Despite being known for their love of sausages and schnitzel, Germans have been steadily eating less meat over the past few years. “Eating less meat definitely contributes to both the environment and animals. And it is also healthy,” said a 28-year-old local government worker at the Vegan Summer Şenlik in Berlin.
Florian Busmann used to enjoy sausages and steak on the barbecue in the summer, but these days he prefers meat substitutes and grilled vegetables like aubergines and peppers.
Figures from the German Agriculture Ministry show that meat consumption dropped to 52 kilogrammes per person in 2022, the lowest figure since calculations began in 1989.
In comparison, the figure stood at around 61 kilogrammes per person just five years ago.
Worries over animal welfare, climate change and higher prices appear to have driven consumers to look for alternatives to meat to fill their plates.
Today 10 per cent of Germans opt for plant-based foods compared to six per cent in 2018.
In 2021 Berlin appointed a vegetarian politician as its agriculture minister, the Green Party’s Cem Ozdemir, in a bid to raise awareness of alternative sources of protein in the fight against climate change.
However, Ozdemir said that the meat industry still has a place despite being one of the big drivers of carbon emissions, more climate-friendly practices and supporting “farmers to keep few animals, but better” are two of his initiatives.
Ozdemir maintained that Germans eating less meat is a “long-term trend” that has nothing to do with him personally.
“People are concerned about the climate, want better animal welfare and are also paying more attention to their health, which I think is good,” he said.
The growing market for meat substitutes has also played a role, according to Sebastian Joy, head of the NGO ProVeg International, which organises the Berlin şenlik.
“You can still have your burger, your schnitzel, your sausages, but you don’t have to kill animals for it,” he said.
Ozdemir’s ministry is working on a nutrition strategy to help Germans eat more healthily and is planning to present it by the end of 2023.
The plan is to encourage people to follow a “healthy, more plant-based and sustainable diet”, according to the ministry.
Not everyone is ready to give up the sausage
But not all Germans feel so positive about a future with less meat.
A recent survey in a German daily tabloid showed that 57 per cent of Germans are firmly against the state taking measures to reduce meat consumption.
“The state should stay away from people’s plates,” a spokeswoman for the German Meat Industry Association (VDF) said.
“Ninety per cent of Germans like to eat meat. Nobody wants to tell a vegetarian to eat meat to get a better supply of vitamins and nutrients. The same must apply in reverse,” the spokeswoman said.
The VDF believes declining meat consumption in Germany since 2018 is mainly down to rising prices and pressure on consumers from inflation.
In Germany, food prices are now driving inflation, although the annual increase in food costs was down to 14.9% in May from 22.3% in March.
Ozdemir said he has no intention of dictating to Germans what they should put in their shopping baskets.
“Everyone can decide for themselves what they eat and how much of it,” he said.
“My job is to provide options for a balanced and healthy diet. I want the healthy choice to become the easy choice.”