Americans Are Eating Less Meat—Is the Meatless Monday Campaign Responsible?

Sure, we still eat a lot of meat in this country, but consumption numbers are dropping dramatically.

Americans aren't giving up their steaks just yet, but numbers suggest the Meatless Monday campaign is catching on. (Photo: Paul Poplis/Getty Images)
Megan is a sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, she likes writing about food almost as much as eating it.

Though Americans are still pounding pork chops, steaks, and chicken patties at higher rates than most other countries, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that meat eating is on the decline. Figures show that overall meat consumption is on track to drop by more than 12 percent from 2007 to 2012, which amounts to about a half a pound per person per day.

So what's bringing about the change? Dr. Robert Lawrence, a founding partner of the Meatless Monday campaign, says the work the campaign has done is paying off, reports Food Navigator.

Initially launched to reduce saturated fat consumption by 15 percent, the campaign has gone on to do much more than that in its nine-year span. By touching on a multitude of perks for skipping the steak, the campaign has drawn in an assortment of people. Here are some of the factors that are convincing people to drop meat on Mondays.

MORE: Meatless Mondays: Edamame, Basil and Ricotta Pasta

Health

In the campaign's early days, poorer consumers—those most at risk of diet-related health woes—responded positively to the health message of Meatless Mondays. "For low and low-middle income groups, the most salient message was, 'if it would protect the health of my family, then yes, I would cut back,' " Dr. Lawrence told Food Navigator. Because most saturated fat enters American diets through meat, the health benefits are hard to contest. 

Environment

While the poor were drawn to health benefits, wealthier consumers showed concern about the environmental impact of meat production, including the amount of crops grown to feed farm animals, waste generated by factory farms, and carbon dioxide production.

Animal Welfare

Paul McCartney has said that if slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian. Thanks to animal rights groups like PETA, Mercy for Animals, and Compassion Over Killing, getting a glimpse of factory farm conditions is now possible. Undercover footage has documented horrible mistreatment of animals and inhumane practices.

Cost

As grain prices rise, so do feed prices, making the cost of meat production even less efficient than it already is. "Animals require between 3 and 8 pounds of nutrient to make 1 pound of meat," Nicholas Genovese, a visiting scholar working on producing test tube meat with South Carolina Scientist Vladimir Mironov, M.D., Ph.D., told Reuters. "It's fairly inefficient."

Water Scarcity

Producing meat takes a toll on our water supply, and according to recent study by scientists at the Stockholm International Water Institute, there won't be enough water on current croplands to feed us all by 2050 if countries adopt the trends common in Western diets, which are high in meat. According to the scientists, 70 percent of available water is being used in agricultural production. 

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Lawrence says that when you combine all the subgroups of people who are drawn to Meatless Mondays for different reasons, "you are reaching a big sector of the American public," he told Food Navigator.

Awareness among Americans, he says, is at about 50 percent, according to polling data, and data indicates that incentive to abstain from meat one day a week is still growing.

"I think the trend is toward...a growing awareness that a high meat diet is unsustainable," he said. 

What about you—do you participate in Meatless Mondays? Why or why not?

Editor's Note: At the time of publication, this article inaccurately attributed Nicholas Genovese's remark to Reuters to Dr. Mironov. The error has since been corrected.

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