What Does It Mean To Eat A Flexitarian Diet—And How Can It Make A Difference?
Consciously Cutting Down On Meat can catch me eating cauliflower buffalo wings or seitan tacos at a local vegan eatery any day of the week. I love plant-based foods and feel healthier—both physically and mentally—when I consume them. But I don’t identify as vegan. Not even vegetarian. Amid all of the buzz about dietary habits, I’ve decided that being flexitarian (I swear it’s a real thing) is what works for me. This means I consciously try to reduce my meat consumption and eat mostly vegan meals—but occasionally consume meat, dairy, and seafood.
My boyfriend and sister are both vegan. The diehard types. They do this for ethical, environmental, and health reasons. It’s all too easy to feel guilty around them (and I’m around them all the time) when I do eat meat or dairy. Usually, I end up eating a lot of vegan food by virtue of spending time with them. Sometimes I think I just need to take the plunge and go vegan—and that’s definitely still an eventual possibility. But I haven’t done this yet, and I’m not alone. Only three percent of the population is vegan. Six percent are vegetarian. Unfortunately, that means more than 90% of Americans consume meat, and at an alarming and unsustainable average rate of 220+ pounds a year per person.
Meat Consumption Is Harming Our Planet
Meat and dairy provide just 18% of food calories and 37% of protein, but use 83% (the vast majority) of farmland and create 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to this article in The Guardian. Additionally, meat production and consumption contribute to factors that harm our land, water, and air, worsening the already serious problem of global warming.
Avoiding meat and dairy is the most substantial way we can reduce our environmental impact and care for our own health. Eating excessive amounts of meat can lead to an increased likelihood of stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers. And it goes without saying that animals suffer horribly under factory farming conditions.
Based on a study by British medical journal The Lancet, cutting down our meat consumption around the world by 50% will significantly impact the preservation of the planet and our ability to feed future generations. So, ideally we should all be eating half of the amount of meat we currently eat, at minimum.
Intentional Reduction Is Key
“The key to change is conscious, intentional reduction of meat consumption within ability—and not punishing yourself when do occasionally have a non-vegan meal.”
Even though there are more and more plant-based food options, it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to immediately cut out all meat and dairy. A lot of people still won’t have access to fresh produce, farmer’s markets, and the abundance of vegan offerings certain parts of the country, like my home in Los Angeles, are fortunate to have. This especially applies to marginalized and vulnerable populations. The key to change is conscious, intentional reduction of meat consumption within ability—and not punishing yourself when do occasionally have a non-vegan meal. (If do eat meat or dairy, try to ensure it comes from local, sustainable, and free-range sources.)
While cutting out all meat and dairy would certainly be effective, the all-or-nothing mentality people have surrounding meat eating can do more harm than good. It can deter people from even beginning their journey towards meat reduction. Don’t get me wrong: being a dedicated vegan or vegetarian is a wonderful thing. It takes strong values and even stronger discipline—and many people find great joy in it. It’s definitely something that can be done, and something that should be encouraged.
But, on the other hand, for someone who is considering cutting down on meat, it can be intimidating to feel like have to either identify as a meat eater or not. This can lead to feelings of guilt or fear of “slipping up” when trying to cut out meat and not always being successful. My sister and boyfriend, when they’ve accidentally consumed dairy around me, have asked me to keep it a secret and say they feel awful. I tell them, it’s honestly totally cool. They’re abiding by their ethics as best as they can and an occasional and unintentional mistake should never be held against them.