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Riding the ‘vegetarian escalator’ towards a reduced-meat diet

With meat-free and meat-substitute meals making up more of our diet, increasing numbers of people are cutting down on their meat consumption, according to recent research.

Posted : 6 November 2009

Consumer research company Mintel classifies 23 per cent of the population as “meat-reducers”, people trying to eat less meat for health and environmental reasons, and 10 per cent as “meat-avoiders”, people who eat little or no meat, and identify with vegetarianism but sometimes lapse. Another Mintel study found that 6 per cent of people considered themselves to be vegetarians, although a Food Standards Agency study found that only 3 per cent of people were strictly veggie, and 5 per cent only partly.

Confusion about how to describe this latter group has reopened the debate about “pescetarians”. The Vegetarian Society is firmly of the opinion that people who eat fish are not vegetarians, for example, while vegan and vegetarian group Viva dismisses as “meaningless” the newly minted term “flexitarian”, to decribe those who occasionally eat meat and fish. The growing number of people adopting semi-vegetarian lifestyles does indicate a shift in public perception, however, with vegetarianism seen as a more mainstream choice.

While opinion is divided on these quasi-veggies, their decision to cut down on meat consumption is considered the first step on an aspirational pathway – known as the “vegetarian escalator” – leading to changed habits. “More than a quarter of people say they eat less meat than they did five years ago,” says Viva director Juliet Gellatley. “There is a shifting change in the diet. A third of our membership are meat-reducers.”

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