Is Meatless Monday Working? Maybe.

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Back in January, Mark Bittman penned a little number highlighting various reports that indicated reduced meat consumption in America. He said we were all eating less meat, and I thought that was pretty great. I even tweeted about it. "Is Meatless Monday working?" I asked, and added a link to the article.

Bittman cited a lot of reports in his opinion piece. One was a Daily Livestock Report that he said blamed a decline on drought, growing exports, ethanol's impact on feed costs for the reduction in meat consumption. I read the report. And that's what it said. It also predicted that meat consumption would continue to decline. Sweet!

Bittman wanted to give the people behind Meatless Monday some of the credit for reduced meat consumption. So he said this:

Back in June, a survey found that 50 percent of American adults said they were aware of the Meatless Monday campaign, with 27 percent of those aware reporting that they were actively reducing their meat consumption.

That's sweet too. So I wanted to read that report. I asked the people behind Meatless Monday if they had a a copy of it lying around. They sent me this which said exactly what Bittman said, and wasn't really a report, so I asked them again.

That's when I received a report called the Power of Meat, published in 2011. Buried in that document is a survey that asks grocery store shoppers how often they eat meatless meals as a part of healthy eating strategies, and 18 percent said they ditched the animal parts regularly. They didn't ask the customers about Meatless Monday, just about meatless meals.

I asked Heather Garlich, a public relations person for the Food Marketing Institute that issued the Power of Meat report, what she thought their survey with respect to Meatless Monday. She said that even though Meatless Monday was causally mentioned elsewhere in the report, the question in the survey was not asked in connection with any advocacy campaign to dissuade consumers from eating meat. She told me they've been generating the report for years and the question was always framed with respect to health.

She even showed me the 2012 report, which also had no mention of the survey at all. That report said the number of people who said they regularly eat meatless meals in healthy eating strategies was now 20 percent. Was there a trend here, too? They've only been asking the meatless meals question since 2009, but here are the results.

2012: Regularly (20 percent) 2011: Regularly (18 percent) 2010: Regularly (17 percent) 2009: Regularly (15 percent)

Garlich was quick to say this apparent growth was not statistically significant. She also pointed to another section of the report, which shows that shoppers are also reducing meat consumption because of financial reasons.

That economics could have a significant impact on meat consumption makes sense. It's hard to justify purchasing four strip steaks at 12 ounces each when a pound of cheap ground meat can be turned in four burgers for a fraction of the cost. But the Power of Meat study is still exciting. It shows that an increasing number of people are eating occasional meatless meals because they want to live healthier lives. And that's a good thing, even if it doesn't prove the Meatless Monday campaign is the cause.

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