on being a “flexitarian”

i read this article earlier today, and i rolled my eyes more than a couple of times. i really have a hard time with the "flexitarian" label. in fairness, the subtitle does say right up front that some people say that it's analogous to being "a little bit pregnant," so hooray for that acknowledgement, but there were still several quotes that made me cringe, especially those from dawn johnson blatner. like this one, for example:

"We know that people live longer and live healthier when they eat vegetarian, but it's just too darn hard to do it 100 percent of the time."

i mean, seriously, Come. On. plus, she totally contradicts herself a little bit later when she says:

Think how many Americans regularly eat peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches, pasta, bean burritos and cheese pizzas as their main courses, says Blatner. "I do feel like that is a shocking thing, when you think about how much vegetarian food we eat without even trying."

so, um, great source? sigh. oh, she also says later in the article that people might be flexitarians without even realizing it! wow! you mean, people might eat whatever the hell they want, whenever they want, and not even know it? because really, that's all a "flexitarian" really is: someone who eats whatever. yippee.
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23 comments

  1. That article gives me some hope that apparently it doesn’t take nearly as much skill, talent or smarts as I thought to be a nationally published writer. I’m going to get started on a new essay entitled Clean Water is Good. What’s Newsweek pay, a couple grand maybe? : )

  2. Isn’t that a fine list of vegetarian junk food? No wonder people thing vegetarians are health deprived.
    I recently filled out a health form and listed myself as vegetarian. I got two questions – do you keep that diet even when you eat out and (of course) do you get any protein. Makes me crazy.

  3. I think you would all be less critical if you learned more about the diet. Essentially it encourages people to eat a MORE vegetarian diet and introduces your average joe to some foods they probably don’t currently eat and it provides great recipes to prepare those foods. You are missing the overall message of the diet which is eat more vegetarian but still enjoy meat on occasion. It is tough to criticize a diet that is realistic and tries to expose people to the benefits of a vegetarian diet. The reality is that only 2-3% of people that say they are vegetarian actually eat vegetarian 100% of the time.

  4. la phoenicienne – i did not read it that way at all. even if you feel it is a back-handed compliment what does it matter? because the reality is that there really is no such thing as a completely vegetarian diet. a very very low percentage of “vegetarians” actually eat vegetarian all the time. so the idea is embrace how you eat but improve on it – be flexibly vegetarian.

  5. The reason I am frustrated by flexitarianism is that it’s whole premise is the vegetarianism is “too hard”. Which is bullshit. If vegegetarianism is too hard, does that make veganism impossible? I think most of us know the answer to that is no. If people who are uninformed about vegetariansim are told that it’s “too hard” then they being robbed of the chance to really know whether it is easy for them or not, and that’s a shame.
    Not to mention that flexitarianism is still an omnivorous diet. The label just gives it’s followers a reason to feel better about their thoughtless diets.

  6. Gladcow – Why not come to grips with reality though? It is a fact that 97-98% of people that say they are vegetarians cannot adhere to a 100% vegetarian diet. Is the reason because it is too hard? Not sure, but probably. Flexitarianism is not an enemy of vegetarianism or veganism. It is a realistic approach to eating. In fact The Flexitarian Diet tries to move people in the direction of eating a MORE vegetarian diet while dealing with the reality that people can’t eat vegetarian all the time. Also making a statement like “The label just gives it’s followers a reason to feel better about their thoughtless diets” is pretty close minded.

  7. I don’t have a problem with omnivores trying to improve their diets by adding more vegetables and legumes. In fact, that very idea is nothing new, health advocates have been telling omnivores this very idea for years (and now environmental advocates as well). The problem I have is that it is presented as a quasi-vegetarian diet, which is false. I believe that in order for people to change their diet, they have to change their thoughts about food and giving false accolades just confuses the issue. I don’t think many people will become flexitarian and then move on to veg*nism. They will view flexitarianism as “good enough”, which is false.
    do you have a source for your “97-98% of people that say they are vegetarians cannot adhere to a 100% vegetarian diet” claim? I’ve never come across a stat like that, so I’m curious to hear where you heard it. πŸ™‚

