Is the World Going Vegan?

Four recent surveys on veganism in the United States provide insight into the trajectory of the movement to end animal agriculture: a survey commissioned by the Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) in 2011, a poll conducted by Gallup in 2012, a survey conducted by Faunalytics in 2014, and a poll commissioned by the VRG in 2016.

In a 2011 VRG survey, approximately 5% of people identified as vegetarian and 2.5% as vegan. The survey included 1,010 adults in the United States.

In a 2012 Gallup poll, 5% of people considered themselves vegetarians, down from 6% who identified as vegetarians in 1999 and 2001 Gallup polls, indicating no positive change in the percentage of vegetarians in 13 years. In the 2012 poll, only 2% of Americans identified themselves as vegan. Gallup concluded that vegetarianism in the U.S. “remains quite uncommon” and is “not growing in popularity.” The poll included 1,014 adults in the United States.

According to a 2014 study of American’s eating habits by Faunalytics, a stunning 84% of vegetarians and vegans return to eating animals, largely resulting from most people giving up eating animals for health reasons. People are more likely to give up on a diet than ethics. This survey found only 1.5% of Americans identify as vegetarian and .5% (fewer than one percent!) vegan, a decrease from previous surveys. The survey included the animal-eating habits of 11,399 adults in the United States.

A poll commissioned by the VRG in 2016 found 1.5% of the U.S. population is vegan. While the poll indicates many people eating vegan or vegetarian meals, it did not provide evidence that people will continue eating these meals, eat more of these meals, or stop eating animals–all steps required to transition to the oft-predicted “vegan world.” Regardless, the number of vegans in the United Sates–let alone the world–remains unimpressive and relatively unchanged over the past 20 years at under 2%. The poll included 2,015 adults in the United States.

This Faunalytics chart provides valuable insight into areas where people need support to stop eating animals. Specifically, people seem to not identify with the vegan lifestyle and don’t like sticking out in a crowd. Animal advocates should use this finding to make veganism more inclusive and normal.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 2.52.31 PM

While there are slightly positive trends on the frequency people eat vegetarian or vegan meals in VRG’s most recent poll, the most important statistic remains the consumption of animals. While new and delicious vegan food is now available from Whole Foods to Target, the sale of these foods alone doesn’t mean more people are eating plant-based food. Existing vegans may simply have more choices.

If more people are eating plant-based food, meat sales should be decreasing. According to the National Chicken Council, the killing of animals for food is increasing in all categories. Despite documentaries, plant-based food innovations, best-selling books, undercover investigations, celebrity endorsements, links to climate change and diseases, the consumption of chickens, fishes, turkeys, cows, and pigs has been going up for the past five years.  What does all this mean? Animal advocates need to think critically about the current approach to this problem and strategize to maximize their impact.

PerCapita MeatPer Capita Meat Chart

There are approximately 7 billion people in the world eating trillions of animals. This isn’t the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage, or a fight for marriage equality. The fight for animal freedom is unprecedented in magnitude and difficulty and requires all hands on deck. The good news is you can do something about it.

If the millions of people who believe animals should not be food play a more active role, the number of people who don’t eat animals in the world will increase. What can you do?

1) Introduce your favorite plant-based food to friends.

2) Volunteer for animal advocacy organizations and farm sanctuaries.

3) Donate money to farmed animal sanctuaries and animal advocacy organizations.

4) Share documentaries and books that present the truth about animal agriculture.

5) Organize and attend protests insisting that corporations stop selling animals.

6) Ask your legislators to sponsor and support legislation that benefits farmed animals.

7) Start a radio show or blog to inform the public about farmed animals.

8) Research, develop, or apply new approaches to achieve progress for farmed animals.

Instead of focusing on a vegan world, consider focusing on saving as many animals as you can in your lifetime. For each person you help stop eating animals, you save between 371 to 582 animals per year. That may not lead to a vegan world, but for the thousands of animals’ lives you save, it will make the world a more humane place.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 9.14.50 PMScreen Shot 2016-07-10 at 9.15.09 PM


July 20, 2016 Update

This chart from the USDA National Agriculture Statistic Services shows more promising trends in some categories. Although the killing of chickens for food increased from 2014-2015, it declined significantly from 2007-2014. While the killing of chickens and hogs is increasing, the chart also shows an encouraging recent decrease in the killing of sheep, lambs, cattle, and turkeys. Most importantly, from 2007 to 2015, the data shows a decrease from 9.5 billion animals killed for food to 9.2 billion, a decrease of 300 million animals killed for food. This chart does not include the trillions of fishes killed for food, however, so a recent transition to eating fishes may account for the decrease in addition to other interventions.

