Public perceptions change. For example, in the 17th century, King James of England condemned tobacco use as a menace to society, yet in the 1950s, cigarettes were sometimes prescribed by doctors to boost people’s health, with advertisements such as one displaying a doctor saying, “Give your throat a vacation: Smoke a fresh cigarette.” Today, tobacco is back to being seen as a menace.
Meat consumption has also experienced major fluctuations in its public perception. For many people, meat eating was long associated with wealth, strength and vitality. In the second half of the 20th century, new production techniques greatly lowered the price of meat and increased its availability. Meat and other animal based foods, such as dairy and eggs, went from being a treat that people ate only on special occasions to become something people ate every meal. Average per capita meat consumption almost doubled from 23kgs in 1961 to 43kgs in 2014.
Then, just as research in the second half of the 20th century began to show the trouble with tobacco, research in the 21st century is increasingly showing the downside of consumption of meat and other animal based foods. These negative consequences include: (1) risk of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, dementia and swine flu; (2) environmental destruction and climate change; and (3) harm to farmed animals whom research increasingly shows to be thinking, feeling fellow earthlings. All this research has led to changing public perceptions of meat, and the rise of new consumption categories, including reducetarians (people eating less meat) and flexitarians (people who usually opt for non-meat meals).
However, we are currently seeing a new stage in the public’s perception of meat. In just the past year or two, newforms of meat have become available on supermarket shelves and in restaurant menus. Just as technology led to a dramatic rise in the production of meat from animals’ bodies, now, as we approach the second quarter of the 21st century, technology is bringing us new forms of meat that promise all the benefits of meat without the negative consequences. Therefore, after the recent fall of meat in the public’s perception, we may be seeing a new rise in people’s positive attitudes towards meat.