Monday, April 28, 2008

Flexitarianism

Yep, this is what I am these days. Urban Dictionary gives a couple definitions for the word, but the one that I like (and have decided to apply to myself) is:

"some one who essentially eats just vegetables (as well as fish, eggs & milk) who's not too uptight about eating meat ocaisionally [sic] as a matter of convenience; a lenient vegetarian."

We talked about becoming a vegetarian household, but we realized that's pretty much what we do anyway. For the most part, the meals we eat at home are already vegetarian: chilis, soups, eggplant parmagian, veggie pot pies, tortes, and quiches, veggie fried rices, tacos and burritos, tons of Indian dishes, the list goes on. I don't cook much red meat at all...I can't remember the last time I bought pork (except bacon, which I love, I'll admit). I probably cook chicken or fish once or maybe twice a week, at most. Many weeks, I cook no meat.

So instead of setting a strict rule that we'd be tempted to break, we decided we'd become flexitarians. This just means that we'll begin cooking even less meat than we already do. When we go to a restaurant for dinner (for us, this is probably twice a month, on average), we'll order what we want. If we come to your house for dinner, we'll eat what you serve us.

Killing animals does kind of gross me out, but I'll be honest, the main reason for going "flexitarian" is a combination of health and environmental reasons. Neither of these necessarily requires an "all or nothing" approach - my health and especially the environment will be better off if I eat less meat. Obviously, the environment would be even better off if I ate none at all, but something is better than nothing, and what is more important than the extent of the changes I make is my ability to make them long-lasting changes, rather than short term ones. For a detailed explanation of some of the reasons why eating meat is not great for the environment, check out the GoVeg site - one of the biggest reasons for me is that it takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat (the chickens and cows have to eat before they become meat, right?) - at a time when there are food shortages all over the world, this becomes especially important for me to at least reflect on.

Eating quality meat can be very pricey, especially if your only option for purchasing it is a conventional grocery store. I think we'll see quite a significant savings on our grocery bills now that I've stopped buying meat - we'll finish up what we have in the freezer, since it's bought and paid for, and the resources to produce it have already been consumed. Normally when I'd clean out the freezer though, I'd do a big meat shopping to stock it again - that would always be a very expensive shopping.

Like so many of my other decisions about changes to how I'm living my life, this is ultimately a personal choice, as it must for everybody. Unfortunately, some people will decide that eating meat fourteen times a week is their right. It is their right to make that choice. Others may decide that they can go vegetarian, or totally vegan, or that they can go meatless once a month or once a week. Bean Sprouts was challenging readers in April to try a vegetarian meal - Whole Foods Spicy Vegetarian Chili is one of my recent favorites, if you're looking for inspiration.

Others may decide that they want to continue to eat meat once a day, but will decrease their portion sizes - for more on this, check out Blue Collar Crunch's Diet for Global Hunger Action. As this New York Times article from 1918 explains, Americans in the past have consciously cut consumption to help those in need. Now might be a good time to give that some serious thought once again.

For us, the flexitarian option is great...everything in moderation, after all. It's just that moderation is being redefined.

12 comments:

arduous said...

So instead of setting a strict rule that we'd be tempted to break, we decided we'd become flexitarians.

I think this is a great idea! I think to a certain extent, I am an unconscious flexitarian. I was a vegetarian for four years, so I don't cook meat very often. But I like to go out to eat sometimes and get chicken or beef or bacon or whatever, as well. I think flexibility is the key to living a green life. It's like a diet. If you occasionally allow yourself a piece of cake, you'll be more likely to keep up your diet all the time! I am going to adopt your terminology now. Flexitarians unite!

Heather said...

I'm a flexitarian too. I tend to make all veggie choices mostly because I don't really like the taste of most meats (dark meat chicken, maybe but that's about it). I figured, why eat something that I have to cover in sauce just to get it down? So now I only eat meat when I'm at someone's house and they've served meat for dinner that can't be passed up without being obvious (meat in spaghetti sauce, casserole, etc). That way the host doesn't have to make anything special for me.

