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    Sunday, September 13, 2015

    Vegetarianism and Money: Surprising Results from a New Study

      On Saturday mornings in the summer, I head for the North Asheville Farmers' Market. The diversity and quality of produce at the market is impressive, but good veggies don’t come cheap. Tomatoes are running $4 a pound this year as compared to $1.48 a pound for chicken breasts at my local supermarket and $2.28 a pound for pork loin. But last week, despite the cost, I did load up on the tomatoes.

    That evening while my wife and I were enjoying a terrific tomato nicoise salad (here’s the recipe (link is external)), I asked Mary Jean whether she thought vegetarians tended to be better or worse off financially than the average American. “Are you kidding?” she said. “Most of the vegetarians I know seem pretty well off.  I think they make more money than the typical American.” I told her she was wrong, that I had just read on the website Faunalytics about a national survey of American food habits.  It found that vegetarianism and veganism were more common among lower income groups than among people making more money. She said she didn’t believe it.

    Faunalytics (link is external) (formerly called the Humane Research Council) is one of my go-to sources for information on animal issues. The blog post (link is external) I read described a recent survey by the Vegetarian Resource Group. Over the last 20 years, the VRG has regularly commissioned large scale surveys of American diets (here (link is external)). The 2015 VRG survey was conducted by the widely respected Harris Poll and was based on the responses of 2,017 American adults. (Details of the 2015 poll and the results are here (link is external).)

    Current Trends in Vegetarian/Veganism
    Graph by Hal Herzog
    Source: Graph by Hal Herzog

    The 2015 VRG poll found that 3.4% of Americans are presently vegetarians; this incudes respondents who indicated that they never eat red meat, poultry, or fish. About 15% of the vegetarians were also vegans who, in addition to avoiding meat, did not consume dairy products.  As shown in this graph, the percent of people who eat no meat at all is down slightly from the 2011 and 2012 polls, but I suspect this is due to random fluctuations in sampling rather than a meaningful trend.

    I was not surprised that fewer than 1 in 20 Americans is vegetarian/vegan. Other national polls have obtained similar results. I was, however, very surprised by one of the Harris Poll findings: people with below average household incomes were much more likely to be vegetarians than people in higher income brackets. The VRG poll found that 7% of people in households with under $50,000 total income were vegetarians. (The median household income in the US is about $54,000.)  By comparison, only 2% of people in the $50,000 to $75,000 bracket were vegetarian or vegan, 1% in the $75,000 to $100,000 bracket, and 2% in the over $100,000 household income bracket.

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