global-meat-consumption-1500x300b
global-meat-consumption-1500x300b

Infographic

How the World’s Appetite for Meat Is Changing

Who’s eating more, and who’s eating less.

By , a former intern at Foreign Policy, and , a former intern at Foreign Policy.

As countries get richer, their people tend to eat more meat. Not surprisingly, over the last century, Western countries have consumed far more animal protein on average than the rest of the world. Food, like wealth, is aspirational; the global south is catching up.

Foreign Policy examined data on the global consumption of meat between 2008—when rising food prices stirred the unrest that led to the Arab Spring—and 2017, the most recent year for which we have comparative data. Some key trends emerge. The correlation between GDP growth and the increased consumption of meat is weakening. Populations either plunging into or emerging from conflicts see wide fluctuations in diet. And in a hopeful sign for a warming planet, a small but growing cohort of individuals are seeking out alternative and more sustainable sources of protein.


The global change in meat consumption:

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As countries get richer, their people tend to eat more meat. Not surprisingly, over the last century, Western countries have consumed far more animal protein on average than the rest of the world. Food, like wealth, is aspirational; the global south is catching up.

Foreign Policy examined data on the global consumption of meat between 2008—when rising food prices stirred the unrest that led to the Arab Spring—and 2017, the most recent year for which we have comparative data. Some key trends emerge. The correlation between GDP growth and the increased consumption of meat is weakening. Populations either plunging into or emerging from conflicts see wide fluctuations in diet. And in a hopeful sign for a warming planet, a small but growing cohort of individuals are seeking out alternative and more sustainable sources of protein.


The global change in meat consumption:


Where meat consumption declined the most


Where meat consumption increased the most


Global Increases and Declines in Meat Consumption

Average annual percent change in kilograms of meat consumed per person from 2008 to 2017 (excludes fish and other seafood).

Hover or click for details.

Note: Sudan includes data from 2008 to 2011 as well as 2012 to 2017, the years since South Sudan’s independence. (Data for South Sudan is not available.) Countries in gray reflect cases where high-quality and verifiable data was unavailable and where data collection and estimation were poor. Some small island countries, as well as disputed and dependent territories, are not included in this visualization.
SOURCE: OUR WORLD IN DATA, U.N. FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION


How the world’s most populous countries consume meat


More money more meat …

Emerging markets such as Vietnam and Brazil are consuming more meat than ever before, driven by rising incomes. China, which increased its per capita meat consumption by 12.8 percent between 2008 and 2017, now accounts for more than a quarter of the world’s total meat consumption.


… but only up to a point

Even though France’s economy expanded over the decade examined in our snapshot, its people reduced their per capita intake of meat by 8.77 percent. The “flexitarian” diet—centered on vegetarian options—has begun to catch on.


Indian exceptionalism?

India’s 1.4 billion people represent the biggest outlier in our data. Despite expanding their average incomes by 66 percent between 2008 and 2017, Indians reduced their intake of meat by 14.3 percent. According to the Pew Research Center, about 60 percent of Indians eat meat today—but our data suggests they do so less frequently than their global peers. 


The rise of alternative proteins

Plant-based meat sales are growing rapidly around the world, far outpacing growth in animal protein sales. But that’s partly because alternative proteins are starting from a small base. In the United States, for example, plant-based meat represented just 1.4 percent of total meat sales in 2021, according to the Good Food Institute.

Fact-checking and editing by Ravi Agrawal, Chloe Hadavas, Shannon Schweitzer, Nina Goldman, and Alexandra Sharp. Graphics and creative direction by Lori Kelley and Sara Stewart.

Mary Yang is a former intern at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @MaryRanYang

Anusha Rathi is a former intern at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @anusharathi_

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