In 1848, Punch, a magazine dedicated to satire, described a society that "[devoted] its entire energies to the eating of vegetables, and the members [met] occasionally for the purpose of masticating mashed potatoes and munching cabbage-leaves.” Baffled writers had observed the Vegetarian Society, formed by a group of devoted Christians, philanthropists, and social reformers. From the beginning, their goal was to promote abstention “from the ‘fleshpots’ of meat”.
It’s hard to believe that the idea of vegetarianism was once inconceivable to society. Individuals had once shunned the very idea of living on a plant-based diet, seeing followers of the movement as ‘half-crazed’ and ‘infidels’. Flash forward to the 21st-century, where in 2018, 5% of adults in the United States identified as vegetarians. Though vegetarians continue to make up a minor percentage of the population, the movement is ever-growing.
Since the early 2010s, a meat-free diet has been encouraged by all aspects of society. The topic of veganism, in particular, has spiked in recent years. Unlike vegans who avoid all meat and animal products, vegetarians simply avoid all meat. Thanks to the booming plant-based meat industry, being a vegetarian in the 21st-century is no struggle. From the Beyond Burger to the Gardein chicken strips, the delicacy is disguised as authentic meat, while every savory, protein-packed, bite consists of a blend of soy and vegetables.
Over the years, scientists have emphasized the numerous health benefits of going meat-free. A BBC study comparing the health of omnivores and pescatarians to vegetarians and vegans over 18 years discovered that a vegetarian diet drastically lowers the risk of heart disease.
The practice was also proven to beneficially impact the environment. 2018 research from the journal, Science, revealed that vegetarianism may be the most effective way of reducing an individual’s environmental impact. Basing their research on 40,000 farms in 119 different countries, they found that 60% of greenhouse gas emissions resulted from meat and dairy production, as opposed to plant-based foods. Even production methods such as grass-fed cows or hand-caught fish aren't as sustainable as they seem.
The imitation-meat market has formed great strides in sustainability. Scientists estimated that plant-based meat patty from Beyond Meat contained ¼ of the environmental impact to a beef patty. The company has expanded along with the vegetarianism trends on social media. Now, their products can be found in places as common as Dunkin'. As individuals begin to value physical well-being and environmental sustainability over meat aisle finds, health organizations have begun to encourage the lifestyle.
Vegetarianism has consistently evolved throughout the 21st-century. Individuals who choose to be vegetarian no longer have to suffer without the satisfying taste of delicious food. Protein-packed sausage, bacon, beef, and more are available as meat-free options. While a vegetarian diet isn't for everyone, the everyday choices we make can truly make the greatest differences.