  8. gladcow – I completely agree that people need to start thinking about their diets and what they’re actually eating. Labels can only do so much – I know plenty of vegetarians who wont’ eat meat but won’t pay attention to what else they are eating. Another huge problem is that much of the thinking for our diets is usually bypassed by clever marketing tactics – so people will eat something that says “natural” for instance without ever understanding what that means about the food they are eating.
    As far as the book is concerned though, I think that something like it is necessary to shift the American diet, gradually, but effectively towards something healthier for all. I actually work for a campaign called Meatless Mondays where we advocate going meatless one day a week to lower your saturated fat intake and reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes. I really do believe that initiatives like ours and the book will get people to think twice about their diet, question what they are eating and how it affects them.

  9. Mya – I agree that something has to shift with the American diet. I work as a researcher for a nutritional software company and sometimes I wish that people could, or would, really SEE what is in the foods they put in their bodies. I just would rather that it be not paraded under a guise of quasi-vegetarianism. People are confused enough about vegetarianism as it is and I feel that this kind of marketing confuses the issue more. Why not call it what it is, which is a healthier omnivorous diet?

  10. Personally, I think that the coinage of new labels are the spark essential to start a movement – and many people are glad to be able to call themselves a flexitarian, myself included, since it’s so much easier to say that instead of going into detail about my eating habits – so, yes, it’s a term of convenience – but what’s so wrong with that?
    And I don’t believe that it confuses the term more since it calls for people to distinguish between meatless meals and those that do contain meat – the fact that it is not being called something like “new age vegetarianism” means that people recognize what sets vegetarians apart and they do not want to wrongly claim that title.

  11. Advocating that eating a little bit of meat is ok is no different than advocating that a little bit of murder is ok now and then too. I mean, c’mon… it’s really hard not to kill people all the time, right? I mean, human flesh tastes soooo good… I know it’s wrong and bad for me, but I like it and I’m just not ready to go cold turkey and give it up, despite the consequences of my actions. If I cut down to just eating one or two people per week (instead of with every meal) I can feel better about my diet and know that I’m helping out the species and the environment. RIGHT???
    Flexatarian, schmexatarian… I say shit or get off the pot. It’s not that hard to adopt a 100% vegetarian or even vegan diet like many other thousands of perfectly healthy people who already have.

  12. wow, look at this entry take off! i should be cranky more often. πŸ˜‰
    basically gladcow is talking through my psyche, so thanks for that, gladcow! i can continue to be meek over here in the corner; you’ve got my general take on things covered! heh.
    i think one of my biggest peeves is the idea that flexitarianism is being touted as “the realistic diet” and that vegetarianism is “just too hard,” which 98% of us (“us” being those of us who read vegan blogs all the livelong day) know is a total effing crock. flexitarian is just a fancy word for omnivore-who-eats-perhaps-less-meat-than-their-friends, but there’s nothing “special” (as far as i can tell) about the diet. in other words, it’s not a diet that eschews meat, or wheat, or sugar, etc. etc. etc. it’s just someone who “doesn’t eat all that much meat these days.” so why can’t people just say that?

  13. I love it when people say, “I’ve never eaten vegan food.” Um, yes you have. If you’ve eaten Oreos, Cocoa Puffs, or a PBJ, you’ve eaten vegan food. What do people really think it is?

  14. glad I could be of help, heh. I credit the VRF mind-meld.
    AND, if we’re going to name it, why not flexi-VORE instead. since it’s more like an omnivorous diet than a vegetarian one πŸ˜‰

  15. A lot of people don’t want to or just won’t become vegetarian so if they manage to just eat less meat doesn’t that help? It’s called advertising giving diet change a hip title makes it seem less like work. Plus it’s more straight forward then terms like “Pesco-vegetarian” and “Pollo-vegetarian.”

  16. I don’t think giving diet change a hip title makes it seem like less work. Giving diet change a hip title makes it seem like a fad, which is the inverse of real change. I’m all for omnivores eating more vegetables, but giving it a cute name doesn’t really help people to eat more vegetables, in my opinion.

  17. Plus it just plain confuses people and makes vegetarians sound like flakes who “say” they are vegetarians but aren’t truly by real definition. People say they are vegetarian all the time but they eat fish. It’s NOT the same thing and just makes everything more confusing.

