations, but they are also not enough to convert the majority of people overnight. For that to occur, a significant cultural shift in the ways people consume and think about food would be required. The latest trends in meat consumption are a step towards such a shift. Yet, for all the progress that has been made, veganism and plant-based diets will have been successfully mainstreamed once you stop hearing about them.


Image courtesy of Flickr. Originally published by S&S on May 8, 2018.

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