Mar 21, 2019

On Being a Flexitarian: Why It's Actually OK

Despite the scorn and mockery, flexitarianism could be the step we all need to take to save our planet.
By Jess Rawnsley /
On Being a Flexitarian: Why It's Actually OK

If anything produces a good scoff, it is the answer to the question of whether you are a vegetarian, with, “I’m a flexitarian.”


Now, I’ll be the first to admit it’s not a great label. What labels are? Nevertheless, it is intriguing how much incredulity and downright scorn the term flexitarian can arouse.


Declaring that you are a meat eater will rarely initiate a comment. (Unless of course you’re that vegetarian who is constantly on the harang/lecture warpath. And in that case, it’s a surprise you were even invited to dinner). Similarly, neither will the assertion of being a vegetarian or a vegan. (Although these do come with their own set of hang-ups and preconceived judgements).


But if you should so dare to imply that you are maybe a little bit of both – on most days a herbivore, occasionally a carnivore – oh, the entire table will stop mid-conversation in order to quiz, cajole, and sometimes even mock you about it.


So why exactly is this the case?


On the meat-eaters side, there is perhaps a sense of betrayal. The feeling of having been outdone by you in the “moral” playground, but at the same time certain that your stance is inherently hypocritical. That when it gets down to the nitty-gritty facts of the matter, you are just as bad as them. As for the hardcore vegans and vegetarians, well, you simply can’t be a flexitarian. Either you’re committed, or you’re not. You eat plants and only plants, or you have absolutely no claim to the title they so faithfully uphold.


With both these stances, there is something rather lacking – mainly that of flexibility. Why must you either be a meat-eater or not? Why can there be no compromise between the two positions?


In terms of the vegetarianism movement, it is entirely inhibiting. More and more people, average people – that is to say, people who don’t necessarily feel a revolutionary need to help the environment or animal welfare – are becoming flexitarian. (Whether they label themselves so or not). Consciously eating less meat. Following the McCartney’s “Meat-Free-Mondays” programme. Cooking a sweet potato lasagna instead of a mincemeat one.


And it’s having an impact. One in five Brits now follow a flexitarian diet. Beef eating is down in the UK by 50% since the late 1970s. Likewise, US beef eating levels are dropping every year. These figures are meaningful considering the fact that livestock is the worst contributor to global warming in the food industry. To put it in plain numbers: half a billion fewer animals have been killed every year since 2007 because people are eating less meat.


These figures are staggering. Not least in demonstrating the ramification of people cutting down their meat intake, but in illustrating just how much meat the planet has been consuming. But there’s still a way to go. It’s 2019, and the importance of switching to a vegetarian, vegan or flexitarian diet has not diminished. If anything, it is now more critical than ever. Those scientists who scared us with their forecasts of imminent planet-doom are putting increasing weight behind the single biggest way we can all reduce our environmental impact: eating far less meat. Beef eating in Western societies needs to drop by a whopping 90%. And if we’re going to prevent the global temperature rising above the 2c limit, there needs to be a world-wide shift to flexitarianism.


It can no longer be an ethical stand. It needs to be a universal stand.


In my opinion, flexitarianism is the most ingenious method of conversion to date. The tract of strict vegetarianism in most people is slim. Never have a bacon sandwich again? I couldn’t possibly do that. I would fail at the first hurdle. Why even bother trying? But persuade people to simply cut down their meat intake? Have a few veg-only meals every week? Well, pretty much anybody can do that.


And once this process begins, the possibilities expand further and further. As you begin to eat less meat and create more plant-based meals, you start to see just how manageable it is. You think of new, innovative recipes you’ve never tried before. You create meals that are not the standard (and tedious) main part-meat, side part-vegetable. You begin to enjoy meat less when you do have it. (Something that has happened to me, and to many of my friends, during this evolution).


The answer to the fathers who define themselves as “meat-eaters through and through” and those who claim us cavemen would never have evolved without it, is simple: you don’t have to stop entirely, just eat a bit less.


What once seemed impossible, ridiculous even, becomes part of your weekly routine. Gradually it begins to gain more impact and momentum. You don’t notice whether a meal has meat in it. You enjoy the meat-free days. And when you do decide to have meat, you are conscious about what you buy, and enjoy that all the more, too.


In this way, flexitarianism is arguably one of the best gateway methods of bringing about more vegetarianism. And its promotion is a step towards a healthier planet and a healthier you.


There is a great deal of mockery and caricature surrounding the entirety of the plant-based movement. Labels such as flexitarianism certainly don’t help. I can’t say exactly what this stems from, other than perhaps an innate dislike of change in human beings and the unwelcome morality meat-free eating is seen to place on what people consume.


At the end of the day, what you decide to put in your body is an individual choice. Just as what you read and what you decide to believe is always your own personal choice.


But labels aside, let's stop seeing this issue in black and white, and accept the grey areas. Life is full of them.


Eating less meat and attempting to bring more consciousness into the food you digest is a good start in any direction. It might shut up your vegan daughter. Create more colour and texture in your monotonous meat-based meal routine. You might actually begin to like eating no meat from time to time. Who knows, you could end up becoming a full-blown vegetarian…


The possibilities are endless.

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