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Culture Global Kitchen

A Meat-Free Diet Is On the Rise

With October being World Vegetarian Awareness month, starting with World Vegetarian Day on October 1 and ending with World Vegan Day on November 1, we are reminded of the importance of vegetarianism around the world.  There are 375 million vegetarians worldwide as of now—it is a cause that a sizeable chunk of the global population cares deeply about.

Some quick definitions for those unsure: a vegetarian does not consume any animal product (including seafood, poultry, livestock, and gelatine). A vegan does not consume or use any animal product or by-product (including eggs and dairy; or wear wool, fur or leather).

But what does it mean to be vegetarian in today’s global society? Are we fully aware of the benefits of a meat-free diet? I started my investigation by interviewing Antonia, an international student from Hamburg, Germany currently studying here at Temple University.

What made you consider vegetarianism?

Growing up, my mother didn’t eat too much meat so the shift was not very drastic for me as I became aware that I didn’t really need meat. After my transition to a fully vegetarian diet, I realized that I didn’t miss meat too much either. Also, I feel like my transition was heavily influenced by my dislike of cruel slaughter practices and the mistreatment of animals in rearing farms. If you look at it from an ethical standpoint, vegetarianism makes a lot more sense.

Do you know how livestock and poultry are treated in Germany? Are they allowed to roam free?

It depends. I think a lot of chickens are held in very small cages where they never see sunlight, but there are also local farmers who try to incorporate ethical practices as much as they canproviding animals access to fresh water, good nutrition, and suitable housing. However, these practices raise the cost of meat and meat by-products. I feel bad when I buy cheap eggs or when I have bought cheap meat in the past for this very reason.

Is vegetarianism or veganism popular in Germany?

It is! It’s really a trend and I think in the last two or three years it has risen considerably. For example, at my birthday party in Germany last year, half the people were vegetarian or vegan. I think it is mostly popular among girls and women; it’s not so much a male thing as of now. Nevertheless, Germany has plenty of vegan food options and restaurants.

Why do you think it’s mainly women who are vegetarians in Germany?

I think it’s the general stereotype where “manliness” is linked to the consumption of meat.

Is it easier being a vegetarian in Germany or in the USA? Why?

For me, it is easier in the US because my dad who eats meat isn’t around. He doesn’t cook for me here so I have much more freedom to make my own dietary choices.

Some interesting ideas raised here in the interview—it gives us a more personal insight into vegetarianism.  It is true that animal welfare is a major contributor to vegetarianism, but in recent years this has become all the more prevalent. Social media has exposed the inhuman treatment of livestock in slaughterhouses so that more people are aware of how that ribeye steak, roast chicken or smoked ham has ended up on the supermarket shelf.

According to studies done by the World Animal Protection, the country that received the highest score for animal welfare was Austria, with Germany coming fourth. The Austrian 2004 Animal Welfare Act prohibited the suffering of all animals, including farm animals. It is encouraging that leading members of society are taking notice of the ill treatment of animals and actually doing something about it. However, it is India’s population that has the highest percentage of vegetarians worldwide. Even McDonalds offers a special vegetarian menu, including a ‘McAloo Tiki’ burger, made with a potato and peas patty. The religious practices of Buddhism and Jainism contribute greatly to this popularity of vegetarianism in India. Mahayana Buddhists in particular strongly criticize the killing and consumption of animals. These beliefs do not stray far from the moral dilemma we all often face—would I personally kill an animal for its meat? If the answer is no, then vegetarianism seems like an obvious solution.

So besides the ethical reasons, why are vegetarianism and veganism becoming so popular worldwide? A survey shows vegans now account for 7% of the UK population; that’s 3.5 million people who don’t consume eggs, cheese, milk, ice creamyou get the picture. This is largely due to the impact that meat-eating has on the environment which coerces people to reject it completely and search for alternatives.

According to Professor Carolyn Roberts from the Environment Gresham College, food accounts for around 20% of our greenhouse gas emissions. It is estimated that if all of us switched to a vegetarian diet, it would roughly halve the emissions associated with food, and may even have a more positive impact on climate change than if we all switched to electric cars.  Even more astonishing is that 70% of the world’s freshwater is used to grow plants as fodder for livestock. This seems excessive when you consider that 1 in 9 people across the globe do not even have easy access to clean water.

As if these environmental factors weren’t concerning enoughmore and more people are now increasingly aware of the health drawbacks of eating meat, eggs, and dairy. Consumption of animal products has been linked with type 2 diabetes and cancer. Increasing global awareness about these issues has led to a boom in the vegetarian and vegan industry. Today, there are over 25,000 vegan and vegetarian restaurants in the USA alone according to HappyCow statistics.

So, although vegetarianism is not quite the social norm yet, it is certainly embedded in global culture and due to the awareness of its environmental and health benefits, the meat-free diet is becoming more popular than ever. Once firmly rooted in religious and ethical origins, in recent years vegetarianism has developed into a “health” trend (thanks to social media and animal rights campaigning). Due to this, the USA is now an inclusive space for vegetarians and vegans, with aisles in grocery stores dedicated to meat and dairy alternatives, and veggie restaurants sprouting from almost everywhere.