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.
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.
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, farm sanctuaries, and nonprofit organizations that support and promote plant-based food.
3) Donate money to farm 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 farm animals.
7) Start a radio show or blog to inform the public about farmed animals.
8) Research, develop, or apply new approaches and research-based strategies to achieve progress for farm 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.
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.