Peak meat: Can Al Gore, Jay Z, Oprah and Rick Warren all be wrong?



Hungry? Does this photo make you eager for dinner? Not me. I almost never cook red meat at home anymore, and I don’t miss it. I feel mildly unAmerican, having given up red meat and the NFL, but so it goes.

Turns out I’m not alone. Al Gore has gone further–he’s now a vegan. The evangelical pastor Rick Warren (who I profiled in Fortune in 2005) is advising his flock to eat less meat in a new faith-based diet book called The Daniel Plan. Jay Z and Beyonce have sworn off all animal products for three weeks.

The decline of meat is the topic of my column this week for Guardian Sustainable Business. Here’s how it begins:

What will be hot on restaurant menus in 2014? The National Restaurant Association, which surveyed more than 1,400 chefs, says the top three trends for next year will be locally sourced meats and seafood, locally grown produce and environmental sustainability. That’s welcome news for people who care about the health of the planet, but the chefs may have missed an even bigger change coming to the US diet – the decline of meat.

Today, Americans consume more meat – approximately 270lbs per capita – than carnivores elsewhere (except Luxembourg). But meat consumption in the US has been declining for nearly a decade, according to the research firm Packaged Facts. About 12% of US adults strongly agree and 19% somewhat agree that “they are eating many meatless/vegetarian meals,” says David Sprinkle, publisher of Packaged Facts. Beyond the data, there are signs all around us that meat is falling out of favor, for health, environmental, ethical and economic reasons.

The decline of meat creates opportunities for an array of competitors in the protein business. They include the developers of sustainable aquaculture, producers of vegetarian analogs like Beyond Meat andBeyond Eggs, and consumer products firms whose vegetarian products like Boca and Gardein have moved from natural foods channels to mainstream retailers like Target, Safeway and Kroger. Fast-casual chain Chipotle recently launched Sofritas, a tofu sandwich, under the headline,Vegans and Carnivores Unite, while Subway is rolling out a vegetarian falafel sandwich. On its website, Starbucks says: “If you’ve ever heard someone dismiss vegetables as “rabbit food,” you should introduce them to our Hearty Veggie & Brown Rice Salad Bowl.”

The decline of meat is welcome news. Industrially-produced meat is bad for the environment. Eating too much red meat is bad for your heart. I’m personally troubled by the way chickens, pigs and cows are treated on factory farms. Of course, it is theoretically possible to raise and slaughter animals in ways that are good for the planet and your health, as I’ve written before. I’m not a vegetarian (yet) and I can’t imagine becoming a vegan because I’m fond of cheese, butter and eggs. But I’m thinking more and more about what to cook and eat. As Jonathan Safran Foer writes in Eating Animals: “One of the greatest opportunities to live our values – or betray them – lies in the food we put on our plates.”

Hat tip to Josh Balk of the Humane Society of America, who gave me the idea for my story.


  1. says

    Dear Marc,
    I think you too are heading for a compassionate diet, Please take a look at to see the latest on how cows that produce milk for cheese and other dairy products are punched and kicked. We forget that they are mothers with babies, cheese is made from mother’s milk. We all want to be kind to mothers, so almond milk and non dairy cheese is the greatest invention for compassion!

    • Ann Burkhart says

      Sally – I totally respect your decision not to eat dairy. A vegan diet is a choice many people make for varied personal reasons. The horrible treatment uncovered by Mercy for Animals is unforgivable. It is unfair however to paint the entire dairy industry with that same tainted brush. I am not in the industry, so have no stake in protecting dairy, but I am the granddaughter of dairy farmers and my family treated their animals with respect, dignity and love. I find that is true of many dairy farmers large and small. I appreciate how Marc focuses columns on how to ensure ethical sourcing of all the products we consume. Some people will decide not to buy/consume certain products in line with their views. Great! But let’s be straight about the reasons and respect producers who are doing the right thing.

  2. Loren Hart says

    “One of the greatest opportunities to live our values – or betray them – lies in the food we put on our plates.” Amen.

    Nice work, Marc!

  3. Matt R. says

    Yes, they are wrong. Grass-fed, organic meat is the way to go. And it’s also some of the healthiest food on the planet.

  4. Ellen says

    Why are these cows being dragged away in this undercover video? Because they are “downers”–sick cows. What’s making them sick? Most likely: Bovine Leukemia Virus. Google it!!! Pretty scary! Over 80% of US dairy cows test positive for the cancer-causing virus (organic-fed cattle not excluded). It’s in the milk as well as the meat. Is it killed by pasteurization? Perhaps. Is it transmissible to humans? The results from a 2007 study from UC Berkeley found evidence of BLV proteins in the breast tissue of 59% of women tested who had breast cancer. And 74% of 257 humans tested had antibodies to BLV in their blood, which is an indication of exposure to BLV. Studies in Sweden and the Soviet Union have linked BLV to human leukemia. Google “Bovine Leukemia Virus and human cancer” to learn more.

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