You’ll definitely go back to meat. At least that’s the conclusion of a new Harris poll of 12,000 adults. Turns out that much of the hype about a ‘vegetarian movement’ is exactly that: hype.

Here’s a headline that quantifies a statistic that shouldn’t be a shock to anyone paying attention to social trends: “84 Percent Of Vegetarians And Vegans Go Back To Eating Meat.”

In other words, if you’re not eating meat now, you probably will be some time soon.

The headline was hyping a new survey study from the Harris Interactive Survey — which, for the record, means we’re talking about an Internet poll — that investigated about the meat-eating habits of 11,399 American adults ages 17 and up.

The Harris poll revealed that only 2 percent of American adults are currently classify themselves as vegetarians or vegans, 10 percent acknowledged that they are former vegetarians or vegans, while another 88 percent of the respondents have never experimented with vegetarian or vegan diets.

Remember, this is a poll in which the respondents actually cared about the issue of vegetarian diets. Even more interesting than the percentage of people who self-identified as veggies was one factoid released by Harris: More than half of the ex-vegetarians and ex-vegans gave up on their diets within the first year, while another third went back to meat-eating within three months of going vegetarian.

Now, let’s not get too giddy about these data. Although the fact that less than one-fifth of newbie veggies ultimately stick to the program, which tracks with the experience of just about everyone I’ve ever spoken with about cutting out animal foods from their diet, the reason(s) may not have much to do with a preference for meat.

Pursuing a vegetarian diet isn’t easy to do. It requires a lot more effort both in shopping and cooking, and the (alleged) health benefits are a tough sell as justification for making such a definitive switch, given the commitment it takes to embrace — and maintain — such an extreme lifestyle.

We lead a convenience-driven (lazy?) lifestyle, and taking the time to plan menus, procure often exotic ingredients and prepare a meal that take more time than slapping some burgers on the grill doesn’t click for most of us.

Eighty-four percent, to be exact.

The obvious statistics

Further unsurprising findings revealed that the survey says:

  • Many people decide to give up meat around the age of 34
  • The influence of a friend or a significant other can change how someone feels about meat-eating
  • One-third of ex-vegetarians or ex-vegans live with someone who eats meat

Personally, I question the stat that says people make dietary changes at age 34. In my experience, the change usually starts around age 13, especially with girls. Granted, a person’s mid-30s is often a time to take stock of the receding hairline, the expanding waistline and the responsibilities of child rearing — all of which can certainly prompt someone to decide that lifestyle changes are required.

Which would include “eating healthy,” and unfortunately, the majority of Americans have been brainwashed into thinking that “healthy” equals “veggie.” You can’t pick up a woman’s — excuse me, “lifestyle” — magazine, or a men’s magazine, for that matter, in which you won’t find an article about how some celebrity/athlete/movie star isn’t gushing about how ditching the red meat turned them into a beautiful, sexy, successful superstar.

(What they don’t include in such stories about transformative weight loss or newfound youthfulness by going veggie, or course, is the exercise regimen, spa treatments, plastic surgery and personal shopper/chefs that backstopped the star’s incredible results).

Here’s the bottom line to the Harris survey. It reinforces the positioning that participants in the animal agriculture and meat processing sectors need to embrace: Vegetarianism is fine and dandy for the tiny minority who wish to embrace a Spartan lifestyle. God bless ’em. But it is neither natural nor normal nor even preferred as the healthiest, most appropriate, most sustainable diet for the other 98 percent of humanity.

Let’s close with a quote from a Chelsea Qualls, 24, who told New York’s Daily News that she stuck to a vegetarian diet for five years.

“I was a vegetarian — until this one time I drank whiskey and ate a piece of bacon at 4 a.m.,” Qualls said.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.