It’s safe to say that Americans love meat. We spent an average of $1,100 per person on meat, fish, poultry and eggs in 2012, making up nearly 30 percent of our grocery bills.
Right now just 5 percent of the country calls themselves “vegetarian,” but as ‘ABC News’ investigates, what would happen if Americans pushed away the pork chops and steaks and reached instead for the salad bar?
The answer: there just wouldn’t be enough food for everyone.
“If we were to increase consumption [of fruits and vegetables] immediately today, we would probably not have the infrastructure to grow all of those products and hence some of those products would have to come from overseas,” Marco Palma, Assistant Professor and Extension Economist at Texas A&M University, said.
Today, Americans are barely eating half of the USDA’s daily recommended servings of vegetables and fruits. An extra 100 billion pounds of fruits – and 136 billion pounds of vegetables – would need to be imported just to get the nation to these recommended levels.
Even more would be needed to completely transition the country from omnivore to herbivore.
Going vegetarian wouldn’t necessarily help Americans lose any weight, either. In a country where two-thirds of adults, and nearly one-third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese, going vegetarian could only add to our waistlines.
“A plant-based diet is a great idea for almost everyone, but complete elimination leads to other substitutions,” says Rebecca Solomon, the Director of Clinical Nutrition at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.
She points out, “I’ve seen people just absolutely neglect their calcium needs, neglect their protein needs and get extremely carb-focused because that tends to be the easiest and quickest thing to get when you’re not eating any kind of meat products.”
Beyond nutrition, a meat-free America also would put a lot of people out of work. ‘ABC News’ estimates that it currently takes about 1.5 million people to keep our country fed, and livestock producers make up 32 percent of this workforce.
Simply eliminating meat in our diets wouldn’t mean that livestock would disappear, though. Contrary to vegetarian wisdom, livestock would still be necessary.
“They are an integral part of our agricultural system, manure is important to our fertilization system,” says Jack Algiere, four-season farm director at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.