As both a longtime vegetarian and someone who reads the news every day, I must say these new Gallup stats threw me for a loop. They’re all semi-interesting—I’d never have guessed that college graduates are less likely to be vegetarians than high school dropouts, for instance—but I find the one on age to be most shocking. If you’d have asked me last week, I’d have said with total confidence that Millennials are surely more prone to vegetarianism than senior citizens. And yet, I’d have been so wrong.
The only way I can square this in my head is that American culinary culture is entering a phase in which the trend is to eat everything, but do so mindfully. Whereas vegetarianism was once a very binary decision—you either are or aren’t—in recent years, chefs and food writers like Michael Pollan have started preaching the gospel of rational and moderate meat consumption. The New York Times’s Mark Bittman, for instance, says he’s vegan before 6 pm, at which point he allows himself to eat whatever he wants, meat or no.
With people like Bittman and Pollan at the nation’s food helm, and fancy organic butcher shops opening up in trendy neighborhoods from coast to coast, maybe Millennials are moving away from the old, rigid vegetarianism promoted by Paul McCartney and PETA. The new thing is to allow yourself to eat meat, but to make sure that it’s meat that is hormone free and hasn’t been factory farmed. I can’t say I agree with that decision, but I do like that it appears we are living in a time in which Americans are thinking more than ever about what they put into their bodies.