The Latest Numbers on Meatless Eating-Yes, It Is Growing

12 12 2011

Chopped Salad with Thousand Island, Big Vegan Style

For much of my life, I liked believing that there were lots of vegetarians out there. I wanted to believe that our numbers were swelling exponentially, every day. Even when I was the only vegetarian I knew, I held out hope that if I got in a car and drove far enough, I would get to some veggie nirvana. Back then, we didn’t really have any numbers, and anyone you talked to was stuck with their own experiences. If you worked in a Coop or a vegetarian restaurant, you might think half the world were vegetarians. If you lived in a small town in the Midwest, you might not know a single one.

Well, thanks to the Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) we have numbers. If you have been feeling like vegans are getting some attention lately, well, their numbers have doubled since 2009. Extrapolating from the results, 7.5 million people call themselves vegans. There are 15 million people who call themselves vegetarians, and still eat dairy and eggs .

In the latest poll, done by Harris Interactive for VRG over the phone, between March 30 and April 3 2011, it becomes clear that even as the numbers for dedicated vegetarians and vegans grow slowly, the numbers for people who eat vegetarian often are growing much more quickly.

These numbers show a real mainstreaming of the idea that you can enjoy meatless meals, even if you love meat. Basically, 17% of Americans don’t eat meat, fish poultry at many meals but less than half, 16% more than half. That adds up to about a third of the American population opting for meatless some of the time.

The number that said that they eat meat at every meal was 48%, which is still a little scary, since that is a lot of animal foods for anyone to consume. I didn’t think anybody was still eating it at every single meal, which shows how much I know.

Other interesting results confirm a few things that you may have suspected. There are more vegetarians out West (think California) than down South (think Texas,) and more women than men are vegetarians, but not by much. A hopeful number is that equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats are veg-heads, possibly the only thing the two parties can share, these days.

So, after all these years in the vegetarian movement, it’s nice to hear that our numbers are growing. Every little bit helps, and we have to give credit to everyone who has done her part to build awareness and make veg look appealing and do-able. From the animal rights activists, to the chefs and authors, to the hot celebrities who endorse a plant-based diet as they look great on the red carpet, everybody has a role to play. Powerful books and films have been getting the word out, and people like Bill Clinton have put a face on the miraculous cure of a good diet. Campaigns like Meatless Mondays have helped put the veggie option in front of millions of people, and many of them are choosing to go that way, at least some of the time.

So, be of good cheer, in this season of giving, since we give the world a present every time we don’t eat meat. Our message is getting out, my friends, and that is something to celebrate.


Support NRDC’s Lawsuit: Ban Antibiotics in Animal Feed

4 06 2011

Sweet Little Piggies

On May 25th, The Natural Resources Defense Council, along with Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT), Public Citizen, and Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) filed a lawsuit against the FDA.  That might sound extreme, but it’s really been a long time coming. The Food and Drug Administration has known for 30 years that the casual and systemic use of antibiotics in animal feed was harmful, but because the industry keeps up pressure to protect the status quo, it has continued. The lawsuit seeks to ban the practice, and has a very good case.

Whether you eat meat or not, you are profoundly affected by this practice. 70% of the antibiotics used in the US are administered to cattle, pigs and chickens in their feed. They don’t have to be sick, in fact a big reason that they are used is that constant, small doses make the animals grow faster. It also allows them to survive the crowded and unsanitary conditions of their confinement. A side effect is that the giant, packed industrial farm becomes a perfect place for antibiotic resistant bacteria to evolve and proliferate. This results in “superbugs” that can quickly migrate into the human population.

Antibiotics are losing their effectiveness, and grocery store meats are often contaminated with antibiotic resistant bacteria.  If it seems like you hear of more meat recalls these days, it’s partly because of this system.

The change NRDC and the rest are looking for doesn’t mean that sick animals can’t be treated. It would limit antibiotics to when they are sick, rather than daily.

While US meat producers insist that cutting antibiotics would prohibitively increase food prices , The American National Academy of Sciences estimates that the total increase to each shopper would be $10 annually. We know it can be done-Denmark, the worlds largest pork exporter, banned the use of antibiotics for growth promotion in pigs and chickens 1999, and have increased production, not cut it. All of the 27 countries in the EU have taken action.

But the FDA, whose real job is to protect the citizens of this great country, prefers to keep the laws the way that industry likes them. Americans like cheap food, the reasoning goes, even if it makes them sick. Probably more importantly, industry likes making profits this way, and fears that the vertically integrated, crowded factory farm will no longer work without antibiotics.

If you support this movement, contact NRDC. If you eat meat, consider the impact that industrial meat is having on us all. If you want to see animals treated humanely, this is one way that a law could force change in the industry. If the animals can’t live in crowded cages and pens without constant antibiotics, producers might have to give them some room to move.

Are Vegetarians Really More Compassionate?

6 06 2010

Is your amygdala getting warm?

The debate about nature versus nurture will go on forever. Do people come with most of their personal traits already decided, or can we be shaped by the way we grow up? Can we change ourselves? We may now know what leads some people to go meat-free, and it may well be hard-wired into their brains. On the other hand, they may have changed the way their brains behave by holding strong beliefs. Either way, vegetarians’ and vegans’ brains register different reactions to the suffering of others, and it’s measurable.

In a recent study, neurologists used MRI to monitor the brain activity of the test subject while they were shown a series of pictures. The subjects consisted of 20 omnivores, 19 vegetarians, and 21 vegans. Each subject was shown 150 random images, 70 of which were neutral, 40 were of bad things being done to humans, and 40 were of bad things being done to animals. The scientists looked at the activity in the areas of the brain where compassion resides, and found differences did exist.

If you are wondering where compassion resides, according to experts, it’s in a few spots in the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex.

Omnivores, Vegetarians and Vegans all responded to images of other humans being harmed, thankfully. But Vegetarians and Vegans seemed to respond more to both the human pictures and to the animal suffering.

It may come as no surprise to you that there are people who are more concerned with animal suffering, and that they choose not to eat animals because of it. What is interesting about all of this is the question of which came first? Do kids come out of the womb with brains that steer them toward compassionate eating? Or does life experience and learning make a person care more about the pain an animal feels?

According to the study, we differentiate between other humans (conspecifics) and animals (non-conspecifics) the same way, but omnivores share the pain of other humans, while being able to separate from the pain of animals.

So how does this play out? Well, for one thing, putting up billboards with pictures of caged veal calves may not really get the desired effect from an omnivore. The vegetarians at PETA might be hoping for a surge of compassion that an omnivore brain just doesn’t have for a “non-conspecific.”

Compassion may be in your wiring, or modeled for your developing brain at an early age by a loving parent. There does seem to be a group of people who reach a certain age and just don’t get why we pet the cat and eat the cow.

Still, I don’t think that compassion is the only reason people change the way they eat. People have always had valid health and environmental reasons to quit the beef. Plenty of people who live as omnivores for most of their lives change their dietary patterns for health reasons, not necessarily concern for critters.

We are seeing a new breed of logical low-meat eaters, based on self preservation and environmental concerns. The new veg may not have the same parts of the amygdala light up when shown a feedlot, but she still gets how unsustainable it is.

And to the question of vegetarians all being compassionate, well, we are all individuals. From my limited experience, some vegetarians are more likely to care about animals, but both omnivores and veg heads are about the same when it comes to people.

For the study click the link below: