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With so many companies debuting new (and tasty) ways to eat meat made from plants, you’d think that the number of vegetarians and vegans would be on the rise, right?

Apparently, wrong. Recently, Mara Judkis wrote a Washington Post article which blew our preconceived notions about the number of non-meat-eaters out of the water. In the piece, she wrote that only 5% of Americans identified as vegetarian; a number which has remained unchanged since 2012 — and, in fact, is down from the number of vegetarians in 1999 and 2001. From the article:

What’s remarkable is how little has changed, even as our food culture and habits have evolved over the past 20 years. In 1999, there were no “Meatless Mondays,” no Pinterest, no “Food, Inc.,” no fast-casual salad places, no Goop. Information about a vegetarian diet — at least for middle- and upper-class people who have more dietary choices — has seemingly never been more abundant. But it’s not resulting in any noticeable increase in the rate at which people adopt the diet — a fact that may prove either galvanizing or discouraging for plant-based advocacy groups. 

This is especially surprising to us at the Spoon, as we’ve covered a bounty of companies developing new, better tasting meat alternatives. From Beyond Meat to Impossible Foods, companies are producing meaty simulacrums that not only taste like meat, but also cook like meat and even bleed like meat. With all these new options, it seems like more people would be skipping the meat altogether.

In fact, demand for plant-based products is on the rise. Mintel reported that the number of vegetarian products on the market doubled between 2009 and 2013, and a Nielson study with the Good Food Institute showed that the plant-based food industry topped $3.1 billion in sales in 2017. Beyond Burgers are flying off retail shelves faster than the company can make them, and even fast food joints like KFC and White Castle are investing in plant-based “meats” to meet burgeoning consumer demand.

Judkis points out that the study doesn’t take into account the rise in flexitarianism. While Americans may not be abstaining from meat altogether, more are cutting down; in fact, 60% of carnivores are working to reduce their meat consumption. At the same time, Americans are projected to eat more meat than ever before in 2018, according to the USDA. Basically, Americans’ demand for protein — animal or otherwise — is on the rise.

In the end, Judkis doesn’t make a prediction of whether or not the number of vegetarians and vegans will continue to stay static. I think we’re at the calm before the storm. There are a plethora of companies that are either releasing plant-based protein products, or are just about to: Good Catch Foods’ vegan tuna will be available by the end of 2018, and JUST’s mung bean-based “egg scramble” is popping up in grocery stores around the country. And of course we’re a few years away from cultured meat, which, depending on how you look at it, could be the key to eliminating traditional meat and turning everyone “vegetarian.”

Judkis’ article focused on America, but a lot of plant-based innovation is happening in other countries. Denmark’s PlantJammer is an app working to help people cook vegetarian meals from whatever’s in their fridge, Vivera just debuted its plant-based steak in Belgian supermarkets, and Omnipork is developing a vegetarian pork product to meet China’s rising meat demands.

As in the U.S., many of these company’s products are either still in development, or else reach only a niche audience. Likely, the amount of vegetarians and vegans will rise as meat alternatives become more affordable, available, and indistinguishable from meat — and as traditional meat starts to rise in price thanks to environmental constraints.

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