Just 2 percent of American adults in the latest Economist/YouGov describe themselves as a vegan. More than twice that number, 5 percent, say they are vegetarians. The youngest adults are more likely to choose the plant-based dietary options: a total of 15 percent of adults under 39 say they are vegan or vegetarian. More than two in three Americans (68%) are omnivores and eat meat, but that percentage is the lowest among the young (59%).
An additional 3 percent of adults call themselves pescatarians, meaning they eat fish, but not meat.
Health and weight control is the biggest reason those who won’t eat meat give when asked why they chose their diet. Nearly two in five (39%) non-meat eaters claim that reason. The second most popular reason (29%) is animal welfare. That’s a reason especially popular with younger vegetarians, vegans, and pescatarians.
But overall meat consumption is declining, even according to the meat-eaters in the poll. Twice as many reports eating less meat in the last year as say they are eating more meat (though a majority say their consumption of mean hasn’t changed). On this, the oldest adults are seven times as likely to report eating less meat as to say they are eating more.
In the next year, the ranks of vegan and vegetarians aren’t likely to swell very much. Just 3 percent say they are planning to make that change, and those under 30 are the most likely to claim they will make the change from meat to plants. Fewer than one in 10 (7%) in that age group say they will eschew meat in the next year. But while most American omnivores are unlikely to stop eating meat, 17 percent say they will eat less meat in the next 12 months. Two-thirds of them say they will do it to become healthier.
There are new opportunities to move toward plant-based eating besides swearing off meat. One in three adults (33%) say they have tasted a plant-based burger, which contains no meat. While most of them have done so rarely, a majority of 72% of them say it tasted pretty good, giving the flavor of the plant burger a score of seven or higher on a scale of one to 10.
However, the plant burger still doesn’t beat a meat burger. Nearly nine in 10 (89%) of those who have eaten a beef burger in the last 12 months give its taste a seven or more on the same scale. Four in 10 (41%) of a traditional burger eaters give it a 10 in taste, compared with about a quarter (26%) who give the plant-based burger that score.
The beef burger still rules, though it is close. Those who have eaten both types of burgers in the last year give plant-based burgers an average score of seven on the taste scale – but beef burgers average an eight.