Is Meat the Next Tobacco?

With new generations focused on the environment, and new companies finding better alternatives, meat may soon become the next tobacco.

Meat Warning

At the time of writing, there are 61.8 Million posts on Instagram using #sexy.  The amount of posts using #vegan? 70.5 Million

Have we finally reached a tipping point in our evolution as a species where we might eliminate meat from our diets?

There appears to be a growing trend where going vegetarian, or vegan is becoming… well, trendy.  How did this movement gain this kind of momentum?  Why now?  Does it have the capability to change humanity and the world as we know it?

Trained Carnivores

Like most American kids, I grew up loving the staple items off of the “kids menu”.  Hot dogs, Chicken Nuggets, Cheeseburgers, Pepperoni Pizza.  Let’s just start right there.  Who decided that the kids menu should be comprised of the worst possible things we could put in our bodies?  My wife Sina served our 2 girls avocados and edamame as they were growing up and they love it.  Put a hamburger in front of them and they probably won’t touch it.  My mouth waters when I think of pepperoni and sausage pizza or a perfectly grilled steak with rock salt, but I also know that I’m killing myself every time I eat it.  There is a thin line between habit and addiction.  Could I stop eating meat tomorrow?  Yes.  But it would be very, very difficult.

Moral Conflict

We have eight pets in our house (cats and dogs) and we love them dearly.  We have never had a pet chicken, pig, lamb, or cow, but if we ever did I have a feeling it would be a lot easier to stop eating them.  I know in my mind that it’s bad for my health, bad for the environment, cruel to animals, but it just tastes so good!  I wonder how many other people out there feel this growing sense of guilt with each time they order meat off the menu.  The famous musician, vegan, and animal activist Moby does a great job of explaining this moral conflict in his Ted X talk in Venice Beach.

From Crunchy to Cool

Growing up we had that one couple in our extended family that were environmentalists.  Hardcore environmentalists were few and far between back then and so while their bumper stickers and eating habits were admirable, it seemed like more of a cult that I would never be a part of.  Since 2010 though, I have been seeing more mainstream discussions around becoming vegetarian or vegan.  In August, 2011, Bill Clinton was interviewed by Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN where he indicated that one can actually reverse heart disease by eliminating meat from one’s diet.

The first time I really started to think about changing my eating habits was after watching the documentary “Forks Over Knives”.  The film explains that during World War II during the time that the Nazis invaded Norway between 1939 and 1945, the Norwegian people were deprived of meat since the Nazis saved it all for their armies.  The rate of heart disease and stroke plummeted during these years, and jumped right back up after the war.  This was the first time that it seemed real to me that I might have a lot more time to spend with my kids and grand kids one day if I actually stopped eating meat.

More recently I saw this meme from Richard Branson which really hammered my sense of guilt about what animals have to go through so that we can have the luxury of eating them.

Richard Branson Meme

More and more we are seeing global icons and influencers raising awareness of the dangers of meat consumption, its apparent destructive impact on the environment and inherent moral hypocrisy.

Gaining Steam

Earlier this year The Guardian published an article called The Unstoppable Rise of Veganism.  Forbes published a similar article discussing how the shift in focus around Veganism from its health benefits to the mistreatment of animals and devastating environmental impact has garnered significant support from the Millennial and following generations.  As stated in Philip Wollen’s very moving speech (which I highly recommend watching), there are now apparently 600 Million vegetarians in the world.  That is a staggering number, and as the internet will soon be accessible by every person on Earth, these people certainly have the numbers to influence the rest.

What’s Next?

Underage Sale ProhibitedIt’s truly incredible when you think about it.  Eating meat is something that humans have done since early existence.  I’m sure smoking tobacco goes way back as well, but look what has happened to that industry over the last few decades.  There will be just as many threatened companies sending lobbyists to Washington to keep the meat industry alive. Will we soon see Surgeon General’s warnings on packages of meat we buy in the grocery store?  Perhaps a photo of the cow you are about to eat, or the kids that don’t have enough food and water because of it? As with any cultural shift, those companies that don’t adapt and continue betting on meat will go down in flames (pun intended).

The most important step toward solving this problem is to make non-meat options more easily accessible and affordable.  You can get a burger at McDonald’s for $1, but try finding a salad for $1.  I’ve been living in Paris for the last 2 months.  Good luck trying to avoid meat here.  Particularly for those that are short on time, finding a quick bite that does not include meat is very challenging.

Another important step is to give meat lovers a believable alternative.  California-based Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat appear to have developed an alternative that has the look, the taste, and I would argue the moxie to compete.  It’s an exciting development for those of us that would stop eating meat immediately if we could replace it with something healthy and not notice the difference.

I have been accumulating a list of projects that I would devote my time and energy toward to help with education, the environment, and human and animal rights if I were financially able to do so.  It is my dream to one day sit around the table with the world’s most influential philanthropists and brainstorm about how we can shape the future for the better.  Making healthier, non-meat based food more affordable and more easily accessible is now on that list.