When writing an article about food for Thanksgiving, I ran across an interesting new word. Flexitarian. Chosen as a “most useful word” by the American Dialect Society in 2003, it describes people who consume plant-based foods primarily but supplement their diets with occasional meat products. A “semivegetarian,” if you will. A little research on the subject suggests that people who eat this way are motivated more by the growing evidence suggesting that over-consumption of meat is unhealthy rather than PETA propaganda. I didn’t even know there was a group that picks “Most Useful Words.” So I’ve realized some things from this exercise.
At any rate, if all of us followed the food consumption guidelines recommended by the FDA, we would all likely fall into the flexitarian group. Most food consumption guidelines suggest a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and legumes. For the most part, animal-based products should be consumed in lesser quantities. Unfortunately, most Americans have these reversed in their everyday diets. Some suggest that flexitarians are responsible for the explosion of products like soy burgers. I can understand the rationale. Most strict vegetarians aren’t interested in eating something that even resembles a hamburger.
There are a few types of vegetarians, so what does it take to qualify as a flexitarian? People fall into a continuum when classifying their consumption of meat-based products. Those who follow a vegan diet comprise about 1% of the U.S. population and adhere to the most significant restrictions, consuming no meat (animal, fowl, or fish) or any of their products (dairy, eggs, etc.). Vegetarian diets have more modest restrictions, allowing for animal products (dairy, eggs, etc.), but not for meat consumption. Their adherents make up about 3% of the population. Flexitarians focus on a plant-based diet but also allow for the moderate consumption of meat. Some experts estimate that this group may make up as much as 40% of the U.S. population. I like this designation because it suggests a mantra I like, which is “… all things in moderation….”
I fall into this category. When I eat out, some of the most common things I get include a vegetable omelet, a bowl of chilli, or a Japanese vegetable plate. Why? Because eating at a restaurant is one of the fastest ways to rack up calories, and eating more vegetables tends to minimize this effect. I don’t understand if I could express I’m a flexitarian, but I doubt it would hurt me to move more in that direction. What about the readers? Do you follow a flexitarian diet, or are you a carnivore?