It Ain't Easy Eating Green

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Whether Oprah had anything to do with it, more and more American's diets are meat-free. According to the latest poll by Baltimore-based Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG), 2.5 percent of Americans are vegetarians, meaning they never consume red meat, poultry, or fish. That's an increase of nearly 1.5 percent since 1997.

Asians are among the most likely to be vegetarians - 8.1 percent avoid meat at the table. Blacks (3.5 percent) and whites (1.6 percent) follow at a considerable distance. Women shun meat more than men, with 3.2 percent steering clear of the stuff, versus just 1.7 percent of guys. Residents of the East (3.5 percent) and West (4.2 percent) clearly outpace the rest of the nation when it comes to going veggie. Vegetarians in the South and Midwest comprise just 1.8 percent and 1.3 percent of their region's population, respectively. Survey respondents who held a college degree are also more likely to be vegetarians (3.6 percent), as well as those earning more than $75,000 a year (6.4 percent).

But VRG acknowledges that many vegetarians don't quit eating meat cold turkey. In fact, eliminating red meat, poultry, and fish from one's diet is often a gradual process. In the same poll, VRG found that 9 percent of the U.S. population never eats fish or seafood. And the same percentage of Americans (4.5 percent) who eschew red meat don't touch chicken either. The same general demographic patterns exist for these subgroups as for vegetarians overall. At the other end of the spectrum are vegans - people who never eat red meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, eggs, or honey. These consumers account for only 0.9 percent of the population, but that number is up as much as 270 percent from 1997. Vegans are more likely to reside in large cities (1.9 percent) and in the East (1.9 percent).

All of this should come as good news to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which recently lifted regulations that limit the amount of soy in foods served in school cafeterias. Tofu burger, kiddies?

For more information call the Vegetarian Resource Group at (410) 366-8343; or visit them at www.vrg.org.

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