The Accidental Flexitarian
Question: what do you call a vegetarian who sometimes eats meat? (No, that’s not my setup for a terrible joke—but if you do come up with a good punchline, seriously, let me know.)
The answer is a flexitarian.
I know, I know… just when you got a handle on locavore and CSA, here’s another food trend you need to think about, right? Well, don’t worry, it’s not nearly as complicated as figuring what sous-vide is. A flexitarian diet simply means eating vegetarian meals most of the time, but not always all the time, something a lot of us probably do anyway without even realizing it—myself included.
Many years ago, I had been a full-time vegetarian. After realizing just how few meatless meals I knew how to make (i.e. I pretty much ate nothing but pasta for like, two years), I bought an armload of cookbooks and taught myself to cook. In the decade since then, I’ve returned to eating some meat (hello, Shake Shack cheeseburgers), but at the risk of getting kicked out of the foodie food blogger club, I have to admit: I’m just not that interested in cooking meat.
Meat consumption can take a big toll on our health and on the planet. Red meat in particular (which is often heavy in saturated fats), has been linked to higher rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, while at the same time, the meat industry generates a lot of greenhouse gases — even more than all the cars on the road.
With those health and environmental reasons in mind, I’ve developed a pretty great meatless cooking repertoire over the years. Still, there are still times when I want a flavor or texture only meat can provide, and flexitarian recipes that use a small amount of meat—an ounce or two of rich, smoky bacon in a chowder or a pound of incredible grass-fed ground beef in a big batch of my favorite recipe for spaghetti sauce—are just as satisfying to me (if not more so) than an old school meat-and-two-veg combo.
If you think you’d like to try being a flexitarian but already feel a little overwhelmed, try starting small: have a Meatless Monday next week. Or, if you’re like me and you’re an ex-vegetarian who doesn’t want to cook meat-centric meals either, get Peter Berley’s excellent cookbook The Flexitarian Table.
And either way, no matter what you do—whether you forgo meat once a day, once a week, or once a month—remember all those little moments add up, for a healthier world and a healthier you.
Kristen Bonardi Rapp writes about food, history, and more on her blog gezellig-girl.com. She lives with her husband and daughter in New York City.