Millennials drive shift

"Vegetables to replace meat by 2020"

Meat has always been the star of the American dinner plate, and vegetables were just thrown in for a bit or color or virtue, but the balance of power is now starting to shift.

Scientific research, seasonal and local food activists, environmental advocates, chefs, and increasingly health-conscious consumers are ushering in an era where vegetables will usurp meat as the star of the dinner plate. By 2020, vegetables will assume top billing in the American diet, leading to a healthier and more sustainable future.

Only six percent of American adults eat the recommended serving (2 ½ cups) of vegetables per day, according to the Produce for Better Health Foundation. These numbers are even lower among preteens and teens, whose consumption of vegetables is the lowest. Meanwhile, America eats more meat than the rest of the world, with the average person consuming 270.2 pounds a year.

Too much meat and not enough vegetables is a problem from a health and an environmental standpoint. According to Johns Hopkins (and many, many others), a “strong body of scientific evidence” links meat consumption to heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity, certain cancers, and earlier death. Moreover, 30 percent of the world’s total ice-free surface is used to support livestock and the industry drives 15 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions.

And, given the hefty carbon footprint of meat, opting for vegetables over meat is also a smart environmental choice. A study conducted by University of Oxford found that meat lovers’ diets cause double the climate-warming emissions, and conversely, giving up or reducing meat intake will reduce the carbon footprint more than giving up cars.

2015 and 2016 were awash in headlines proclaiming vegetables as the main event on the dinner plate. Meat consumption is “in a serious, sustained decline” while “vegan is going mainstream.” Food-industry consulting firm Technomic reports that two-thirds of today’s Americans think a vegetarian meal can be as satisfying as one with meat. Food Business News published an article naming “veg-centric dining” as the next big culinary trend, and Vogue (that all-powerful cultural arbiter) went so far as to ask “Are Vegetables The New Meat?”

Millennials are a key driver of this shift. Food companies adapt to meet the needs of their customers, and millennials have consistently demonstrated that they care about food, which also means caring about health, the environment, sustainability, and community. According to Eve Turow, author of A Taste Of Generation Yum, the Y generation is more passionate about food than any other in history. A 2014 study called “Outlook on the Millennial Consumer” found that millennials are making more conscious eating choices and pay attention to ingredient lists.

Vegetables are clearly moving to the center of the dinner plate, and it won’t be long before they overtake meat as the core of the American diet. Over the next 5-10 years, you will be able to order a cauliflower steak at a steakhouse and the dish that arrives won’t be an afterthought designed to appease the rare vegetarian. Giving up meat does not have to mean giving up the flavors, experiences, and satisfaction of comfort food dishes you adore. Vegetables are not “the new meat”—they are a better alternative.

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