The real threat to the meat industry in the future is from reduced meat eating and semi-vegetarianism. Recent polls in the United Kingdom have estimated the prevalence of reduced meat eating at 26 to 40%. It is due to a number of features including pursuit of the vegetarian ethic which advocates abstention from meat as a route to harmony with animals and nature.
Semi-vegetarianism is particularly strong amongst young females and appears to be linked to a feminist outlook. It could persist through to adulthood, either out of conviction or from habit, and it could proliferate through the families that today’s young semi-vegetarians eventually raise. When their children are brought-up in a semi-vegetarian household and with the outlook that semi-vegetarianism is the normal and right thing to do, reduced meat eating will become firmly established.
It might be thought that the present trend toward reduced meat-eating reflects a desire to live a long and healthy life. However, the evidence suggests that only 19% of full and semi-vegetarian adolescent women viewed meat-eating as unhealthy, and this outlook existed in only 3% of non-vegetarians.
As vegetarian foods are being more commercialized, they are becoming more attractive and popular in their own right. In 1990, a survey of 11 to 15 year olds in the United Kingdom that was sponsored by Barclays Bank showed that in 14% of the sample the favorite food was vegetarian. It is difficult to say whether this will grow. It may be that adolescent semi-vegetarianism or full vegetarianism is a phase which individuals grow through and that the recent swing towards reduced meat-eating will stabilize. In some individuals, however, it may persist into adulthood and their offspring will be brought-up as reduced meat eaters.
Undoubtedly, there is a familial basis to vegetarianism. For example in a study on one hundred Americans who had vegetarian leanings, it was shown that 63% claimed that they would raise, or were already raising, their children on the same vegetarian regime (Dwyer et al, 1974).
Although Animal Welfare has been the single most important reason for people becoming fully vegetarian, health reasons are probably playing an important part amongst semi-vegetarians. There are concerns about cardiovascular disease, cancer, Creutzfeldt Jacob disease, Salmonellosis and the consumption of hormones and antibiotics. At the other extreme it is widely held that strict vegetarianism can introduce health risks, especially for infants.
There is a strong emphasis on mental and bodily health in the vegetarian outlook. Oneness and wholeness are important abstract concepts in the vegetarian’s perception of mental and physical health. Oneness means that the individual is at peace with nature. Nature is often considered more valuable than culture, and this outlook has helped sustain the Natural and Health Food Industries.
The vegetarian outlook despises the way that modern culture has moved towards greater reliance on refinement, cooking and further processing of foods. In ardent vegetarianism, food is believed to be more “natural” if it is eaten raw, and choosing raw foods is seen as an escape from highly processed foods which are regarded as junk (false) foods. Whole foods, such as whole grains and whole nuts are seen as more full of life and vibrant. Their wholeness is synonymous with being unadulterated. Whereas, meat is regarded as a dead food which is in the process of decomposing and eating it is synonymous with ingesting death. Even amongst meat-eaters meat does not have an image of being a “health food”, but it may be thought to be “good for health”.