Flexitarianism, a useful term?

Flexitarianism, a useful term?

Heard of Flexitarianism? Yeah, me neither. But it’s supposedly going to be a key food trend of 2017! Flexitarians essentially follow a vegetarian diet, but they eat meat every now then. “Isn’t that a normal diet?” I hear you say. I would say not. “Is it useful then?” you ask. I’m going to say no to this also.

The different dietary options

Most of us will have heard of the major dietary choices: Vegetarian, Vegan & Pescetarian. Some of us may have heard of Fruitarians, or the other vegetarian sub-categories: Ovo vegetarianism & Lacto vegetarianism. Moving to university halls was the first time I was really confronted with people who chose these diets. I knew of the diets before, but had never fully thought about them. My partner for the first few years of university was a vegetarian and I loved cooking for the two of us. That, alongside my (vegetable focused) mediterranean diet, meant I got to know and love the veggie diet even before I chose to follow it, and then develop that into a mostly vegan diet.

What’s what:

Vegetarian (commonly referring to Ovo-Lacto Vegetariana): excludes meat and by-products of animal slaughter (e.g. rennet/gelatine), but includes eggs & dairy (that’s the ovo-lacto bit).

Vegan: excludes all animal-derived products (e.g. honey, dairy, eggs).

Pescetarian (or pesco-vegetarian): the vegetarian diet, plus the inclusion of seafood.

Fruitarian: diet of around 3/4 raw fruit, some vegetables are acceptable.

Ovo Vegetarian: vegetarian diet with eggs, but not dairy.

Lacto Vegetarian: vegetarian diet with certain types of dairy, but no eggs.

Food philosophies are chosen for a multitude of reasons: ethical, moral, environmental, religious or health. None of these reasons are ‘better’ than the others and none are binding.

A misconception

In a conversation with a friend who identifies as vegan, she pinpointed a common misconception. Discussing a situation where she was having dinner out with friends and a meal she chose had egg in it (which is ‘not vegan’). Her friends were shocked by her choice and asked if she was allowed to eat eggs. To which she, in my opinion correctly, answered, ‘I’m allowed to eat anything!’

And here is where I feel the problem lies. Many people assume that being a veggie or vegan is about a restriction and limitation of what you can or cannot eat – which in a way it is – but it is still down to you to decide how (& what) you’re going to consume food. This is crucial to understand.

If I say, ‘I’m not going to eat beef because it has disastrous environmental effects’, or that ‘I’m stopping eating chickens because of the terrible cruelty they are exposed to throughout their lives, from debeaking as babies to being kicked into lorries when being shipped off to factories’, I’m making my own decision, it is not a limitation, it is a (moral) choice. Much the same way as we avoid committing crimes in our daily lives. It would be easy to just swipe a chocolate bar from the store, but our moral mind restricts us and reminds us not to. These are analogous.

Understanding the above, we can say that those of us that choose a non-mainstream (meaning a non-meat eating) diet do so, mostly, out of intentional choice. In doing this, we are acting on values that we believe and thus are working towards a life that is more aligned with our true self. A life more honest to oneself is the best path to happiness. And here is why, in choosing our diet, we are not limiting ourselves, but consciously being our full selves.

When you can’t choose

There are situations where we cannot choose our diets, thus cannot be ourselves however. Let’s look at some examples:

Travelling abroad – some countries whole diets are fully built around meat eating (e.g. South America), here it may be difficult to uphold your dietary choices.

Dining at friends – if you’re not vocal about your diet when invited to friends’ houses for lunch/dinner, you may be served something you would not deliberately eat.

Moving back home – I’ve had to move back home to do my masters. My parents cook meals for the family and we have typically eaten meat. Not wanting to force them to cook separately for me, and unable to afford buying myself food, I felt pressure to conform to whatever they were cooking.

Gender Pressure – there is a bizarre notion that men should eat meat to be a real man (especially within sporting situations). This is false for two reasons: firstly, what you eat should not define your gender and; secondly, there is no such thing as a real man. It is also visible that vegetarianism/veganism is mostly associated to femininity – another falsity – as I said diet has no gender.

(This list is not extensive, if you’ve experienced other times when you’ve felt pressured to eat things you normally wouldn’t, please comment below! I’d love to hear your stories)

I experience some of these things on a weekly basis. Although my parents have now mainly adopted a vegetarian diet around me, they do sometimes cook a fish or meat dish. I stay at my sister’s house regularly, her family’s diet is omnivorous, and I eat with them at least once a week. Also, travelling regularly it’s not always possible to eat a veggie diet abroad when you can’t understand the language.

I identify somewhere between vegetarian & vegan, but I acknowledge the fact that I’m not really following the diet I’d like to. This creates issues when talking about diet with people. Can I call myself a veggie?

Enter Flexitarianism

Enter stage-right: The Flexitarian. On the face of it, this could be the way I choose to identify. Flexitarians predominantly eat a vegetarian diet, with meat included – BINGO! Except, I don’t want to identify this way. I feel that would be cheating myself. My values lie within the veggie-vegan sphere. I choose not to buy meat, or contribute to the animal farming industry, whenever possible. I disagree with the exploitation of animals in mass meat production, the environmental damages of the meat market are huge and there are numerous health benefits from eating less (or no) meat. These are moral stand-points for me, not flexible ones I can switch in and out of.

Flexitarianism doesn’t seem to have any moral stand-points. It looks like a catch-all term that’s been created by statisticians in order to categorise people into market segments. So no, I don’t think this term is useful.

(Oh, there’s also Lessetarianism, which is reducing the amount of meat you eat – this has its pros & cons, but I see largely similar to Flexitarianism)

What are you then? A veggie that eats meat?

No. I’m a vegetarian. Period. I stand by my morals and choices to not consciously contribute to animal exploitation. And when I’m given something that has, I take it humbly, knowing that I am living in a world where the cruelty & indignity given to animals has been normalised.

One by one, we can change the status quo. Be respectful to those around you. If you’re a veggie, respect the fact that someone eats meat. If you’re a meat-eater, respect that others choose not to eat animals. Maybe if we question why we eat certain things with more honesty and listen to those who eat differently to us, we’ll be able to accept each other more.

Because someone’s going to say it:

Some meat-eaters might say I’m just finding excuses to indulging myself in meat. I can tell you its not. The last time I had sausages, I felt bloated for two days straight and had congested bowel movements. On top of this, the idea of eating something that was alive a few weeks ago, which has subsequently passed, sometimes alive, through a massive machine, that comes out the other end in some weird shape, makes me feel sick. Just thinking of a chicken nugget send shivers down my spine. When eating meat, I have to disconnect myself from what I am eating.

‘Just don’t eat it then’ some might say, and yes I have thought about this. Most of the time I don’t, even if it means going hungry for a bit more. The thing is, ‘not eating’ does not solve the problem when I’m at someone’s house and they’ve spent time cooking a meal for me. I’m at risk of offending them, and more than this, the animal has already seen the harm on my behalf – in my opinion throwing it in the bin is the ultimate indignity. Stuck in this dichotomy, I feel obliged to eat.