What: The rise in vegetarianism across the world.
Why: In all honesty, we should not be trending toward vegetarianism. As industry makes the harvesting of animals more efficient and further distant from the consumer, and as global nutrition and the economy improves, we should be eating a lot more meat. But we’re not. In a statistically large portion of the world, a light has gone on. Whether it stems from sympathy for animals or fear of artificial hormones or just no longer liking the taste of flesh, those adopting the vegetarian lifestyle are finding they can live perfectly enjoyable lives without meat. It is vastly easier to be a vegetarian in a major city now. Sure, there are places in the U.S. and the rest of the world where it’s nearly impossible to be a vegetarian, but even those places are changing. Within a decade, most everywhere in the world, vegetables will no longer just be “what food eats.”
Impact: In 1971, 1 percent of Americans self-identified as vegetarians; now, 3 percent do. That’s a huge jump. And we’re not even leading the movement. In India, a whopping 30 percent of the population is vegetarian. That’s as many vegetarians as there are people in the U.S. But the coolest change is not statistical, it’s cultural. Restaurants like Seattle’s Sutra and Carmelita have found that health and sophistication are not antithetical. You can eat vegetarian and not feel you’re missing anything. That’s the makings of a revolution.
Personal Connection: So when did I decide to become a vegetarian? In 1986 (yes, of course there was a girl involved), and then, after two months of wanting to blow my brains out, never again. It wasn’t missing meat. That took only a week or so to get over. It was the feeling that every time I wanted to go somewhere, I was choosing not to engage myself. I’m a consumer of everything, as this column suggests; I try not to cut myself off from anything but the unhealthiest things. Being vegetarian isn’t being me, at least not how I currently imagine myself. I don’t apologize for that—not to humans, anyway. But I can admire vegetarians, and I can reach over and try their food, because man, it sure is good these days.
Other Contenders: the many Internet applications of the phrase “everything old is new again,” from Project Gutenberg‘s instant access to every classic book you ever read to Hulu‘s broadcasting of every TV series you ever loved to Facebook‘s permanent collection of every friend you ever had; the popularity of the microbrew and the democratization of alcohol; the rise of the empowered daughters of Title IX, the most important piece of administrative law in my lifetime; the tantalizing promise of the first car I want everyone to own, the Honda FCX Clarity; the election of Barack Obama, and the magnificent possibility that if he fails, it will be merely due to his inadequacies and not his skin color.
Note: This entry was inspired by Mark MacKinnon’s fascinating new blog Evil Things, which mirrors The Most Beautiful Things in style if not substance. Mark’s first entry was on Eating Meat, so I figured that in tribute, I should do one on that subject too. Check his blog out; you’ll be glad you did.