The effect vegetarians have on the meat of the matter

By Sylvain Charlebois | August 22, 2015 

What do Confucius, Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci have in common? Well, not much professionally, but they were all vegetarians.

Einstein once claimed: “Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” With recent record meat prices, some might wonder if, all ethics aside, he had a point.

On the supply side, consumers now have greater access to vegetarian and vegan options than ever before. Recently, the world’s first vegetarian drive-thru opened in California, and some airlines now offer seven different varieties of vegetarian options for longer flights, including raw and lacto-ovo meals.

Similar changes have been made in the hospitality and tourism industries. Despite these advances, however, it remains unclear if more consumers have opted to go completely meat-free, or have adopted a more “vegetarian-inclined” diet. What is also currently unknown is whether increasing meat prices have pushed consumers away from animal protein products.

Indeed, most reports suggest the number of vegetarian consumers in the Western world has not significantly increased over time. In most surveys recently published, vegetarians only constitute four to five per cent of the population.

That number increases slightly if consumers who are inclined to occasionally go meatless are added to the mix. Consumers who do become vegetarians or vegans do so for an array of reasons. However, the economics of vegetarianism have attracted little attention in recent years; but in the light of recent protein price hikes, they should.

Economists, however, do agree on a few facets of meat production. First, many studies suggest that it costs significantly more to produce energy and protein from animal-based sources than from some plant-based sources.

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