In honor of 2018, here are my obligatory predictions for 2018.
I’ll limit them to three, since that’s not only a magic number when it comes to remembering any data set, but more to the point, who wants to wade through a bunch of off-the-cuff guesswork for the year ahead, with no way to call the columnist onto the carpet when three-quarters of his bonehead statements fail to materialize?
(That was a rhetorical question).
1). The Shamburger Revolution will continue. Thanks to a combination of media fascination, a bunch of super-rich entrepreneurs with plenty of cash to throw around in exchange for a bump in their celebrity status and the bottomless appetite of an affluent segment of the American public for anything new and different in the culinary realm, there will be more product introductions, more sophisticated marketing campaigns and a continuing series of stories online and on cable shows about the wonders of plant-based, test-tube, factory food alternatives to animal products. They’ll continue to be overpriced and underperforming and limited to a tiny slice of upper-income consumers willing to pay premium prices for faux foods — but you won’t know it from the breathless media coverage.
2). The demonization of animal ag will continue. Not only has the meat-causes-cancer/diabetes/early mortality positioning become conventional “wisdom,” but the eco-shaming of beef and pork has evolved from novelty news story to mainstream mantra. Climate change is a genuine threat to agriculture, if not civilization, but the wide-eyed speculation that getting rid of livestock would somehow solve the world’s environmental issues will remain as anti-industry activists’ principal talking point. It won’t have much effect on consumption patterns, especially globally — more on that in a moment — but the danger that the public simply stops thinking critically and accepts that meat is the bad guy in any debate about environmental issues will remain real and urgent.
3). The increase in global meat consumption will continue. Even as Meatless Mondays, vegan diets and alt-meat novelties gain traction, the rest of the world beyond North America and Western Europe will continue to produce, import and consume greater amounts — both in total tonnage and in per-capita averages — of red meat, poultry and dairy products. The reasons for this are straightforward.
The main one is economics. A graph of rising incomes among developing nations plotted against the trendline of animal food consumption is almost a mirror image of the two. As people from formerly agrarian societies gain the benefits of industrialization, and that’s not to discount the associated drawbacks of such development, they inevitably add more meat and dairy to their diets. More disposable income (or in some cases, any disposable income) means more money with which to indulge in life’s luxuries, and nothing in that category is as affordable, or as much of a reward for financial success, as adding animal foods to the dinner table.
That reality’s is as true in the U.S. as it is in Asian or Latin American countries. As the late Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mike Royko once famously observed, for many generations, if you invited people to dinner, and then served them pasta, one of the guests would quietly buttonhole the host and inquire solicitously, “What happened? Did you get laid off?”
Historically, the limits on serving meat as the main dish were the result of a lack of affordability and availability, not because people didn’t have an appetite for beef and pork. The reason that ham and beef roasts became a holiday tradition in the era of Charles Dickens was because most ordinary working stiffs, subsistence farmers or even urban shopkeepers couldn’t afford such treats the other 364 days of the year.
The steady rise of meat and dairy consumption globally reflects people’s intrinsic appetite for meat and milk, and that will continue throughout 2018 and beyond.
Even though affluent Westerners can afford to substitute an array of formulated plant-based products for animal foods — that’s the real luxury enjoyed by the residents of the developed world — the increase in meat-eating elsewhere will far outstrip any modest decreases in domestic consumption.
To summarize: Less meat here at home, more meat everywhere else. Continued media salivation over alt-meat products, minimal actual consumption by the tiny demographic willing and able to purchase such items.
And like the wet weather in the Pacific Northwest, expect to see a steady drip, drip, drip of negative news from clueless media about the horrors of animal husbandry.
Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.