Melissa said...

arduous - so funny you mention the diet, because that is exactly what I thought too! Every time I've ever gone on a diet, I always cheated...then I felt guilty...and guilt is so overrated!

heather - the eating at friends house was something I didn't want to make a big production of, like you said, so the idea that I could do mostly veg without inconveniencing my friends was appealing. I figure if somebody else does the cooking, I'm happy!

Verde said...

Great Post. It names some of the things I've been thinking and doing.

Yup, we're flexitarians - beginning this journey, still eating meat, reducing consumption one meal at a time.

Sades said...

Good ideas, but I don't think you should forget about the option of game meat, or buying from small local farmers. If you are in the city, this probably isn't an option. But, in many areas hunting is a necessary and healthy part of animal population control. I know some people might find this insulting, but as a Biology graduate, and hopefully a future Wildlife Biologist, I know that the environment and healthy ecosystems rely on hunting by all animals, including humans. I was a vegetarian for 8yrs, a vegan for 2, and I realized that my body needs meat protein. Even if it's only a couple times a week, and mostly white meat. I love barbecue chicken, a tasty burger, and fresh fish is fantastic. I don't think it is healthy for humans to become strictly vegetarians, but we can make smart decisions about the meats we choose.

By the way, I'm Kyle's sister, since you probably couldn't figure it out

Melissa said...

Hey Sades, how are you? :) We are pretty much right in the middle of a city, but there are some local farmers that sell organically raised meat, but it tends to be pretty expensive. I definitely have no desire to go vegan, since we eat tons of cheese, lots of eggs, and have fish or seafood about once every week or two. I think that is a good balance for us, when we figure in the 2 - 4 times a month we have dinner at restaurants or friends homes where we usually have meat. But we'll see...what I like about it, is we can make it as flexible as we want or need it to be. Hope everything's going well with you!

Sades said...

I agree it is always good to be flexible with food, and everything else in life. Things are going well, I am 12 weeks pregnant, I don't know if you heard. Things are progressing well, and we will be moving to Bellingham, WA in 2 weeks. I enjoy reading your posts, and the rest of your families. You, April and your Mom should write a book together.

Melissa said...

I had heard that news...wasn't sure if you guys were announcing it yet...congratulations!!!

Green Grrl said...

Flexitarian. That sums me up pretty well. Although some of the other definitions are a better fit for me - I'm mostly vegetarian but will eat meat occasionally - if it's organic. Which basically means I only eat meat at home, at my parents' and at the few restaurants that serve it. Luckily a lot of my friends are vegetarian and those that aren't I tend to meet at restaurants to avoid the 'I don't want to eat your food' scenario.
That sounds terrible doesn't it? I can't help it though - if it's not organic I just cannot get it down. I psych myself out.

Melissa said...

green grrl, I don't think that's terrible at all - especially after finishing "Fast Food Nation" recently - I literally feel like gagging thinking about eating meat lately. If I knew it was organic though I think I could stomach it - it's the processing of it that's the really gross part.

Beany said...

I didn't quite realize that my husband and I are flexitarians until I read this post. I am mainly vegan but bounce into vegetarianism when eating with my husband (which is mainly on the weekends). The meat eating comes into play when we're dining with company...and I just don't like explaining my dietary choices to anyone.

I was a strict vegan for quite a while (few years?) and I realized that some people view food choices as a religion and feel threatened (if that's the right word) by my food choices. Flexitarianism is so much more easier as an option socially.

Melissa said...

beany, you're so right. I hadn't thought about it that way, but a lot of people do have a near religious attachment to their food choices. I do the same thing, if somebody serves me meat, I just eat it rather than get into a whole explanation of why I don't - not because I'd mind explaining if I thought they were truly interested, but I don't think most people actually want to hear about my dietary choices, and I don't like feeling like I have to justify these sorts of personal choices.