This trend is driving me crazy.
First, let me provide some background. According to most reputable news and information sources, nearly one-third of all Americans now report that they’re eating less red meat on a regular basis. (We won’t get into the fallacy of switching to “healthier” chicken—much of it fast-food fried and breaded—right now. That’s for another day).
People aren’t not necessarily going vegetarian or vegan, but simply purchasing, preparing and consuming fewer animal protein products overall.
Why? One, because anti-industry activists have done an outstanding job publicizing legitimate concerns—a lifestyle with excessive meat-eating appears to be associated with a number of cancers and other chronic diseases. And two, they’re even better at demonizing red meat’s (alleged) contribution to climate change, casting suspicion on its nutritional status and flogging endlessly the issue of animal welfare and the “outrage” they’re so good at ginning up over various production practices, issues on which, truth be told, the industry has often left itself wide open for criticism.
Add in ad hoc PR bonanzas such as pink slime, well-heeled campaigns like Meatless Mondays and the occasional food-safety recall—plus rising prices—and you have an environment in which it begins to make economic, if not philosophical, sense to dial down the meat-buying and meat-eating.
Not to mention that if you host anything from a backyard barbecue to a formal dinner party these days, you’re likely to be confronted with a guest (or guests) who doesn’t eat meat, won’t touch dairy and/or is allergic to eggs, soy, gluten and seafood.
Like it or not, the days of slapping a stack of burgers on the grill and calling it good are over.
Just a side order of meat
All that is the backdrop to what has been a slow decline in per capita consumption of meat over the last generation, which is understandable and not necessarily a net negative for the industry long-term.
But what’s aggravating is the eagerness with which all too many self-styled foodies have seized on this trend as some sort of watershed moment that history will record as the day the (meat) diets died.
For example: Mark Bittman, a New York Times food critic, has spent the last several years writing books advocating for something he calls the “less-meatarian” diet: As he describes it, “Making and consuming tasty, affordable meals without making meat the center of the plate.”