Almost everyone that's not selling meat agrees that it would be a good thing for Americans to eat less meat. Nutritionists tell us it would be good for our health. Environmentalists tell us it would be good for the environment and one of the most helpful ways to combat global warming. Animal welfare advocates tell us that reducing meat consumption is one of the most helpful ways we can address the horrors of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). As we're learning in our Tables of Plenty journey, most religious traditions teach that constraining the consumption of meat through fasting is helpful on the journey of spiritual formation.
Apparently the message is starting to sink in because, as Mark Bittman reported earlier in the week, American consumers are putting less meat in their shopping carts and that trend is likely to continue into the future. (See chart taken from this Daily Livestock Report)
The rising price of meat is probably the single biggest contributor to these trends but Bittman attributes part of the decline to a shift in consumer conscience:
Some are choosing to eat less meat for all the right reasons. The Values Institute at DGWB Advertising and Communications just named the rise of “flexitarianism” — an eating style that reduces the amount of meat without “going vegetarian” — as one of its top five consumer health trends for 2012. In an Allrecipes.com survey of 1,400 members, more than one-third of home cooks said they ate less meat in 2011 than in 2010. Back in June, a survey found that 50 percent of American adults said they were aware of the Meatless Monday campaign, with 27 percent of those aware reporting that they were actively reducing their meat consumption.
The livestock industry in their report on the trend attributes the change to growing exports which reduced the amount of available meat in the market, higher costs due to the growth of the ethanol industry that diverts corn to the production of fuel and increases the costs of those inputs for animal feed, and finally they attribute the decline to "the fruition of 30-40 years of government policy."
Bittman, along with many others, have expressed shock at the dubious nature of this last statement. One feature of the American food scene over the last 40 years are the generous farm subisidies that have fueled the industrialization of meat production. Instead of dealing with the reality that consumers are choosing to eat less meat, they are stuck on the idea of a government conspiracy against them.
I guess I'm not surprised that the livestock industry doesn't mention changing consumer values but, as I've written in the past, the industry ignores this reality at their peril.