If you're mostly meatless but can't resist the occasional treat of a burger, then this movement's for you
While it may feel like each new day brings a new diet with it – whole30, pegan and bulletproof are just a few health crazes that have gotten people talking these past few months – some diets are here to stay.
Especially ones that let you eat things when you crave them.
Flexitarianism, which combines the words 'flexible' and 'vegetarianism', refers to a movement where people eat a primarily plant-based diet, with the occasional addition of meat.
You might also hear it referred to as a 'semi-vegetarian' diet or hear flexitarians call themselves 'vegivores'. The term was first coined in the mid-1990s but it has proven staying power thanks to nationwide campaigns like the McCartneys' Meat Free Monday movement, which urges people to skip meat one day a week to improve health and better the environment.
"A typical flexitarian diet includes a lots of vegetables and fruits, grains, pulses, bread, pasta, rice, dairy and a smaller amount of fish and meat," explains Annabelle Randles, who blogs at The Flexitarian.
"In my blog, I also encourage people to reconnect with seasonal food so as to lessen our impact on the environment," she explains.
Now we see why flexitarianism has mass appeal; whenever you get bored of vegetarian fare, you can tuck into that salmon sushi or indulge in a Sunday roast. It's also easy to adjust for social occasions, travel needs or health issues.
No wonder it's become a popular choice for carnivores looking to reduce their meat consumption but also vegetarians and vegans who are trying to reintroduce some meat into their diets. In fact, it's estimated that 30-40% of the population of the US and Canada are flexitarian.
According to Randles, there are no strict restrictions with flexitarian diets. You can be flexitarian with one meat-free day a week or if you only eat meat very occasionally.
Unlike diets that focus primarily on health benefits and weight loss, the impetus to become flexitarian is often connected to environmental concerns as much as animal welfare.
"From CO2 emissions to the increasing need for space to grow animal feed crops (resulting, for example, in deforestation of the Amazon rainforest), meat consumption takes a high toll on the environment and contributes to climate change," explains Randles.
"Many people are also concerned by the conditions farm animals are kept in and choose to eat less meat, while eating higher welfare meat when they do eat it."
This is key: adherents to flexitarianism are concerned with finding organic, local and sustainable foods and are adamant about not contributing to the industrial production of meat and dairy products.
This accounts for one of the key reasons it's become a national movement: in January 2015, Flexitarian Bristol formed to promote the reduced consumption of meat and dairy in Bristol. The campaign aims to turn Bristol into the first 'flexitarian city' to raise awareness about the link between meat consumption and the environment and provide a template for other UK cities to follow.
According to Dan Milner, one of the founders of FlexiBristol, a flexitarian city is a city "that uses public money to procure less meat and only meat that is sustainable, local and ethically sourced; where restaurants in the city provide a range of meat and dairy-free meals and the vast majority of meat is sustainable and ethically sourced and where the citizens of the city are aware of flexitarianism as one solution to the environmental problems caused by factory-farming meat."
To help raise awareness about the environmental impact of meat (deforestation in the Amazon attributed to meat products, the proportion of greenhouse gases contributed by livestock), FlexiBristol is launching a restaurant award to direct people to delicious local eateries that offer more than meat and dairy products on their menus and ensure their food comes from organic, local, high-welfare sources.
Education is another part of FlexiBristol's mission, and the group is focusing on promoting healthy eating education in primary schools, special needs schools and homeless shelters in the city.
Milner became a flexitarian about a decade ago while at university, when he became concerned about the impact of a carnivorous lifestyle on the long-term future of the environment but also realised that meat was a crucial part of his diet (and a mainstay in his cooking).
"I knew then that I didn't want to be a strict vegetarian; if a sausage or a piece of bacon was going to go to waste why shouldn't I eat it? But I also new that I didn't want to contribute to the factory/industrial production of meat and dairy that has no regard for nature and environmental limitations.
"The transition to flexitarian was quite slow for me as I wasn't a particularly interested cook but after a year I had learned a nice repertoire of vegetarian dishes and I was beginning to enjoy the journey. My food bills went down and the flavour and variety of my food has definitely gone up!" he says.
And if you're the type who likes to see a celebrity endorsement of a diet before trying it, there are plenty of bold-faced names behind flexitarianism – from Paul, Mary and Stella McCartney to Gwyneth Paltrow. Even celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has admitted to shying away from meat a few days a week in favour of vegetarian dishes.
If you're looking to introduce a more vegetarian regime in your home, don't miss our fabulous selection of easy-to-make vegetarian recipes on Homemade.
Nettie Cronish and Pat Crocker's cookbooks, Flex Appeal and Everyday Flexitarian, also offer a selection of recipes that can be adapted to suit meat and non-meat eaters without the extra hassle of creating separate meals for everyone's dietary needs.
Pass the salad.
Please note this article has been produced for information purposes only and is not condoning the consumption of these foods at the stated quantities. It should not be viewed as a replacement for any kind of nutritional advice.
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