Shallow Fun With Numbers

Andrew Sullivan links to this story and states that the data suggest that vegetarianism is peaking. From the article:

A number of both positive and negative factors have impacted on growth in the vegetarian foods market over the past 7 years (since 1998/1999). …

On the negative side, the number of vegetarians in the population has been in decline since 1999, after peaking in 1997. Nevertheless, continued growth in vegetarian foods sales supports the fact that the market has become more mainstream with maturity, with such foods purchased and eaten by many people who would not describe themselves particularly as being vegetarian. They might see themselves as meat reducers, or might be seeking healthier and more varied diets. Vegetarian foods are claimed to be lower in saturated fat, and contain higher levels of dietary fibre, minerals and vitamins.

Perhaps the data suggest, as a whole, that vegetarianism is decreasing. But is the sales volume of manufactured (i.e. processed) vegetarian foods a sufficient indicator, sans any other data? The sale of a banana is the sale of vegetarian food. The same applies to a cucumber. Even eggs, milk, and yogurt are vegetarian and could be considered applying to the data on vegetarianism. If they’re increasing because people are swapping bacon for eggs at breakfast, that could imply an increase in vegetarianism, or “meat reduction”.

Consider my pattern of grocery purchases. In the past, I’ve relied heavily on manufactured processed vegetarian foods. Over the years I’ve reduced my consumption of those types of foods. Part of that change has been my full evolvement to veganism, but I’ve also focused on consuming less sodium and chemicals necessary to create such processed foods. As such, I purchase more from the corner of the supermarket and less from the middle.

Does this imply that my vegetarianism has decreased because I buy fewer processed vegetarian food than I purchased in the late ’90s? Or is it proof that one data point does not sufficiently represent the market? Again, maybe vegetarianism is in decline. But such a trend, if occurring, can’t be confirmed by this research alone.