I’m making a prediction: America will be vegan by 2050.
Sound preposterous? Not if we work together to make it happen.
Consider that until the 1900s millions of young children worked in our factories… and how untenable that would be today. Consider that a country built on the backs of slaves elected Barack Obama in 2008. Consider that seventeen states in a country where gays lived painfully in the closet just decades ago, now allow them to marry. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” Martin Luther King said, paraphrasing a longer quotation from transcendentalist Theodore Parker. Our nation’s history speaks this truth.
And consider that a 2012 study found that when ten percent of the population holds “an unshakable belief, that belief is always adopted by the majority of the society.”
Most importantly, consider what’s happening before our very eyes:
1. Meat consumption is down, while “all things vegan” are on the rise.
In 2012, Americans consumed 12.2 percent less meat than in 2007. Half of us are aware of Meatless Mondays, and nearly as many are, in fact, eating at least one vegetarian meal a week. A Google search for “vegan caterer” yields 16,200 results. Our plant-based pals are in cities that you’d expect (Portland, Chicago, New York) but more encouragingly, in those you wouldn’t, like Smithfield, North Carolina, a town where homes are filled with the stench of hog manure and where manure mistsettles on homes, cars, sidewalks, and laundry left on the line. A Google News search for “vegan 2013” provides 24,200 results, while a “vegan 2003” search provides only 1,650 results. From 2005 to 2014, Google trends reports a 3-fold increase in vegan interest.
Naturally, our changing attitudes are changing industry:
2. Supermarkets are changing.
No matter whether you live, your favorite supermarket likely looks pretty different than it did five years ago. According to Supermarketnews.com, one of the Top Ten Food Trends predicted for 2013 was new vegetarian and vegan proteins, and in the two preceding years, over 100 meat substitutes were introduced to grocery stores. Some supermarkets, like Whole Foods in Northern California, are replacing egg-based mayonnaise with a non-GMO canola product called Just Mayo, and while the department may still be called “dairy,” it’s easy to find non-dairy milks, butters, and sometimes even cheeses there.
3. Restaurants are changing.
Our rejection of agribusiness is evident in changes taking place in the fast-food industry: chains like Burger King, Wendy’s, Subway, Dunkin’ Donuts and many more have pledged to phase out products derived from the industry’s most horrific practices. More significantly, the success of vegan items in traditional chains AND of vegan fast-food restaurants suggests that not just our attitudes, but our palatesare changing. Moe’s Southwest Grill offers tofu, Chipotle offers “Sofritas” (tofu braised in a variety of yummy foods) in 17 states and plans on expanding, and Tropical Smoothie Café offers Beyond Meat as a substitute to any chicken wrap, sandwich or salad in all 300 locations. The vegan chain Loving Hut boasts 43 restaurants in 15 states. Native Foods Café plans to open 200 new locations. The most telling news may be that McDonald’s, long the undisputed fast-food king, is struggling, with one public relations disaster after another and lackluster sales for several years. Even CEO Don Thompson notes that the chain has lost some of its“relevance” with customers.
Oh, by the way, it’s not just fast food that’s changing. Forbes says one of top ten 2013 food trends was “High End Vegan,” and over half of the 1,500 chefs polled by the National Restaurant Association for its “What’s Hot in 2011” list included vegan entrees as a hot trend.
4. The super-rich are driving industry-wide change.
If billionaires know one thing, it’s how to spot a trend that will make them richer. The fact that they’re investing in vegan start-ups is a pretty clear indicator that they believe America is ready and waiting. Among these visionaries are Bill Gates, who has invested in Beyond Meat and Hampton Creek Foods and has blogged about how, in essence, we must go vegan to meet our demand for “meat.” Hampton Creek Foods recently raised $23 million from Asia’s richest man, Li Ka-sing, and Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, while PayPal’s Peter Thiel has invested in Modern Meadow. With money behind them, these vegan start ups have the potential to transform the future of food.
Dr. King uttered another oft-cited statement: no lie can live forever. This one is going down: We see the barbarism and reject it. We know the protein myth is, well, just that. Person by person, we’re understanding the link between our diet and planetary devastation. As my pal Mariann Sullivan of Our Hen House wrote recently: It’s all coming together.