Nine percent of American adults say they are vegetarian or vegan, according to a recent Pew Research Center study, and 12 percent of those are age 18-29.
Twelve percent of adults age 30-49 also say they are vegetarian or vegan, but Len Torine, executive director of American Vegetarian Association, said the growing up-and-comers are the millennials.
The American Vegetarian Association is an advocacy organization based in East Hanover, New Jersey, that certifies vegetarian and vegan products. Through his work with the association, Torine said he has recognized that the majority of vegetarians are young people.
“It’s inspiring that the millennials are embracing vegetarian lifestyles,” Torine said. “I think it really folds in with their increased overall awareness of environmental ideals.”
According to a report by Worldwatch Institute, 51 percent of global greenhouse emissions are caused by the mass production of animal agriculture. This and other adverse environmental impacts are what initially turned Johanna Becker, a junior studying fisheries and wildlife at Michigan State University, toward a vegetarian diet.
“We have so much more access to information than our parents’ generation,” said Becker, who has been a vegetarian for two years. “If you look at the development of the food industry, it’s just gotten to a level of such mass production that may not have been as big of a problem before.”
Kevin Kortas, a three-year vegetarian from Port Huron, was also attracted to vegetarianism for environmental reasons — specifically because of the amount of resources required to produce meat and dairy products. The environmental studies and sustainability graduate said his choice also is reinforced by his political community.
“I think that in the leftist community it’s easier to be vegetarian or vegan,” Kortas said. “There are a lot of options and discussion around the topic.”
“Philosophically, a liberal mindset would probably have a higher likelihood of being a vegetarian because of environmental consciousness and overall open-mindedness,” Torine said.
Similarly, Becker said she identifies as a Democrat and worries about what will come of environmental advocacy under the Trump administration.
Trump eliminated the White House website’s climate change page and pledged to revive the coal industry, among other environmental policy changes. Becker said being a vegetarian is one positive environmental contribution she can make in the face of what she calls the country’s “extreme environmental condition.”
Becker said she finds community among other liberal millennials who are vegetarians — both virtually and in person. She said vegetarian or vegan social media communities are a great way to connect with other young vegetarians and vegans and to share recipes.
“I feel like a lot of people don’t realize that being a vegetarian isn’t that hard,” Becker said. “Just being exposed to someone who is vegetarian and seeing all the food they eat makes it really easy.”
One of Becker’s closest friends, Sarah Wegert, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering at Michigan State, also has been a vegetarian for two years. Wegert said about half of her friends are vegetarians.
“I think all of us approached it for similar reasons,” Wegert said. “I don’t feel more inclined to stay vegetarian because they are, but it makes it easier being one.”
For his friends that aren’t vegetarians, Kortas said that there still remains a significant focus on sustainably produced foods among millennials. Many young people will boycott food that was not grown locally or produced sustainably, he said.
“It’s just easier being around people who understand you and support you,” Becker said.