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In this day and age, if you asked someone if they would willingly eat something they knew could potentially increase their risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, they would most likely say “no.” If you asked them if they’d like to stock their freezers with products that were responsible for massive-scale deforestation and were responsible for growing antibiotic resistance, they would look at you like you’re insane. Now, when you contextualize all these quandaries with the reality that people are eating this and the product in question is meat, things start to get real. Naturally, knowing this, people would choose to eat less or eliminate their consumption of meat altogether … and luckily, that is exactly what is starting to happen.

According to a 2016 Harris Poll commissioned by The Vegetarian Resource Group, 37 percent of Americans regularly order meals without fish, meat, or poultry when eating out. What is most interesting about this poll is that only around 3.3 percent of adults in the U.S. would identify themselves as being vegetarian.

So why is this happening? Well, remember all those gross questions – turns out, people have been asking them for a few decades now and consumer awareness around the health, environmental, and animal welfare concerns associated with industrial animal agriculture has lead to a steady decline in overall meat consumption.

On whole, around one-third of Americans are leaving meat off the menu more frequently, meaning that this rise in plant-based eating can hardly be written off as a passing diet trend. Further, 2017 study from Technomic, a food based research firm, found that three-fifths of consumers eat at least one meatless meal a week while two-thirds of Millennials claim to eat plant-based meats regularly. Millennials alone represent a one trillion dollar market and command a huge amount of buying power in the value-based shopping sector. Interestingly, only around one in ten Millennials identifies as vegan or vegetarian.

What we’re seeing here is a growing sector of people who are looking for products that are cleaner, healthier, and responsible for less damage to animals and the planet – conscious consumerism at its best.

It’s not only exciting to see people making this shift due to its myriad benefits – but it also opens up an entirely new market for companies and restaurants who want to expand their plant-based offerings. We’ve seen many promising developments such as Beyond Meat’s vegan Beyond Burger, which is sold next to ground beef in grocery stores and getting picked up by chain restaurants as well, and the rise of the 100 percent plant-based Impossible Burger that smells and even ‘bleeds’ like the real thing. Both have been met with enormous success, showing consumers are asking for better products and they’re not willing to compromise their values.

Given that 37 percent of Americans are choosing plant-based meals regularly when eating out, the food industry would be wise to capitalize on this. Already chains like Taco Bell, White Castle, and Wendy’s are putting this trend into action – and there has been an increase in plant-based fast, casual restaurants like Veggie Grill across the U.S.

Seeing the power that we as individuals have to influence what foods are sold in grocery stores and restaurants, we can all help create a better food system – that is responsible for much less damage – just by choosing more plant-based foods when we eat. As long as consumers want innovative dishes and products that taste good and are better for everyone, the market will respond accordingly.

If you’re interested in learning more about the rising plant-based food industry, check out One Green Planet’s Future of Food page here.

Image source: LittlePigPower/Shutterstock