Why Are So Many Vegans & Vegetarians Starting To Eat Meat Again?
Food preferences are fickle. An eating pattern that makes you feel great one day could leave you unsatisfied the next. Things like allergies, food sensitivities, and nutrient deficiencies can sway how a person eats, and these change over time. Perspectives on food can also shift as people learn more about the resources and labor that went into making it. Could this be why so many vegans and vegetarians have started eating meat again?
The statistics on shifting tastes
According to a report published by Chef's Pencil, from April 2021 through April 2022, Google Trends data showed a decline in veganism popularity. In the United States, searches for vegan staple foods and vegan recipes dropped (though there was a notable search surge for vegan restaurants) during this time period.
As for what caused the dip, authors ruled out home cooking fatigue, noting, "Overall recipe searches in the United States have actually increased [from 2020 to 2022]." It's likely not an issue of availability, either. The Vegan Food Global Market Report forecasts the global vegan food market will grow from being a $16.05 billion to an $18.27 billion industry in 2023.
Instead, nutritionist Melissa Wasserman Baker, RDN, speculates that health concerns are what's driving many vegans and vegetarians to reintroduce meat into their diets. Nutrient deficiencies, gastrointestinal issues, and protein deficits that translate to a lack of collagen (and, therefore, weaker bones and joints) are just some reasons why vegans and vegetarians might decide to make the switch, Baker says.
To see these decisions happen in real time, all you need to do is log on to social media. "Many people instantly feel better when switching [to a vegan diet], but I really felt the opposite," travel and lifestyle influencer Kristin Addis (@bemytravelmuse) tells mindbodygreen. "I would get dizzy, my skin broke out more, and although I tried to get all of the nutrition I needed, it would get very difficult on trips to remote areas." Sometimes, she notes, her only option would be to eat bread or vegan snack bars, further fueling the problem. For Addis, there was no question that reintroducing meat into her diet would alleviate her symptoms.
TikToker Abigail Martin was vegan for four years before her hormones took a hit. "I think there is definitely a right way to be vegan and sustain yourself properly while doing so," Martin tells mindbodygreen, "but it is substantially more difficult, and not everybody is made for it, in my opinion." Since incorporating meat into her diet again, Martin says she feels healthier, physically and mentally.
Moving away from labels, while maintaining ethics
Of course, many people are plant-based for moral and ethical reasons. So even if eating meat is important for their health, they still struggle to do it. Martin is one of these people. "I still heavily believe that we are in an animal welfare crisis with the current factory farming situation and meat production in America in general," she says. "I think everything in life is a balancing act, and I'm still trying to find the right balance with my diet."
I think everything in life is a balancing act, and I’m still trying to find the right balance with my diet.
On a recent stay in Greece, Renae Smith (@renaesmithmc) had to revisit her ethics when she received a dinner invitation from a local woman who lived near her Airbnb. "I felt rude telling her I was plant-based (considering I didn't think she'd even understand it fully)," Smith explains, so when the woman cooked up a generous spread of mutton and fish, she ate it.
"I ate a small portion and, weirdly, felt fine about it. The next day I had a fresh fish that I saw the fisherman bring in and again, felt fine—ethically and physically," Smith tells mindbodygreen. "Since then, I've stopped calling myself vegan or vegetarian."
Smith, a food educator and MasterChef Australia alum, has also changed the way she educates others on healthy eating habits since the experience. Now, she focuses her lessons around inclusivity by presenting different meal options—with meat and without. "I like this approach. I feel it's a much better way to reach people. Plus, it makes me less stressed knowing I don't have to put myself in a rigid box."
These days, Martin is typically eating meat at one meal a day, and she tries her best to choose locally sourced cuts. Smith still opts for vegetarian food 80-90% of the time because she likes how she feels when she eats predominantly plants, "but I don't place any restrictions on myself or place myself in a category," she says.
Smith and Martin aren't alone in their desire for more diet freedom. A survey issued by Sprouts in 2021 found that 47% of Americans now identify as "flexitarian"—a flexible way of eating that prioritizes mostly plant-based foods, with the occasional sustainably sourced animal product thrown in.
Veganism and vegetarianism aren't for everyone, and the recent shift in how Americans eat is showing that. As Martin says, "Life is a balancing act."
By eating what makes their body feel good, and being mindful of what doesn't, many are carving out their own way of eating that is sustainable in every sense of the word.
Julia Guerra is a health and wellness writer reporting for mindbodygreen, Elite Daily, and INSIDER. Formerly the beauty editor for BestProducts.com, she's contributed to Women's Health, Cosmopolitan, PopSugar, and more. A book worm and fitness enthusiast, her happiest moments are spent with her husband, family, sipping tea, and cuddling with her Tabby cat, Aria.