The vegan diet has continually grown in prominence: from a niche concern, to a countercultural movement, then to a full-blown phenomenon. The proliferation of meat-free food options in every major city shows how much the idea has caught on. With this trend on the rise, some commenters have predicted that a majority of the country will be vegan by 2050. Is this an optimistic dream, or a practical assessment of things yet to come?


As it stands, about 3.3% of Americans describe themselves as vegan or vegetarian, according to a Harris poll. While this is a pretty small proportion, it’s more than doubled since 2009 and looks to be on the rise. Additionally, the same poll revealed that 5.3% of young adults aged 18-34 are vegetarian or vegan, so the overall numbers are sure to grow as this generation ages. Both restaurants and supermarkets have shown a greater interest in vegan products, showing consumer demand is on the rise, too.


Even people who aren’t sworn vegans are gradually moving in that direction. They may not all be completely meat-free, but conservative estimates place the number of people who say they ate less meat over the last 12 months at 26% of Americans, with some estimates as high as 41%. Even if there aren’t massive numbers of people going vegan at the moment, Americans as a whole are certainly eating less meat.


It’s true that the numbers are rising, but a majority-vegan world is still some distance away.  Is it plausible to think an animal-free diet will one day become the standard? Some scientific data appears to back up that concept. Even if the number only grows to 10% in the next decade or two, researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute found that a firmly held belief kept by just 10% of society will become a majority opinion under any circumstances. Social networks have aided this phenomenon and the spread of ideas is only growing faster.


A vegan future looks to be a better one for humankind, not just the animals. A study by the National Academy of Sciences estimated that a near-complete conversion to animal-free diets would save 8.1 million lives by 2050 due to reductions in obesity, heart disease, and even the generation of greenhouse gases. Not only that, but they estimated that $1 trillion stands to be saved in healthcare costs.


It’s not just a matter of personal dietary restriction, but envisioning a future without animal farming entirely. The science of creating lab-grown meat that is identical to the real thing is quickly becoming reality. These aren’t the less-than-satisfying veggie burgers of the past, but a foodstuff that is identical to actual animal meat in texture, appearance, and taste. Imagine being able to eat meat at the same rate we currently do, without the massive factory farms and cruel conditions in which pigs, chickens, cows and others are currently kept.


This is more than an idealistic pipe dream. No less an authority on mass-produced meat than CEO of Tyson Foods Tom Hayes declared earlier this year that the future of meat is in lab-grown alternatives. That statement wasn’t a casual prediction. Tyson have emphatically put their skin in the game, making headlines when they invested in animal protein-substitute company Beyond Meat and, going further, establishing a $150 million venture capital fund for meatless startups.


Tyson Foods isn’t alone. Investments in Beyond Meat and similar companies have been made by tech visionaries like Bill Gates and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. The people who have already made a big splash in guiding our world have made their thoughts known on whether meatless surrogates are the way of the future. One can imagine that if a product identical to meat with no real animal material is available, it will constitute a complete revolution in food production and consumption.


With a younger generation more concerned about sustainability and their impact on the planet, and a proliferation of quality meat substitutes hitting the market, it’s perfectly reasonable to think that an explosion in the number of vegans is on the horizon. That magical ten percent grows ever closer, and soon “going vegan” will not mean letting go of your favorite foods. While it may not necessarily happen by the 2050 deadline, it truly does appear that our future will be a vegan one.