Vegetarian World

This article from the 2016 BBC Future articles asks “What would happen if the world suddenly went vegetarian?” I found this intriguing, as it’s reported that an increasing number of people are opting for a vegetarian lifestyle.

According to surveys, Americans who identify as vegetarian or vegan now make up at least 6 percent of the population, and possibly 10 to 15 percent, the Hill blog article writes. “Three-fifths of American households go meatless at least sometimes, a sharp break from meat-and-potatoes tradition. The generational shift toward vegetarianism is perhaps best embodied by “flexitarians,” people who eat vegetarian most but not all of the time.” However, a 2023 Gallup study found that only 4% of the American Identify as vegetarian, and 1% as vegan.

According to Gallup News, there are significant differences between age and racial group in vegetarian eating preferences in their surveys.

  • In prior reports, Gallup found that political liberals and lower-income adults were among the subgroups most likely to be vegetarian, and that remains the case in the latest update. Nine percent of liberals today are vegetarian, higher than in any other key subgroup Gallup analyzed, and three times the rate of political moderates and conservatives.
  • Meanwhile, lower-income Americans (7%) are about twice as likely as middle- (4%) and upper-income (3%) Americans to be vegetarians.
  • Additionally, women (6%) are more likely than men (2%) to say they eat a vegetarian diet.
Gallup News

The highest number of vegetarian are found in India (20-39%), 19% in Mexico, 12%-13% in Israel, Taiwan, Finland, and other countries.

In some countries, such as India, there are strong cultural or religious reasons for people to eat vegetarian food. In other countries, people choose to be vegetarian because they are concerned about animal rights, environmental conservation, and staying healthy. In many countries, rules about how food must be labeled, which make it easier for vegetarians to know which foods are okay for them to eat.

According to BBC article by Rachel Nuwer, there is serious drawbacks if everyone becomes vegetarian.

It’s a tale of two worlds, really In developed countries, vegetarianism would bring all sorts of environmental and health benefits. But in developing countries there would be negative effects in terms of poverty.

Andrew Jarvis of Colombia’s International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (source: BBC News)

The following are a few selected quotations cited in the BBC feature article:

  • “Most people don’t think of the consequences of food on climate change. But just eating a little less meat right now might make things a whole lot better for our children and grandchildren,” says Tim Benton, a food security expert at the University of Leeds.
  • “When looking at what would be in line with avoiding dangerous levels of climate change, we found that you could only stabilise the ratio of food-related emissions to all emissions if everyone adopted a plant-based diet. That scenario is not very realistic – but it highlights the importance that food-related emissions will play in the future,” says Marco Springmann, a research fellow at the Oxford Martin School’s Future of Food programme.
  • “Some farmers could also be paid to keep livestock for environmental purposes. I’m sitting here in Scotland where the Highlands environment is very man made and based largely on grazing by sheep. If we took all the sheep away, the environment would look different and there would be a potential negative impact on biodiversity,” says Peter Alexander, a researcher in socio-ecological systems modelling at the University of Edinburgh.
  • “There are over 3.5 billion domestic ruminants on earth, and tens of billions of chickens produced and killed each year for food. We’d be talking about a huge amount of economic disruption,” says Ben Phalan, who researches the balance between food demand and biodiversity at the University of Cambridge.
  • “There is a way to have low productivity systems that are high in animal and environmental welfare – as well as profitable – because they’re producing meat as a treat rather than a daily staple. In this situation, farmers get the exact same income. They’re just growing animals in a completely different way,” Benton adds.

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