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Omnivores, Vegetarians and Vegans

11/01/2018

Vegans tend to be a vociferous minority frequently proselytizing consumers to their lifestyle. The question arises as to the proportion in the U.S. population that are respectively vegans and vegetarians. A 2017 study conducted by Nielsen yielded a value of three percent of the population regarding themselves as vegans with six percent as vegetarians. Concurrently, Gallup and Harris found three percent of the population self-characterizing as vegan during the period 2012 to 2018.

These figures would appear to be high in relation to a 2016 study in Britain which showed that only one percent of those surveyed never ate meat or animal products. The U.K. value is closer to studies conducted by Faunalytics which ascertained that only 0.5 percent of the U.S. population are true vegans with additional 3 to 4 percent as vegetarians.

Obviously the discrepancy between polls and detailed surveys relates to definition. Vegans exclude all meat, fish, dairy and egg products from their diets. Vegetarians generally eschew meat but consume eggs and dairy products. Flexitarians represent a class of consumers who move between omnivorous and vegetable-based diets.

The low proportion of true vegans and a fairly stable number of vegetarians belies the increase in consumption of food products designated “vegetarian”. Obviously consumers are purchasing vegetarian foods which are incorporated in a conventional omnivorous diet. The motivation for this practice has yet to be defined although companies such as Nestle which estimates that only a quarter of consumers purchasing vegetarian meals fall strictly into this category. Obviously some consumers classified as flexitarians consider that some welfare or sustainability objectives are satisfied by eating an occasional vegetarian meal, thereby, contributing to a feeling of self-satisfaction.

The subject of veganism reviewed by The Economist on October 13th characterizes responses elicited by surveys as “aspirational self-deception, terminological inexactitude or simply hypocrisy”.

In assessing the environmental impact of egg production, the carbon dioxide equivalent emission per ton of protein from eggs is approximately 25,000 tons per ton of protein compared to beef at 275,000 tons of carbon dioxide per ton of protein.