In the height of a global pandemic, it's hard to differentiate hyperbole from stark reality. Sensationalism from truth. What we want the facts to say from what the facts actually say.
Because at the moment, we’re bombarded daily with headlines detailing the hundreds of thousands of covid-19 deaths - witnessing tabloids compete in what can only be described as a game of apocalyptic semantics.
And so we seek out the silver linings - clinging onto the smallest glimmer of hope to help us get through these unprecedented times. CO2 levels are plummeting in major cities across the globe, sales of plant-based meat are skyrocketing, and meat giants like Tyson are being scrutinised for putting their workers’ health in jeopardy. These small but mighty leaps forward are worth celebrating.
'The end of Meat'
But standing out amongst all headlines is a statement most vegans dream of reading. One that appears innocent and hopeful. But in reality, is insidiously misleading and reductive: 'The End of Meat Is Here'.
The Op-Ed was published in The New York Times earlier this week, written by author of Eating Animals and We Are The Weather Jonathan Safran Foer. It instantly went viral on Twitter and caused a furore amongst vegans and meat-eaters alike.
There are several points raised by Foer that are scientifically backed and not really up for discussion. It’s well established that animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of global warming, and the mistreatment of animals raised for meat is simply appalling.
Foer also cites the skyrocketing demand of plant-based products, which again, if you take Beyond Meat for example, is undeniable. The company's shares have soared amid the pandemic while the rest of the stock market appears rocky at best.
But what does any of this mean? Have we come to the end of meat? Is 2020 the year that vegan takes over? Are the environmental and ethical implications of meat consumption enough to cause a billion dollar industry to come to an instant halt?
In short: No.
Fewer animals being killed?
Perhaps the biggest flaw in Foer's piece is correlating the fact that there are fewer American farmers now than during the civil war - but the reasonings behind this span too far and wide to confidently say it has anything to do with veganism.
The number of farmers or farms is actually irrelevant. What needs to be analyzed is whether there has been a decrease in the number of animals slaughtered
And when you look at the statistics from Our World In Data, global meat production has 'increased rapidly' over the past 50 years and total production has more than quadrupled since 1961. In 2018, an estimated 69 billion chickens; 1.5 billion pigs; 656 million turkeys; 574 million sheep; 479 million goats; and 302 million cattle were killed for meat production.
These stats alone are enough to debunk the assertion that we're at the ‘end’ of meat. Sure, the pandemic might have hit the meat industry hard, but there’s no doubt it will come roaring back - maybe even with twice the force.
Last year, global consultancy AT Kearney predicted that by 2040, 35 percent of meat will be lab-cultured, and 25 percent will be plant-based.
It’s another victory that highlights our progress. But we can’t gloss over the facts: 40 percent of animals in 2040 will still come from slaughtered animals. 40 percent of 69 billion chickens; 1.5 billion pigs; 656 million turkeys; 574 million sheep; 479 million goats; and 302 million cattle is still a startling figure.
The predicted popularity of lab meat overtaking vegan alternatives also, to some extent, proves that the majority consumers still value animal meat over plants. So why is Foer’s headline so confident and unapologetic?
It could be the illusory truth effect: we want the meat industry to end so badly that some of us convinced ourselves so. We surround ourselves with people whose values and ethics align with us, we consume news that supports our beliefs, and we pull and stretch the data we have to make our case stronger.
Or, it could be as simple as naively misinterpreting data and jumping to conclusions. Either way, it doesn’t make for a solid case.
The vegan population
The estimated percentage of the vegan population will never be 100 percent accurate. The latest figures from The Vegan Society suggest that the number of vegans in 2019 made up 1.16% of the population.
Even if you generously quadruple this figure, it's obvious that vegans are still a drop of water in the vast ocean - and while this number will more than likely increase, it isn’t enough to bring the meat industry to its demise.
On a more anecdotal account, nothing says the end of the meat industry like the growing cult of those following the carnivore diet. In the past few years we’ve seen a joker gain clout for eating a raw pig’s head at a vegan event, high profile podcasters like Joe Rogan promote a meat centric diet to his 9.something million followers, and some of the most prolific vegan YouTubers renounce veganism and start vlogging on how to cook steak.
I truly believe that one day we will see the end of the meat industry. But is it now? Absolutely not.