After a Decade of Decline, Americans Are Eating More Meat Again

One of the most acclaimed restaurants to open in New York City last year was Superiority Burger. In a cramped slice of East Village real estate, chef Brooks Headley did what seemed impossible a few years ago: He made veggie burgers cool. Punk, even. Not only were his meatless patties a disavowal of the corporate, capitalist meat industry—by all accounts, they tasted phenomenal too. 

But at the same time as New Yorkers were lining up to eat at Superiority—at the same time as researchers were working to perfect a test-tube burger and the egg industry was trying to undercut a vegan mayo start-up that threatened the very meaning of the word “mayonnaise”—Americans were starting to eat more meat.

According to a report from the Dutch bank Rabobank, 2015 marked “the largest increase in U.S. meat consumption since the food scares of the 1970s.” Per capita consumption jumped by 5 percent, and the trend is expected to continue in the coming years. By 2018, meat consumption should be back up to the peak levels reached in the mid-aughts.

Even if Americans are eating more meat than they have in a decade, they aren’t eating it in the same way. In 2015, for example, beef consumption was flat. While the Rabobank projections estimate a slight rise in the coming years, consumption of red meat will remain historically low. The downward trend began in the mid-’70s, when beef consumption peaked at nearly 90 pounds per capita; Rabobank’s projections put it at around 56 pounds per capita in 2018. In 2014, chicken consumption beat out beef for the first time in a century, and the great chickening of the American diet shows no sign of abating.

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