“Meat eating in the United States is going out of style.”
Beef consumption has dropped to levels not seen since back in 1909. Pork as a food preference continues its steady decline.
For those of us who care about the animal and environmental impacts behind statistics like these, there is cause to celebrate in this new year. And it doesn’t stop with the animals known as “red meats.”
Although a popular headline is that chicken is now a more popular choice than red meat, actual per capita consumption by Americans has declined significantly since 2006, although the National Chicken Council projects hopefully that it will tick upward this year.
And who could wonder if that self-interested projection came true? Chicken “nuggets” are among the first pieces of flesh that many American children are fed, and the fried fragments soon become a staple, if not an addiction — there is even “popcorn” chicken now for youngsters too small to handle “nuggets”; fast food restaurants featuring chickens served up in umpteen ways are ubiquitous; and humongous synthetic cows beckon from billboards telling us to eat more, eat more! (I suppose those plastic cows are happy this year, too. Maybe now that the pressure is off a little they can spend some time learning to spell. )
Chickens are also perceived as healthier to consume than other animals and therein lies a nugget for future hope: it looks like more Americans are making more food choices for health reasons! The body of evidence continues to grow that eating meat contributes to health problems like obesity, cancer, and heart disease. Chicken carries its own particular risks, salmonella perhaps the best known among them.
Cost is one factor in food choices, of course, and chickens are cheaper to breed, feed, warehouse and kill than other animals used as food. Part of the reason is the way most of them are “farmed.” The suffering of these sensitive, sentient beings rivals any agony we’ve been able to inflict on animals throughout history. Hate to break it to those artificial bovine lobbyists on billboard ledges, but the more the word gets out, the more I believe that one consideration will increasingly drive our consumer choices: compassion.
Compassion already plays a part in the way many of us shop, cook, eat, and live. The number of conscious consumers is growing. The benefits and joys of plant based diets continue to be extolled.
I see and hear it as I move through life. One night I’ll sit through dinner heartsick at who’s on other people’s plates but the next day I’ll hear from yet another person who’s going veggie, vegan, or just beginning the journey of cutting back on animal consumption.
The single favorite remark I heard this New Year’s Eve was, “My oldest daughter is vegetarian, thanks to you.” It is I who am thankful, for people who are choosing to make this a kinder, healthier planet. 2014 could be a very good year.