Vegetarians Are Still Vastly Outnumbered In America

New Gallup poll data shows the number of U.S. vegetarians remains steady.

Given how ubiquitous plant-based meat alternatives have become, both at grocery stores and fast food restaurants (if not fine dining establishments), you might be surprised to learn that by 2020, only four out of 10 Americans had ever tried them before. It's still not a staple of our diets, and might never be. Still, its explosion onto the scene in the late 2010s got a lot of Americans thinking about their relationship to protein, and whether they need to consume animals to get it.

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A new Gallup poll examining our consumption habits has found that just 4% of Americans identify as vegetarian (eating no meat), and just 1% identify as vegan (eating no animal products of any kind). These numbers seem small, and indeed, they're slightly smaller than the previous two occasions on which Gallup measured this population, in 2012 and 2018. Overall, though, the percentage remains steady, and once you look beyond these modest figures, some interesting trends start to emerge.

Vegetarians are growing more diverse

In its previous surveys on vegetarian and vegan diets, Gallup "found significant age and racial group differences in vegetarian eating preferences," but those differences were not present in the latest survey. This means that a strictly vegetarian diet, while not widely embraced by Americans, is being taken up by a more diverse group of people across various demographics.

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With an average of 4% of U.S. adults self-identifying as non-meat-eaters, it's now a population that's more evenly spread across every age group: Every age range, from 18 to 65+, is either 4% or 5% vegetarian. Same goes for race, with 4% of non-Hispanic White people and 5% of people of color identifying this way.

It's not just age and race that might influence one's diet—political views are often aligned with a particular way of eating, too, and in this 2023 poll, politics are a stronger indicator than age and race. Political liberals are the most likely to observe a vegetarian diet at 9%, versus the 3% of both moderates and conservatives. The other strongest determining factor in latest poll was income: lower-income adults making less than $40,000 per year are most likely to eschew meat (7% of this group versus 4% of middle income and 3% of upper income households). And as much as the liberal arts hippie vegan has become a tired stereotype, education level had virtually no impact on vegetarianism.

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Vegans are admittedly a bit more of a wildcard. "With 1% of Americans having vegan eating preferences, it is difficult to discern any meaningful subgroup differences in those who follow that type of diet," Gallup wrote.

People are eating less meat overall

The slight decline in self-reported vegetarianism doesn't necessarily mean that more people are eating meat. In 2020, a Gallup poll found that 23% of Americans had reduced their meat intake over the past year; 67% of respondents said they eat meat "frequently" and 23% said "occasionally."

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The reasons people cited in 2020 for cutting back on meat included the following:

  • Health concerns
  • Environmental concerns
  • Concerns about food safety
  • Concerns about animal welfare
  • More convenient due to other family members' habits
  • Seeing other people eat less of it
  • Religious reasons
  • Despite all these reasons for consuming less meat, it doesn't seem as though Americans are rushing to adopt a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, either. When I consume meat, it's usually at restaurants, not at home—it can be expensive, it often takes longer to cook, and it's apparently a great way to bring Listeria onto the premises—yet to cut it out of my diet entirely would feel like a big leap. Maybe the vast majority of Americans are like me, living comfortably somewhere between carnivore and rabbit, enjoying the wealth of options available and trying to do what's best for the planet as I eat.

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