It all started with a little pig, to be specific ‘Babe’ the pig. This film from my childhood about a pig that thought he was a dog brought on a meat-based epiphany. It allowed me to connect the dots between meat and animals.
Hearing the mice from the film squeak “pork is a nice sweet meat” still brings a shudder down my spine.
So…what is a flexitarian?
The term flexitarianism has been around since the mid-nineties: even though I just needed to check the spelling as it still comes up as a spelling error. Flexitarianism is flexible by name, flexible by nature. It’s marketed as a gentle way to reduce your meat intake and increase your plant intake. In recent years, there have been various food campaigns instigating a gentle approach to a reduction of meat in our diets. Such as ‘Meat Free Monday’ by the McCartney family (swapping your sausages to Linda’s meat-free sausages is a big win. Delicious.) and other campaigns such as ‘Veganuary’.
There has been a growing awareness about our diets and how this affects the world and our health. More and more studies show a reduction in eating meat to be beneficial to the environment:
Besides our health eating less meat can reduce our risk of heart disease and a stroke. Flexitarians are found to weigh 15% less than meat eaters and live on average 3.5 years longer. Flexitarians consider their health as a primary reason for deciding to reduce their meat intake and increase their plant intake.
It is estimated that flexitarianism is only getting stronger. A study shows that by 2025, half of all people in the UK will identify themselves as flexitarian. The diet has also been found easy to follow and maintain. Its less than rigid rules give it a tremendous success rate. Unsurprisingly, the diet took home the easiest diet to follow award in 2019. Add to that the increased animal welfare and environmental benefits, it looks like this ‘food trend’ is here to stay.
If flexitarians were a country, they would be Switzerland
So, one would think that this flexitarianism diet should be the Switzerland of the food world. They are neutral to other food-based disagreements. They can eat at a BBQ, the new hip vegan restaurant that’s opened and your grandma’s house for her famous Sunday roast dinner. But it seems that many omnivores and herbivores cannot relate to this relaxed approach. Often labelling them as following a fad food trend or merely a ‘lazy vegetarian’.
Some people see flexitarians as a minor irritation. They treat flexitarians with an eye roll and a mutter of “oh, another one” while others get offended by their growth and prominence.
I’d like to add there are many vegans, vegetarians, and meat-eaters that accept the flexitarian approach positively.
Do people love to hate the flexitarian?
Flexitarians seem pretty non-committal; the type of people that would RSVP to every invite on a Friday but weigh up the best option on the night. And no vegan, vegetarian or carnivore wants to anyone’s second choice. There are signs of them being superficial, jumping on a pop culture food bandwagon without committing to a complete change of diet. The hypocrite label also gets thrown around. Flexitarians post online about their vegan burgers and homemade cashew nut butter but then eat ribs at a restaurant.
Some people get downright offended and why?
Everyone has an opinion on food. It is an integral part of our daily lives. It is symbolic of the way of life of different groups of people; think of BBQs in Brazil or hot pots in China. If these customs and traditions receive criticism, it’s a natural response from the people who do them to feel threatened and defensive. In turn, they tend to view the ‘criticisers’ that don’t agree with their lifestyle as outsiders — a kind of ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality.
A rise of a new diet that shows an open mind to food and a willingness to be adaptable can make others face some uncomfortable questions about their eating habits and beliefs.
Meat eaters (I know a lot of you don’t care) can see flexitarians as being vegan and vegetarian sympathisers and not staying firm to their meat-eating cause but not passionate about vegetarianism or veganism enough to commit. Flexitarians acknowledge the benefits of a less carnivorous world by changing their diets. Criticising eating meat yet still eating meat behind closed doors.
Flexitarians to vegans are not seen as a friend but as a foe. By eating meat on occasion, they are endorsing the deaths and mistreatment of animals. Flexitarianism for them is simply a fancy label for ‘meat eater’ that dabbles with tofu and nutritional yeast. Those that identify with the abolitionist approach believe that veganism is a moral baseline. This approach promotes the abolition of animal exploitation, rejecting the regulation of animal exploitation as a backwards approach to something that should not exist.
Their stance on flexitarian can be quickly summarised:
And, what could offend the vegetarian camp? They have made the transition to not eating meat: period. They can watch Okja on Netflix (if you haven’t watched it, and I recommend you do, be prepared to cry) without deep thoughts of guilt. Flexitarians to them seem wishy-washy. They will happily eat a halloumi burger and value that animals were not made purely to please humankind’s enormous palette but just not enough to swap that beef roast for a nut roast.
Is the middle ground of diets a flexitarian?
The differing views on how and what we should be feeding ourselves, especially between meat eaters and vegans are very conflicting. It seemed there would never be any form of compromise made. But, with the increase in damage to our planet from CO2 that eating meat creates we are developing a change in mindset. Flexitarianism is an example of this paradigm shift in our behaviour towards meat. A natural change in public attitude to meat eating; an evolution of sorts. And with evolution, this takes time.
The flexitarian should not be seen as indecisive and as blindly following a trend but as open-minded, empathetic and compromising. All are excellent qualities to have. A glass half full kind of person, adding new foods to a diet as opposed to excluding foods. A bridge between both camps of herbivores and omnivores. Raising awareness through being the example that they want to see in the world.
Maybe, flexitarians will always indulge in that pepperoni pizza at 2 a.m on a Friday and never fully make the transition to a meat-free diet. Let’s see flexitarians as champions of change rather than as the flakes in the food world. Give them a seat at your table. And for you carnivores, maybe start to dip your toe in their pool, they’ll let you. I promise.