USDA National Ag. Statistics Service

 

 

 

18 thoughts on “Is the World Going Vegan?

    1. Hi Ben,

      Very kind of you. Thank you.

      The data I would like to see that I don’t think exists is how many people are buying vegan chicken, turkey, etc. instead of animals in grocery stores and restaurants. This data will provide insight into the degree to which animal meat replacements are reaching people who eat animals.

      Unfortunately, talk of the coming “vegan world” may breed complacency as if all we need to do is let trends continue and we’ll get there. We are nowhere near a vegan world. While there is so much to celebrate in the animal rights movement, the overall data is dismal. We should be honest about it. Some advocates extrapolate their experiences in veg friendly places like LA to the rest of the world without realizing the world is a very different place.

      We have much work to do. I hope this data fuels animal advocates to get more involved.

  1. This is a great article and I agree with you. However, the one thing that the data you share does not accurately represent is that vegetarianism and veganism are rising among younger people. ( https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/may/27/the-rise-of-vegan-teenagers-more-people-are-into-it-because-of-instagram ) Vegan/Animal Rights advocacy is having a positive impact, and veganism is a powerful tool to help reduce animal use/exploitation/murder, but alone it is not enough. We need to do everything we can, and your suggestions are all great.

    1. Hi Jeff,

      Great to hear from you. Thank you for sharing this positive article with us! Yes, these are very encouraging statistics for the UK (and this rise among young people choosing compassion over cruelty exists elsewhere) but of course, we can’t extrapolate the data to the world. The macro picture is much less encouraging, especially the staggering percentage of people who give up.

      The two data points I focus on are total number of vegans and total number of animals killed for food. The total number of vegans is flat over the past two decades in the U.S., one of the most progressive countries in the world, and the number of animals killed for food worldwide is increasing. Even if more people are eating plant-based food but not going fully vegan, the total number of animals killed for food should be decreasing.

      I would like to see animal rights organizations be more honest about this data rather than telling animal advocates that we’re winning. We are not winning. We, and the animals, are losing so we all need to get more involved.

      Thanks again for sharing some positive news with us.

      1. Its the animals that are losing. Many vegans are creating a holy moral space for themselves without due cause, other than themselves.

  2. Hi Andrew – I very much appreciate the thoughtful blog and that you’re highlighting our research. I’d like to ask one small favor — can you please change the references from HRC to Faunalytics? We rebranded a few months after releasing the initial report.

    Thanks!
    – Che / Faunalytics

  3. hi Andrew. The distinction between animals farmed and killed for domestic US consumption, and total consumption (for export included) needs to be made for clarity of trends. Otherwise it is hard to measure the social changes occurring in the US, The US will be ratcheting up total production to supply emerging economies with increasing meat consumption, which will eclipse domestic demand changes.
    I tend to agree with your thesis, even without seeing the figures quoted (which are too narrow to measure other Western nations by). There is no groundswell for change that I can perceive, although here in NZ, there is pressure from Animal Rights groups and the Green party to improve welfare standards, which is showing results but slowly.
    There are no major attitudinal changes that sees meat consumption, and animal agriculture, as socially unacceptable behaviour.
    I note that you did not advocate supporting animal friendly political parties, and withholding votes from from the GOP and DEms, which are pro animal agriculture.

    1. Thank you for your advocacy and post Steven. Yes, people should also recruit, support, and vote for the most animal-friendly candidates.

      We agree the “groundswell” is overstated. One could easily perceive a groundswell given the increase in food options, documentaries, books, etc. but the numbers don’t support it to the degree it is perceived (i.e. the world is going vegan).

    2. Supporting the most animal friendly candidates is of concern, but we also want the candidate who shares many of our views to win. At least HRC’s husband and daughter are vegans. I’m glad to read that animal welfare groups are putting on the pressure for better animal welfare standards in NZ. I was getting disillusioned with Australia not that it’s better here. Glad Tom Vilsack didn’t make HRC’s Veep final.

  4. I would love to see a more Vegetarian Movement to end animal agriculture or to minimize it and to end animal cruelty. But I also understand people who like to eat meat. Everybody has to make his own decision. I would like to see the food industry producing a healthy meat substitute. That would be a huge progress.

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