Vegetables May Be Hip, but Americans Still Aren’t Eating Less Meat

Despite the coolness of kale, the number of people avoiding animal protein has barely changed since 2012.
(Photo: Bob Ingelhart/Getty Images)
Feb 26, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

A decade ago, we did not talk about kale. Some people loved the stuff, sure, and you could find it at grocery stores and farmers markets, but there were no leafy greens in the zeitgeist. Dreamgirls-era Beyoncé did not wear “Kale” sweatshirts. But here we are, in the midst of the second great kale epoch—the cheap, nutritious green was pushed onto countless dinner plates by the British government’s “Dig for Victory” campaign during World War II—and kale juice, kale salad, kale chips, and kale everything is pervasive. It’s a trend that would seem to mark a shift in American diets, one that’s moving away from meat and potatoes and toward more vegetables.

While the popularity of kale the vegetable is very real, new polling data on meat consumption collected by NPR would suggest that kale the symbol may still be aspirational. Collectively, we Americans are not eating any less meat than we were in 2012, when NPR conducted its last such poll. According to the latest data, published Friday, 7.4 percent of respondents said they don’t eat meat during the average week, down slightly from 2012.

Slightly more than half reported eating meat between one and four times a week, while 38 percent eat meat at least five times a week.

Gallup conducted its own poll on American diets in 2012 and found that 5 percent identify as vegetarian, down a point from the 6 percent who did in two previous polls, one in 1999, the other in 2001. Upholding one long-standing cliché about vegetarianism, Gallup’s 2012 poll found 7 percent of people who identified as politically “liberal” were vegetarian, compared with 5 percent for moderates and 5 percent for conservatives. Just 2 percent of Americans identified as vegan in 2012. Gallup concluded, “Vegetarianism in the U.S. remains quite uncommon and a lifestyle that is neither growing nor waning in popularity.”

But all that kale—and the attendant talk about plant-based diets, Meatless Mondays, and the environmental and medical impacts of meat production—may yet reduce the amount of meat Americans eat.

“We are still seeing a lot of people saying they are eating less meat and a lot who want to eat less meat,” Roni Neff, director of the Food System Sustainability and Public Health program at Johns Hopkins’ Center for a Livable Future, told NPR.