  18. Hello all,
    I actually stumbled acorss this thread while searching for recipe ideas. I supposed that I am guilty of being a flexatarian, a flexivore, a slighly-more-vegebtable-orientened than average omnivore, or whatever else you want to call me. I toss my two cents into this mix because quite frankly, I am grateful for all the vegan and vegetarian resources that are available to me. You all may certainly feel free to take it, leave it, or toss it with next week’s recycling…
    Personally, I average anywhere from 5-7 meatless days a week…usually, 4-6 of those are completely vegan. I do not eat the way that I do out of any sort of ethical or philosphical leanings. I am allergic, to varying degrees, to most meat and a host of other non-meat foods. (Wheat is almost completely out for me.) That said, I have come to view my dietary restrictions more as a matter of lifestyle choice than “restrictions” at all (even though deviating from them means hives and a closed throat). I truly enjoy what I eat. I admit that I do OCCASIONALLY use the term “flexatarian” because I feel that to say that I am vegetarian or vegan would simply be false. Typically, however, when I am asked, I simply say, “I don’t eat much meat.” This is true, because I usually only get about 4-6 ounces of meat per week (counting fish).
    Mostly, though, I am glad for the term because it basically gives me one more resource to go looking for recipe ideas, substitutions, etc. (Horray for Google and the 65,000 or so hits “flexatarianism” gives me…on top of the ones I can find when looking for vegetarianism or veganism.) IT also is a little easier for my omni husband and roomate/hired hand to swallow. We live on a farm in Oklahoma…announcing that we as a household are becoming vegetarian would be a recipe for mutiny. However, the idea that we are just cutting back on the meat (albeit A LOT) makes it a lot more OK for them. Under this notion, they have happily taken to black-bean brownies, vegan lasagna and tofu stir fry. We have all lost weight, lowered cholesterol and seen reductions in blood pressure. I realize that we are not completely free of enabling animal cruelty and all that, but we are just trying to keep from me spending time in the hospital….the fact that fewer critters suffer because of us is a side benefit for us. If it means that I am a poseur in the eyes of the vegan/vegetarian community, I’m pretty much OK with that. Most of my omni friends think I am a little bit odd too. πŸ™‚
    Again, feel free to toss this, but thanks a million for the thoughts and recipe ideas and many folk like you have put out there for people like me to find. πŸ™‚ Crys

  19. It seems to me that there is a need for a term to describe the person who eats VERY little meat.
    Although I can easily go a week or more without eating any meat fish or meat products I would not call myself a vegetarian as I have not given up meat, and will probably eat it several times in a month.
    However, I fear that “flexitarian” will not succeeed as it seems to be in danger of becoming a term to describe someone who eats an occasional meat-free meal – which is a completely different thing!!
    Its a question of where the basis of the diet is.

  20. “flexitarian” implies more flexible (morally?) than a rigid ol’ vegan. Yawn! Why not just say, you’re not veg but eat veg meals often. Why a silly vague term?

  21. I think the term “flexatarian” is too flexible and vague indeed.
    This topic made me wonder, how do you call a person like me, who aims to eat vegan diet most of the times, believes in animal rights, promotes vegan food, but occasionally (very occasionally) eats meat and fish and yogurt?
    You can call me “a little bit pregnant” – from the point of view of extreme vegan you are probably right. I see myself as doing my part in reduction of suffering. Five 90% vegans produce the same effect as 4.5 full vegans, don’t they?
    Animal rights is a priority for me and my family, but not the top priority. Top priorities are health and happiness. I find, if the restriction is too rigid, stress mounts up and you end up eating unhealthy vegan foods. This works against my goal.
    For health reasons, no one, even much respected Dr. Campbell, author of the China Study, could persuade me that animal protein must be abandoned completely. According to the China study, the diet with up to 5% of animal protein produced healthy results and turned off cancer. Therefore, up to 5% should be OK to eat.
    I am really happy that there are people who can go much further down this road and make animal rights priority over everything, and I only wish that more of them were more inclusive of others who make their effort, too. Every effort counts, people, remember that!
    Sincerely,
    Olga

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