Love Affair With Meat Waning – At Least A Little –Among U.S. Consumers
Think about the last commercial you saw for a restaurant meal. As the camera panned over the plate, what did it showcase? A dish full of beans, grains, and veggies? Probably not. Most likely, you were treated to the wide-angle view of a charred steak a basket of sizzling shrimp or an enormous burger. Messaging like this glamorizes meat consumption even though it’s consistently linked with health and environmental harms. But even in the face of advertisers’ most persuasive artistry, surveys suggest that many Americans may be reducing their meat consumption.
Several surveys have identified this trend, but little is known about who these part-time vegetarians are, what they substitute for meat or why they might be changing their meat consumption. To answer these questions, researchers in this study polled a representative sample of U.S. adults using a web-based survey. The data was gathered in April 2015. Respondents were asked about their meat reduction behaviors and attitudes along with which foods they ate in meat-free meals.
The survey classified meat into four categories: red meat, processed meat, poultry, and seafood. Meat reducers were defined as those reporting a decrease of “a lot less” or “slightly less” in meat consumption over the previous three years. Meat eating frequency was categorized on a six-point ordinal scale from “not at all” in the past week to “more than one time per day”. Meat reducers were asked how and why they had decreased their consumption and how often they replaced meat in their meatless meals with specific meat alternatives. Non-meat reducers were asked to rank their agreement on a seven-point scale with eight statements about eating less meat including “don’t know how to cook meatless”, “don’t like the taste”, “too expensive” and “a healthy diet includes meat”. Socio-demographic data was also collected including age, household income, gender, parental status, ethnicity, and education.
Analysis of the data showed that two-thirds of respondents reported reducing meat consumption in at least one category over the previous three years. Reductions of red and processed meat were the most common. However, of those who reported reducing red and processed meat, 37% said they increased poultry or seafood intake. Only 10% of the respondents said they had reduced consumption across all four meat categories.
Cost and health concerns were the reasons most often cited for decreasing meat consumption. Only 12% cited concerns about animal welfare or the environment as reasons for reducing meat consumption. Meat reduction was most common in those aged 45-59 and elevated among those older than 60. Households with incomes less than $24,999 were more likely to reduce overall meat consumption compared with households reporting incomes over $75,000. Health concerns were the primary driver in this wealthier cohort. Men were less likely than women to reduce their overall meat consumption as they tended to agree that meat was part of a healthy diet. Parents with children under 18 years of age were also less likely to reduce their overall meat consumption than non-parents, possibly because they hold a similar belief in the connection between meat eating and health.
Buying less meat and eating smaller portion sizes were the tactics most often reported by meat reducers for decreasing their meat consumption. The most common meat substitutes were vegetables, cheese and dairy and eggs. Beans, nuts, and tofu were the least-frequently consumed meat alternatives.
This study is filled with tables that detail the survey results. Advocates could use this information to develop effective public health campaigns. The results suggest that a meat reduction message should be combined with information about the health benefits of a more plant-based diet and concrete ideas on the best ways to make this change. Armed with this information, advocates can design their communications in ways likely to have the greatest influence while targeting the demographics most receptive to these types of messages.