A couple weeks ago, I came across the article Why I Became a Flexitarian and How I Kept With It. Intrigued as to what on earth a “flexitarian” could be (and eager to procrastinate), I decided to give it a read. Halfway through the article, I went on Facebook Messenger, linked my friend to the post, and vented my frustration very explicitly in all caps.
“A flexitarian is someone who normally eats meatless, but occasionally includes meat and fish in their diet…The flexitarian movement steers away from the meat-heavy diet that we’re all used to, and is focused more on a way of eating that includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes, as well as fish or meat a handful of times each week. It’s exactly how it sounds – flexible. A flexitarian can eat meat once a day or a little as once a week.”
So you eat meat… just not a lot. Is that so special?
Let me be clear: I have nothing against the principles of flexitarianism. In fact, I could well qualify to be a flexitarian. I generally try to limit meat in my diet, having all but eliminated beef for mainly ecological reasons, and often find myself opting for vegetarian alternatives like veggie burgers because I simply find them more appetizing. Whether doing so for their bodies, for the planet, or for both, flexitarians can be applauded for choosing a healthy, sustainable lifestyle.
My issue with flexitarianism is the word itself. More specifically, the fact that so-called flexitarians feel the need to label their lifestyle choice. By creating a category for people who eat less meat than most, we’re making limited meat consumption seem like something exceptional.
Our society should encourage people to eat less meat so that meat-centric diets are no longer the norm. However, putting a label on low-meat diets has the exact opposite effect: it makes the lifestyle sound trendy, a category apart from normal, healthy eating. It makes cutting back on meat sound like a dietary restriction that only firmly-committed people have the willpower to follow.
Moreover, the concept of flexitarianism only makes sense in a western, meat-centric context. There are many countries whose food cultures don’t emphasize meat to the extent that we do and where vegetarianism is far more common. Try telling, say, an Indian that you’re flexitarian, and he or she will probably just look at you like. “Uh, is that supposed to impress me?” No, it shouldn’t.
People whose diets don’t focus on meat should be treated normally, not given a special status. That is the only way to persuade others that reducing meat consumption is easily doable. After all, people who try to watch their sugar intake don’t go around calling themselves “Non-Sweet Tooths.” Hop off your high horse.