It may seem like everyone is vegan or vegetarian based on your Instagram feed these days, but the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has some data that proves otherwise. According to data released by the USDA, Americans will eat a record-breaking amount of meat in 2018 — 222.2 pounds to be exact. This number beats the previous record, which has been intact since 2004. It’s 2018; go big or go home, right?
While it’s recommended that the average adult eat 5 to 6.5 ounces of protein daily, 222.2 pounds per year breaks down to about 10 ounces per day for every American. The record-breaking meat consumption of Americans in 2018 is a far cry from over a decade ago when, in 2007, red meat and poultry demand decreased by 9 percentage points, which was linked to a drought and the increase in demand for corn-based ethanol, according to Bloomberg. Since then, however, there has been a flourishing of meat alternatives, in addition to the mainstreaming of plant-forward diets. But there has also been a growing desire to re-introduce meat into our diets, especially if it's raised responsibly. “If you look at the items that consumers say they want more of in their diet, protein tops the list,” David Portalatin, a Houston-based food industry adviser for NPD Group, told Bloomberg.
The increase in meat production may come as bad news to environmentalists and others concerned about climate change. In 2016, the World Resources Institute published a paper on the negative effects of meat production on the environment. It found that reducing heavy meat consumption would result in “a per capita food and land use-related greenhouse gas emissions reduction of between 15 and 35 percent by 2050.”
Poultry production and red meat production have varying environmental footprints. Anthony Myint of Zero Foodprint’s told Eater SF, “It’s a major environmental improvement if people choose that fried chicken sandwich, and I don’t think anybody thinks about it as like, ‘Oh man, that burger is four times worse for the environment.’”
Meat isn’t the only food item that is expected to be consumed at higher rates this year. The USDA also predicts that Americans will be eating more eggs and dairy products like cheese and butter. According to USDA’s analysis, Americans’ consumption of carbohydrates is down as consumers become more health-conscious, but eating nearly twice the recommended amount of protein cancels out the health benefits of meat.
So what does all of this information mean for your next trip to the grocery store? Government data shows that prices for in-demand food items are going down. Bloomberg reports “chicken breast costs in November were the lowest in five years, and steak and ham are getting less expensive.” And as any Economics 101 course will explain, when prices are low, demand will be high.
"The basic story is that in the last 10 years the industry had really high feed costs," Will Sawyer, an animal protein analyst, said according to reporting from Project Earth. "Corn and soybean prices were up, driven by China and ethanol policy, but now they've come down and meat companies have been making pretty good money for a couple years now."
USDA’s data suggests that health trends are not slowing down America’s appetite for red meat. David Friedman, founder of the meat alternative brand Epic Burger, told Bloomberg, “Ten years from now, there will be higher plant consumption, but beef will always be king. People are always looking to put more protein into their diets. But they want high quality and transparency in the food they’re eating.” So yes — if you want a steak after reading this, you're in pretty good company.