The vegetarian’s dilemma: trouble “walking the talk”

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Lots of people are guilty of saying one thing and doing something else. They’re “going to exercise,” “eat less fast food,” “stop talking on their phone while driving,” etc. However, they probably didn’t proclaim to the world that they adhere to a certain lifestyle while regularly (and secretively) veering from it.

A recent article in Business Insider reported on the results of a CNN survey, in which 10,000 Americans were asked about their eating habits. Approximately 6 percent of the respondents identified themselves as vegetarians, however when researchers asked them to describe their eating habits, 60 percent of the so-called vegetarians reported having eaten red meat, poultry or fish within the last 24 hours!

These results mirror a similar study (the Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals) conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. More than 13,300 Americans were surveyed, with 3 percent claiming to be vegetarians. However, when researchers followed up a week later, 66 percent of the self-proclaimed, duplicitous veggie-lovers had eaten meat the day before. They sure were talking out of both sides of their mouths.

It appears vegetarians like the name but don’t adhere to the definition. In some social circles, it’s popular to be a vegetarian, and teenagers may use it as a way to rebel against their parents. In fact, one teeny bopper who berated the picture of a gilt being shown at the World Pork Expo proudly proclaimed to “just becoming a vegetarian.” My guess is her vow lasted a day or two.

She wouldn’t be alone. Vegetarianism is a phase rather than a lifestyle for the majority of people who try it. Surveys suggest that roughly 75 percent of the people who quit eating meat eventually change their minds and return to a diet that includes animal flesh.

I think it’s ironic and a little bit funny that Bill Clinton is a professed vegetarian. In fact, he would be the perfect spokesman for the movement. He’s already an experienced liar, and people want to believe that he doesn’t eat meat. Personally, my guess is he’s a closet bacon-eater.

It’s not surprising that people want to eat meat, even though they say they don’t. It’s one of the safest, most economical and available sources of protein and it’s delicious.

“The great paradox of our culture's schizoid attitudes about animals is that as our concern for their welfare has increased, so has our desire to eat them,” writes Hal Herzog in a Psychology Today article. Herzog says that in 1975, the average American ate 178 pounds of red meat and poultry; by 2007, the number had jumped to 222 pounds. And while the number of cattle harvested for consumption has decreased by nearly 20 percent since 1975, the number of chickens harvested has risen 200 percent. If you include dairy and eggs in the equation, the average American eats 920 pounds of animal products each year.

While animal rights groups and others who promote vegetarianism have worked hard to demoralize meat consumption, the vast majority of Americans aren’t biting. Instead, they’re biting into juicy, mouth-watering pork chops, steaks and burgers.

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PJ    
Iowa  |  July, 10, 2013 at 03:12 PM

I do not believe Americans are eating almost three pounds of animal products per day unless fluid milk is included.

JoAnn    
Iowa  |  July, 10, 2013 at 03:55 PM

Hello PJ, "dairy" does include fluid milk in the estimate. Thanks for allowing me to clarify.

Staszek    
July, 11, 2013 at 05:47 PM

Interesting article, though it seems to take quite a gratuitously snarky tone towards people trying to eliminate meat from their diet. As we all know, old habits often die hard, right? It doesn't necessarily make one a liar.... You point out that today, the average American eats 44 pounds more of red meat a year compared to 1975. During the same time period, the weight of an average American has increased by more than 20 lbs and obesity by more than 10%. Probably if more Americans at least attempted to be part time vegetarians, putting a greater emphasis on eating vegetables, or at least a more balanced diet, most of us would be better off.

JoAnn    
Iowa  |  July, 12, 2013 at 08:14 AM

Maybe a little sarcastic, but only because of the duplicity illustrated in the surveys. I disagree that lean meat has contributed to the obesity problem - pretty sure it's due more to fried foods, fast foods, snack foods and sugars. However, I do agree that more balanced diets - with lean meat, fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer sugary snacks - would be better for all of us. Thanks for your comment.

Dan Brook, Ph.D.    
Earth  |  July, 12, 2013 at 01:09 PM

For more information about the *many* benefits of vegetarianism/veganism, and the many problems with eating meat, please visit Eco-Eating at www.brook.com/veg

Glen    
July, 12, 2013 at 01:40 PM

No thanks on the vaganisam, but I think it will be fun stepping up to order and stating"" I am a vegetarian, I would like pulled pork with bacon Please".

Maddie    
Brooklyn  |  July, 21, 2013 at 02:41 PM

Part of the duplicitousness found within the study probably has to do with it's lack of specificity. There are many different kinds of vegetarians, which the study does not seem to acknowledge. Lacto-vegetarians, Lacto-ovo-vegetarians, Pescetarians, Flexitarians, Vegans, and so on. Some people choose to eliminate some animal products, but not others. For example- I eliminated red meat from my diet at the age of 9, but chose to include poultry and seafood in my diet. I didn't eat beef, pork, goat, duck, rabbit, veal, lamb, etc. I pretty much limited my "meat" consumption to chicken, turkey, salmon, and tuna. I was still considered a vegetarian. There was just no specific definition for my dietary choices. Being a vegetarian is rarely an "all or nothing" choice that people make. I would eat red meat maybe twice a year- on my birthday and the first backyard BBQ of the season. So, I ate a burger twice a year. It didn't make sense to not identify myself as "vegetarian." These days, with lots of people striving to make healthier, more compassionate choices, "vegetarianism" isn't a black and white issue. This study has hurt itself by trying to classify it as such. Out of everyone who's ever commited to being "on a diet," I bet you would be hard pressed to find anyone who didn't "cheat" or "slip up" on occasion. It doesn't make people on a diet "liars" or "duplicitous" because they had a stressful day and enjoyed a pint of Ben and Jerry's before bed. If you are threatened by the idea that Americans are choosing to eat less meat, you would be wise to start looking at people's dietary choices from an un-biased and thorough point of view, and listen to their concerns. Or you can keep pretending that it's just not happening.


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