Who Are The Meat Reducers, And Why Are They Cutting Back?
Nearly one in four people (23%) in the U.S. report eating less meat in the past year, according to a Gallup phone survey of 2,431 U.S. adults conducted in September 2019. That leaves almost three-quarters of the population eating the same (72%) or more (5%) meat than they had previously. Meat reduction was reported most frequently by survey respondents who were female, nonwhite, and affiliated politically with the democrats.
Men were just half as likely as women to report reduced meat intake. This result aligns with the findings from a 2015 study that looked at how and why people reduce their meat intake. Men are more likely to view meat-eating as normal, one of the 4N’s described by researchers seeking to establish a psychological profile that justifies meat consumption. Meat reducers, on the other hand, were twice as likely to be found among the nonwhites as among the white participants. And, similar to results from a 2018 Gallup poll about veg*ism, those identifying as political independents or democrats were two to two and a half times more likely to report eating less meat. Where a person lives also had an influence: midwesterners and rural residents were less likely to be meat reducers than their urban counterparts in the east, south or west.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), chicken is the most popular meat, followed by beef and pork. Two-thirds of U.S. adults say they eat these items frequently. Another 30% eat them occasionally or rarely. This leaves just 3% of the population who say they never eat animal flesh, though 5% of the population claims to be veg*n. A Gallup survey from 2018, shows that the percentage of self-identified veg*ns has stayed consistent for the last 20 years. But how can it be that just 3% of people say they never eat meat while 5% say they are veg*n? A 2019 study offers a clue to this apparent disconnect: the researchers note that veg*ism is still stigmatized, and the pressure to fit in socially may sometimes trump the decision to forego meat-eating.
The 2020 Gallup survey also asked people to tell why they are cutting back on meat. Health concerns top the list for nine out of 10 meat reducers. A 2018 study (with data gathered in 2015) further supports these findings. Environmental concerns are the second most-cited reason. Over two-thirds (70%) of respondents mentioned this reason for eating less meat. Animal welfare, while not as prominent a driver for meat reduction as health concerns, was still identified by 41% of respondents as a major reason and 24% as a minor reason for their change in eating habits.
Transitioning to a more plant-based diet can be difficult. For those who decide to reduce their meat eating, cutting back on portion size is the most popular way to go about it. Other popular strategies for meat reduction include adjusting recipes by adding non-meat substitutes and eliminating meat from some meals. A 2018 academic study explored this topic in more detail and came to similar conclusions.
So, should these results discourage animal advocates? Not really. Changing how we eat is hard. But our efforts to promote plant-based eating have faced some stiff headwinds in recent years. Diets that emphasize meat such as keto and paleo, as well as Atkins and its progeny, have large followings. Whether on a weight loss diet or not, it seems that everyone is obsessed with getting enough protein, usually from animals. Meat also remains comparatively cheap. Yet the fact that almost a quarter of U.S. residents say they’ve reduced their meat consumption over the past year is a positive outcome in the face of these obstacles.