Vegetarians may be many things, but they are not lonely. A Gallup poll conducted in 1985 for American Health magazine found that nearly nine million Americans call themselves vegetarians. In addition, another 40 million adults are eating less meat and more plant foods than in the past. Similarly, a recent consumer study carried out by the National Restaurant Association found that customers are ordering fewer meat dishes and more salads, fresh fruits, and fruit juices than they used to. The number of vegetarian restaurants is also increasing. The "Essential Guide" to vegetarian restaurants published by Vegetarian Times magazine in 1987 lists over 1000 entries; a 1978 edition listed only 350. Clearly, the American diet is changing.
The growing mainstream status of vegetarianism is reflected in recent articles in popular magazines. For example, Newsweek, in 1986, referred to our healthier eating habits as "vegetarian chic," and Time, in 1988, praised the new vegetarian preferences of health-conscious young adults. Indeed, many individuals have stopped eating meat for health reasons, although some have also been influenced by the animal liberation movement, religious beliefs, concerns about world hunger, or an awareness of the environmental damage caused by livestock production. But whatever their motives, one thing is clear: Vegetarianism can no longer be viewed as a fringe phenomenon.
The Gallup poll also revealed that nearly three fourths of Americans reject the notion that vegetarianism is merely a pass ing fad. A look at the historical record reveals that these people are correct. In fact, vegetarianism has a long, although not always illustrious, history in the West. A quick review of this history helps put present-day vegetarianism in perspective.