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Meat barbecue picnic at country fair. Lamb leg roasted at spit. Lamb grill, big piece of meat at rolling skewer. Street vendor,

Meatless Mondays haunt the dreams of those in the meat industry. If you have a pulse or a Pinterest you can agree it seems that now, more than ever, people are going vegetarian- or even just pushing for a less meat-heavy menu. Whether it is for health reasons or environmental, this vision of less meat more plants is taking restaurants by storm, but is that really how people are eating?

As it turns out, it’s not. With 2015 being “the largest increase in U.S. meat consumption since the food scares of the 1970s,” we find that the trend of consumption being up by 5% is going to keep on rising. Just because consumption will be back at high levels, it doesn’t mean that people are eating the same meat that they were back in the 70s.

Beef used to be the reigning supreme meat, a comfort food to beat all comfort foods, but that is now changing. Chicken is now the most popular meat for Americans to serve up, between the cost efficiency, and the smaller carbon footprint, it’s the best choice for both the producer and the consumer.

Yet, why then, does it feel like vegetarian restaurants are popping up all over the place if we are going back to a meat and potatoes diet?

It turns out that even though we are increasing the amount of meat we as a country consume, that doesn’t clearly reflect all age groups and their eating habits. According to The New York Times, 12% of millennials say they are “faithful vegetarians,” compared with 4% of Gen X’ers and 1% of baby boomers. With a shocking 42% of vegetarians being part of the millennial generation you have to wonder if these rising meat consumption trends will be able to continue in the coming years.

That leaves the restaurant industry in a tricky place. Do you adjust preemptively to the largest generation yet, offering more vegetarian options on your menu? Or do you stick to what you know is increasing today and worry about the next generation later?

If you use big chains as a guide to test the waters, then you will find yourself adding some veggie burgers on the grill. With Subway, Chipotle, and White Castle giving non-meat eaters options they are keeping their chains from being vetoed when families are picking up a quick dinner. The nature of having a vegetarian in a group keeps whole families or friends from going to certain places, even if it is just one person who won’t eat meat.

While adapting your menu is one route to take when looking at these trends, there are other options. There is the option of switching your concept to become a more specialty restaurant like Sweetgreens, serving all different types of salads and target a younger crowd. You could stay a meats and potatoes type of place, if that’s your preference, and focus on serving up what the Baby Boomers have been eating, and still want to eat. An important thing to note, regardless of your concept, is that all age groups say “they would pay more for healthy foods, including those that are GMO-free, have no artificial coloring/flavors and are deemed all natural”, so even if you keep your meat on the menu be conscientious of the quality of your food.
So between the rise of meat, but decrease in beef and increase in chicken, and the millennial influx of vegetarians, it seems that the vastly different trends point to one thing.  People are making healthier choices, but at their own rate. If their choice is going from beef to chicken, or overall just cutting meat from their diet, they are making better choices for their body- leaving you open to make your own opinions of what it means to be healthy in your kitchen.

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Megan is always adventuring. Whether it is simply wandering around Newport, RI or venturing off across the world, she is constantly looking for a new travel destination. While she may not be able to tell you the exact cities she has visited, you can expect a play by play of everything she ate.
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