An estimated 1 to 3 percent of adult Americans choose not to eat meat, poultry or fish, and a subset of those are vegans, who avoid all animal products including dairy and eggs.
Some of those who are vegetarian, or have reduced their overall meat consumption, for reasons of conscience or politics are beginning to take that activism and shift it towards eating sustainable meat. They are now choosing products with the intention of striking a blow against industrial farming practices.
The shift may be fuelled in part by the popularity of Michael Pollan's best-seller "The Omnivore's Dilemma", which critiques industrial farming practices and celebrates small operations humanely raising livestock fed at pasture, with an eye to environmental protection and sustainability.
Some studies have shown that meat from pasture-fed animals is healthier than the conventionally farmed counterparts. Beef from grass-fed cows is lower in fat and cholesterol than that from cows fed corn and other grains.
The products of the smaller farms Pollan extols appeal to some vegetarians who stopped eating meat because of concerns about the welfare of livestock, the environmental impact of meat production or the health effects of eating factory-farmed meat. Critics say that eating meat with a label implying sustainability or humane practices doesn't get around the fact that these animals are ultimately raised to be killed.
Isa Chandra Moskowitz, a vegan cookbook author, points out that sustainable meat production still has its issues. Organic labelling aside, producers can use many labels that advertise humane practices without having to prove it. "I think the term is misleading," she said about sustainable meat. "A lot of people don't know what actually goes on these farms. You have a situation of the foxes guarding the henhouse, so to say."
The new availability of sustainable meat may be just another way out for people who would not have stayed vegetarian anyway, Moskowitz said. "I don't think more people are leaving veganism because of this, or leaving vegetarianism because of this," she said. "I think it's just the excuse they're giving."
Katzen said that although she now eats meat sometimes, she plans to continue to cook vegetarian meals and write vegetarian cookbooks and respects those who don't eat meat and don't intend to begin.
The wider discussion about how the food we eat gets to our plates is positive, Moskowitz said.
"I hope it doesn't end at – I'm going to eat these cage-free eggs and call it a day," she said. Ultimately, even more humane practices aren't sustainable because they're not economically feasible, she said, which is why meat production is dominated by factory farming.
It's more important to pay attention to what we're including and enjoying than to what we're excluding, she said.