For the first time ever, according to USDA data, per-capita meat consumption in the United States has declined for four consecutive years. Overall, from 2006 to 2010 (the latest year for which complete data are available, 1 6% drop in consumption represents the largest sustained decline since forever.
Well, since 1970, anyway.
And that was a long time ago (before Watergate, before the gas crisis, before M*A*S*H—the TV series, anyway—and while Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison were still going strong).
The explanation for the decline in consumption is partially a simple one: rising prices and a weak economy have made meat less affordable.
But as an intriguing commentary by the Voice of America website explained, there are signs that “a cultural shift may be underway.”
What does that mean? It means that, once again, some influential thought leaders are spouting off about their newfound love of vegetarian cuisine—that’s what it means.
The VOS essay details the story of Joe Yonan, the Washington Post food editor, who grew up in San Angelo, Texas, “where beef steaks are a staple food. Now, he’s a vegetarian,” the reporter, Steve Baragona, almost gleefully announced.
“This certified judge of barbecued meat started noticing his tastes shifting while digging in to some Texas brisket a couple years ago,” Baragona wrote. He noted that while Yonan admitted the brisket still tasted great, he was quoted as saying, “I didn’t find it satisfying on a primal level the way I used to. I thought, ‘Wow! Something definitely is changing.’ ”
Indeed. For the first time this year, vegetarian entrees were named as a “Top-10 Hot Trend” by chefs in an annual survey by the National Restaurant Association.
For his part, Yonan penned a column explaining his conversion to vegetarianism and said he received many positive responses—and not just from vegetarians, but from a growing group of consumers that foodies have dubbed “flexitarians.”
Since only about 5% to 7% of Americans actually follow a bona fide vegetarian diet, many market researchers are wooing these flexitarians, meaning people who eat occasional meatless meals.
A college cult
One company, Packaged Facts, determined from surveys that college students often develop the habit of “eating along the meatless spectrum,” a dietary excursion that often turns into a lifelong habit.
Is that a problem for industry? Not from where I sit.