Agriculture | Ecotrope

Why people become vegetarians and vegans

Ecotrope | Aug. 26, 2011 7:38 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:35 p.m.

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A survey by an OSU professor and his vegan bodybuilder son found people have all kinds of reasons for eating veggie burgers instead of hamburgers. Are you a vegetarian or a vegan? Do environmental impacts factor into your food choices?

A survey by an OSU professor and his vegan bodybuilder son found people have all kinds of reasons for eating veggie burgers instead of hamburgers. Are you a vegetarian or a vegan? Do environmental impacts factor into your food choices?

Oregon State University professor emeritus of animal sciences Peter Cheeke has run a couple small farms and raised four children. Two of them are vegans, one is vegetarian, and the other is a farmer and rancher who raises livestock.

His son Robert Cheeke is a vegan bodybuilder and co-authored an informal survey with his dad about why people become vegetarians and vegans.

In the two-year survey, they went to 14 states and quizzed vegetarians and vegans at numerous venues, including the Northwest Vegetarian Potluck in Portland, an animal rights conference in Los Angeles, the Vegan Thanksgiving Feast in Logan, Utah, a vegan bodybuilding lecture in DeKalb, Ill., and the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival in Massachusetts.

They found some vegetarians and vegans are opposed to killing or using animals for food. Others say they want be healthier and to avoid chemicals and hormones. Another group associate red meat with heart disease, cancer and mad cow disease. Some also checked the box indicating they gave up meat and/or animal products for environmental reasons.

“There is no single reason why people choose to become vegans or vegetarians,” said Peter Cheeke. “In many cases their reasons are multi-faceted. But if there was a single reason cited by most people, it would be the idea of becoming healthier.”

Most of the people who took the survey were women over 20 with little farm experience. Peter Cheeke said he sees the results as a wake-up call for the livestock industry, as another survey by the Vegetarian Times found there were 7.3 million vegetarians in the U.S. and another 22.8 million who have “vegetarian-inclined” diets. One survey put the number of vegans in the U.S. at 1-2 percent of the population.

“That’s quite a few people who for one reason or another are choosing not to eat meat,” Cheeke said. “there may be a bigger role for niche marketing of animal products, including organic meats and free-range poultry. Thirty or 40 years ago, the biggest challenge for the livestock industry was producing things more efficiently. Now the challenge is healthier products and less-intensive production practices.”

What’s your perspective on eating meat and animal products? Do you eat them freely? Infrequently? Not at all?

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