Vegans and vegetarians multiplied in 2022, as did the number of semi-vegetarians and the availability of vegan meats. These shifts, along with growing calls for policy change, are driving significant changes in American food. Both factors shaped the vegan news of the past year.

Separate surveys undertaken in 2022 by a Kansas State University economist and the Alliance for Science found the number of Americans identifying as vegetarians and vegans has doubled to 10 percent of the population, equal to more than 16 million people in the United States and 134,100 people in Maine. These surveys show an increase from previous polls, such as the 2018 Gallup, which found 5 percent of U.S. adults identify as vegetarians and vegans.

Each survey asked respondents if they were vegan or vegetarian, but a more stringent poll carried out in March by YouGov for the Vegetarian Resource Group asked what people actually ate and found the number of U.S. vegans and vegetarians unchanged at 6 percent of the population. However, this survey found a significant bump in the number of people who regularly eat vegan and vegetarian meals. Sometimes called flexitarians or semi-vegetarians, their numbers have risen dramatically, to 63 percent of the population. The YouGov poll also revealed that 18- to 34-year-olds are the most plant-based, with 12 percent fully committed vegans.

This fall, Maine ranked no. 2 in the nation for the high percentage of residents likely to eat vegan turkeys, hams and other plant-based meats during the holidays. Image courtesy of Crestline

None of these surveys looked at the number of vegans per state. Yet, according to a poll commissioned by marketing company Crestline in the fall, Maine is the No. 2 state in the nation in terms of the percentage of residents likely to eat vegan turkeys, hams and other plant-based meats during the holidays, with a whopping 61 percent of Mainers expressing an interest in trying vegan holiday meats.

This local interest in vegan meats bodes well for Maine’s climate policy. A July report from the Boston Consulting Group found plant-based protein investments produced the biggest reductions in greenhouse gases compared to technology investments such as carbon capture, heat pumps and building automation. The climate-friendly, sustainable footprint of vegan meats is one reason entrepreneurs and restaurant chains continued to embrace them throughout 2022.


We saw this when KFC added vegan fried chicken to its U.S. restaurants, and when Chipotle tested vegan chorizo. Across the Atlantic, this trend was even more pronounced. In March, Burger King opened a pop-up, all-vegan restaurant in central London, while its Austria restaurants made vegan Whoppers the default choice, asking customers if they wanted “regular or meat-based.” Meanwhile, startup companies began introducing whole cuts of vegan meats, with Juicy Marbles making a vegan filet mignon and Next Meats making a vegan skirt steak and short ribs.


According to international nonprofit World Animal Protection, all the vegan meats served by chain restaurants in 2021 meant 700,000 animals were not slaughtered. The slaughter industry, which sells its most questionable products to the pet food industry, was highlighted in April when a study from the United Kingdom found that dogs fed a vegan diet enjoyed better health than dogs fed an animal-based diet.

Back in the U.S., ProPublica in May reported on the slaughter industry’s disregard of public health, noting that by July 2020, up to 8 percent of all COVID cases nationwide were tied to meatpacking plants, and that by October 2020, community spread from slaughterhouses was responsible for 334,000 illnesses and 18,000 deaths.

The link between eating animals and poor health outcomes drove New York City Mayor Eric Adams to make major policy moves related to food in 2022, most notably launching vegan hot lunch in the city’s schools on Fridays and expanding a pilot program to help city residents manage and potentially reverse diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions using plant-based meals and lifestyle changes.

The New York Times in January wrote about the mainstreaming of vegan travel packages, which it said have become “increasingly associated with sustainable travel.” Some hospitality providers in Maine have already capitalized on this trend. In October, Michelin Guide announced that Eleven Madison Park, the high-end Manhattan restaurant that famously switched to an all-vegan menu in 2021, retained its coveted three-star rating.

This was the second year the Afro-Vegan Society followed the popular Veganuary tradition with a February observance called Veguary, celebrating the history of Black veganism. At the start of the year, the long-running U.S. magazine Vegetarian Journal changed its name to Vegan Journal.

In October, Los Angeles became the second U.S. city to endorse the international Plant Based Treaty. Boynton Beach, Florida, signed onto it last year. Treaty signers pledge to freeze the expansion of animal-based agriculture, incentivize plant-based foods and rewild natural habitats. A coalition of groups pushing for the treaty had a prominent presence at this year’s climate talks in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, in November. But leaders ignored the Plant Based Treaty, and news reports documented a lack of vegetarian food options for attendees. After all these years, Egypt’s “flesh pots” documented in the Old Testament remain entrenched.


The food was much more climate-friendly at this year’s G7 summit in Germany in June, where vegan and vegetarian main dishes were served, with sides featuring animal-based meat or fish. The U.S. has a lot to learn from Germany. For instance, ahead of the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health in September, 32 members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent President Joe Biden a letter urging that all U.S. government cafeterias offer vegetarian meals. In 2022. Makes me wonder how public schools from Portland to New York to Los Angeles are able to serve vegan lunches in their cafeterias, but federal workers can’t even get a vegetarian sandwich in the nation’s capital?

One of the most significant public policy changes came out of Spain in October, when the country’s new dietary guidelines were released. The guidelines tell residents to reduce their consumption of animal-based foods, recommending no more than three portions of meat a week. Earlier in the year, Pope Francis issued a similar message when he told European youth to rebel against war and to eat less meat.

Popular culture also grew more veg this year, such as when the Food Network added its first-ever all-vegan show, “It’s CompliPlated,” hosted by Tabitha Brown, and Mattel created a vegan Barbie doll in the likeness of British primatologist and vegan Jane Goodall. Pop superstar and vegan Lizzo donated her hit soundtrack “Good as Hell” to a PETA campaign featuring celebrities such as John Salley and Alicia Silverstone, causing the song to be dubbed the vegan anthem of the year.

While people became increasingly vegan this year, so did what we know about our ancestors. Separate studies out of Cambridge University shed light on what historical humans ate. The most ground-shaking study, published in April, overturned a long-accepted culinary fiction that claimed Anglo-Saxon elites ate a meat-heavy diet during their English reign from 410 to 1066. Instead, chemical analysis of skeletal remains revealed all Anglo-Saxons – high and low, female and male – ate cereal-based diets with animal flesh eaten sparingly.

Going much further back to the Paleolithic period, a study published in November added to accumulating research about the plant-based diets of many Paleolithic people by analyzing the carbonized remains of processed foods from 70,000, 40,000 and 12,000 years ago in Greece and Iraq. The analysis discovered the common use of processed pulses, such as lentils, mixed with astringent and bitter plants. In other words, a real Paleo diet means eating lentil soup with spinach, which I always thought of as a relic of 20th century vegetarian cooking but instead comes straight out of the Paleolithic.

As past and present continue to lean into plant-based eating, and new people identify as vegetarians, expect more vegan meats and myth-busting ahead in 2023.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at:

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