The times are a-changin’, Green Monsters.

In China, eating meat is generally regarded as a sign of wealth, and meat-eating rates have certainly reflected a gain in prosperity for many in the country. China’s meat consumption levels doubled from 1990 to 2002, and even half of the world’s pork is eaten within China’s borders.

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While this rise in meat consumption has obvious long-term health implications, we also know that greenhouse gas emissions are on the rise – and many have linked meat production with this process.

But then, amid the backdrop of China’s meat frenzy,  a generation of vegetarian and vegan restaurants have cropped up.

According to a report via PRI, “This is also a generation, in China’s major cities, living with choking pollution and, in multiple ways, recognizing the cost to their health if they don’t help protect the environment.”

Right now, an estimated 4 to 5 percent of Chinese citizens are vegetarian eaters. But, given China’s large population, that equates to more than 50 million people.

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Long Kuan, a Chinese resident and vegan activist, notes,“Times have really changed. Maybe 10 years ago, when I was a vegetarian, a lot of people said, ‘why, are you Buddhist?,’ or something. But now, it’s completely different. The young generation, especially, they love to be eco-friendly, and they love to be compassionate. And they really care about the environment and the quality of life, about pollution … they really care about fellow creatures on this planet, animals and even trees.”

And while the Chinese aren’t giving up meat altogether, they are making strides to eat a whole lot less.

Tian Le Chan, a farmer’s market organizer, says,“You don’t have to be vegetarian. But it is important to know where your meat is from, how it is produced. I believe if animals are farmed in a more sustainable way, it actually benefits the environment. The animal manure and waste can actually be used to fertilize the soil.”

As China continues to emerge as a powerful global force in many sectors, we can note that a trend of more thoughtful eaters is rising, too. It’s another sign that cultural norms are shifting across the world, and, as a new crop of eaters shapes the way we look at food and meat consumption, we hope to also eventually see changes in the skyrocketing rates of health and environmental issues, perhaps beginning to solidify the notion that we can take control of our earth – and our bodies – by making more conscious choices every day.

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Image Source: Tomoaki INABA/Flickr

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