Can’t do vegetarian? How about flexitarian? This food trend is a marriage of two words: flexible and vegetarian, and is more than just a fad. It’s the diet of the future.
It started with Meatless Mondays, and now there’s no slowing down the meatless movement. Every self-respecting burger joint now boasts designer bean burgers, more and more restaurant menus offer innovative dishes for vegetarians, and most supermarkets and delis are stocked with almond milk, tofu and quinoa.
For reasons of health – both for ourselves and for the planet -- many have turned to meat-free eating, especially the socially aware, eco-conscious millenials (that generation who reached adulthood in the 21st century).
The consequences of meat production are detrimental to the planet and the toll is becoming clearer: meat production requires unsustainable levels of water, land and energy consumption. Additionally, new studies estimate that the livestock sector could be responsible for as much as 51 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Plus, one has to take into account the use of hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and more – all of which affect us, our water, the earth itself. We know that eating less meat is good for the planet and good for our well-being, and it seems more people, not just those millenials, are consciously making an effort to cut down on meat consumption.
Consider this: in the U.S., the Department of Agriculture data posits that the average American eats 21,000 animals in a lifetime. It’s a terrifying thought: factory farming has Americans eating 150 times as many chickens a year as they did 80 years ago.
But, while many want to avoid eating meat, entirely cutting out those chargrilled steaks, roast Peking ducks, siu long baos and BLT sandwiches for tofu steaks, veggie stir-fries, chickpea burgers and hummus wraps just might be too much. So what do you do if you care about the environment, are concerned about sustainability, worry about what too much meat can do to your health -- but still want to indulge in a big fat juicy burger or a plate of char siu every so often?
The answer is: embrace flexitarianism.
It’s a trend that is basically vegetarianism with the right to cheat once in a while. That’s right, you can be a vegetarian (or even a vegan) but sneak in a bit of meat occasionally. And the trend is huge: it is predicted to be one of the biggest food movements of 2017, emerging as a much more attainable alternative to going full vegetarian or vegan. With rising meat prices and an increasingly compelling moral and environmental argument, more and more people are becoming flexitarians (also known as veggievores).
So what is it exactly? Flexitarianism is a diet that is more flexible and inclusive and allows you to eat your grass-fed, organic, free-range, antibiotic- and hormone-free, sustainably raised, beef, lamb, pork and chicken in between your healthy and sustainable vegan/vegetarian meals. Because that’s important too: the type of meat you choose on your “off days” should be, as far as possible, ethically sourced and environmentally friendly.
A flexitarian diet has no rules – and that’s part of the appeal. You can be a part-time vegetarian, eating all the grains, beans, nuts, seeds, lentils and vegetables you want, while still giving in to your food cravings to enjoy meat or fish occasionally. You can choose when, and where and how much: as a flexitarian, you might only eat meat on weekends, or when you are in a restaurant, or only at lunch -- you can make it work so that it is most manageable for you and your lifestyle.
Reducing your intake of animal-based produce such as meat, poultry, and dairy is shown to reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Think of flexitarians as vegetarians with benefits – a way to improve your health without going the whole hog – so to speak.
And, as with all food trends, big name chefs like Jamie Oliver, Yottam Ottolenghi, Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batalli and others have jumped on the bandwagon and are showcasing a variety of mouth-watering vegetarian/flexitarian options in their restaurants and cookbooks. No longer do great slabs of rare prime rib take centre-stage on the plate in a restaurant – unless you’re in a steakhouse -- and meat is now treated more as an accompaniment than the main. Goodbye carnivorous gluttony. Hello flexitarianism.
Bottom line is this: you don’t need to eliminate meat entirely to reap the health benefits of a vegetarian diet.