I am in one social group and someone is saying, "the global economic system would collapse if the vegetarian diet became popular in the world."

Is this true? Is there any information from economists about how the global economy would be affected if the vegetarian diet became popular?

  • Looks like you answered your own question in your edit -- a 1% reduction in GDP is not the same as global economic collapse.
    – Nic
    Nov 2, 2021 at 16:26
  • 1
    Thanks, @Nic, but my initial searching may be wrong, and new comments or responses will probably make it more accurate. Nov 2, 2021 at 16:52
  • @yiyebo5913_koldpak.com If you want to answer your own question that is allowed, but it's best to do that by adding a new answer response, not by editing your question. I've edited your question to remove the half-answer because it didn't really support the question you are trying to ask. I also tried to improve the readability. Hope that's okay. :-)
    – Nic
    Nov 2, 2021 at 18:30
  • I downvoted your post because a question about global economic system does not belong here
    – jsotola
    Nov 12, 2021 at 17:55
  • @Nic Although your answer goes into much more detail, you may want to edit/remove your comment above. Your comment implies that a 1% reduction is GDP is the outcome, which, to my limited knowledge, is not factual. Nov 17, 2021 at 6:12

3 Answers 3


I'm not an economist, but global economic collapse seems unlikely. I've assembled a small collection of quotations here from different sources with hypotheses about the economic impact of a big shift toward vegetarian/flexitarian diets.

What would happen if the world suddenly went vegetarian? (BBC Future)

People formerly engaged in the livestock industry would also need assistance transitioning to a new career [...] Should we fail to provide clear career alternatives and subsidies for former livestock-related employees, meanwhile, we would probably face significant unemployment and social upheaval – especially in rural communities with close ties to the industry.

The dark side of plant-based food – it’s more about money than you may think

Consider the launch of a whole new range of laboratory created “fake meats” (fake dairy, fake eggs) in the US and Europe, oft celebrated for aiding the rise of the vegan movement. Such trends entrench the shift of political power away from traditional farms and local markets towards biotech companies and multinationals.

Vegetarianism is good for the economy too

The additional food that would be produced as a result of a shift to a vegan diet in the US alone could feed 350 million additional people. [...] The value of this food surplus would also offset the loss from the decrease in livestock production. Economic studies show that animal agriculture in a majority of western economies accounts for less than 2% GDP. Some studies in the US suggest a potential reduction in GDP of about 1% but this would be offset by growth in other plant-based markets.

The Economic Case for Worldwide Vegetarianism

Out of all the world’s countries, the U.S. would save the most by curbing its taste for meat. Due to its very high per-capita health-care costs, the country could save $180 billion if the population ate according to recommended guidelines, and $250 billion if it eschewed animal food products altogether—more than China, or all of the EU countries combined.


Although this is a more economic question, I will try to answer it.

A global economic system collapse is impossible in this case (and in every case actually). Basic economics tells us the market adapts to consumer demands by adjusting prices and reallocating resources, check price theory. If no one eats meat, vast resources will be freed up (think e.g. land for animal food). Prices signal producers to produce what is demanded. If everyone went vegan/vegetarian at once it will indeed be a shock, reflected in high demand for the vegetarian products available (plus the ones readily produced), leading to a raise in their prices. Producers/entrepreneurs will then have an incentive to make a profit, and reallocate resources to create vegetarian products, lowering prices. Part of the profits will be spent in innovation to make vegetarian products even easier to produce.

These economic tenets govern our everyday life. This is an utopian scenario, since it is impossible for everyone to become vegetarian at once. It happens gradually, if it happens, and markets adjust smoothly. Predicting what will happen if everyone went vegetarian is impossible. There is no way for economics to predict how markets/producers adapt to changes in consumer behavior. If everyone went vegetarian, some will still eat eggs, possibly even more than they eat now. Others will choose to consume more milk, while others may go for extra lentils or soy. Individual behavior is impossible to predict. This forms part of the economic calculation problem.

My answer applies to each and every other consumer behavior change. Such changes cannot affect the global economic system, other than rare (theoretical) cases. This does not mean that certain markets/businesses will be unaffected. Should we suppose that in one region of the globe it is now very easy to make product A, but not product B (which is a substitute of A, another food for example). Suddenly, everyone on the globe wants to buy product B instead of A. The demand for product B will be high in that region, and, if no obstacles exist, people from the region will have an incentive to import the product (while others will want to export it, since there the price may be higher). Indeed, the persons in the region will pay the price for this drastic food change (perhaps longer working hours, cutting traveling etc.). But in no way a global economic collapse.

Such a 'collapse' may be possible if everyone switches to, let's say, heating homes ONLY with kerosene (they will freeze instead of burning wood or gas).

Even then, producers of wood, gas, diesel, petrol, electricity will quickly start producing kerosene (and innovating), albeit the shock will affect people. But when we discuss about vegetarian food (many options here), there is no point in discussing any collapse.

Overall, markets adjust surprisingly. Check your local food store. You get a wide variety of foods from all over the globe, at reasonable prices, with little wasted food. If everyone went vegetarian some may actually suffer on the short term (while trying to afford the food) but clearly not on the long term. Trying to compute how much is saved (or lost) from this switch is economic nonsense, since we can't predict how markets will adjust, what are individual preferences, and how producers will innovate.


Money is a record keeping tool.

In a theoretical pre-industrial society, there could have been granaries for Chickpeas or other edible dried food items.

When farmers put their chickpeas into the government granary, the granary overseer would theoretically give the chick-pea farmer one or two copper coins. Many months later, when the farmer theoretically gets hungry, and there are no chick-peas to eat outside of the granary, the farmer could give the copper coins back to the granary overseer in return for the grain he or she deposited.

Many years later, you could put metal coins in a bank in return for pieces or paper or certificates of deposit. The paper could be brought back weeks, or months, or years later and redeemed for the metal coins.

Essentially, workers receive money when they work. Workers lose money when they buy food, clothing, when they pay for medical services, etc...

In theory, money could measure number of hours worked. When people grow rice, dry out the rice, make bags, put the rice in bags, it takes time. The price of a bag of rice can be modeled as the number of hours every person who touched that bag of rice put into preparing the bag of rice for other people.

Money could be used to record labor hours. A worker spends 40 hours making cardboard boxes in return for 40 hours of other different people growing lettuce and working to refine petroleum into gasoline, etc...

When you asked whether or not the economy would collapse when and if the people of the world stopped eating meat, it sounded like you thought the economy was more than mere record keeping.

Suppose that you write down how many carrots you have inside of your refrigerator. Every time you buy groceries, you add a number to the previous total. Every time you eat a carrot, subtract a number from the previous total.

Eventually, your record of carrots might be incorrect. Maybe 10 carrots are inside of your refrigerator instead of 19 carrots.

Money won't make potatoes available. The number of potatoes is determined by the number of potatoes which farmers grow. If no person is willing to grow potatoes, but everyone is a multi-millionaire, then there will be no potatoes to eat.

So.... if the record keeping (the economy) falls apart, the number of automobiles, houses, laptop computers, tomatoes, ears of corn, bathroom toilets, etc... remains unchanged.

If you want the standard of living to remain high you have to have most people working.

Will the economy collapse? Maybe yes a day maybe no. The real question is, will people continue to make goods and offer services? In the event of economic collapse, would taxi drivers still drive people to the airport? Would petroleum refinery workers keep working ? Would electricians put wires inside of halfway built houses? Would computer programmers continue to maintain Google email services?

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