Photo: wwhyte via Flickr
We’re about to see a surge in “flexitarianism” – vegetarians who sometimes eat meat, according to a recent study commissioned by Linda McCartney FoodsAll my life, I have tried – and failed – to be a vegetarian. I have whipped up exotic salads that promise to make lettuce “exciting” (they don’t). I have lunched on falafel, dined on ratatouille, tried tofu and tempeh (tastes like soggy gravel). I’ve sampled bean burgers and seitan burgers (a type of vegetarian schnitzel). But I just love meat. Nothing beats sizzling hot bacon on a slice of buttery bread; salty crackling on a tender joint of roast pork; or a juicy fillet steak.
My passion for meat has always been a barrier to vegetarianism – until now. According to a recent study, commissioned by Linda McCartney Foods (the meat-free company founded by Sir Paul’s late wife), we’re about to see a surge in “flexitarianism” – vegetarians who sometimes eat meat.
“20 years ago, vegetarianism was scoffed at,” explains Charles Banks, director of The Food People, which carried out the research. “But there has been a seismic shift in attitudes… We expect meat-free eating and flexitarianism soon to be a mega trend.”
A flexitarian (“flexible vegetarian”, interchangeable with “vegivore”) is defined as: “one whose normally meatless diet occasionally includes meat or fish”. The concept is booming in the US. Pat Crocker and Nettie Cronish, authors of Everyday Flexitarian, estimate that 30 to 40 per cent of Americans are flexitarians, while a survey by the Vegetarian Research Group found that 23 million people follow a “vegetarian-inclined diet”, compared to 7.3 million full-time veggies.
By 2015, The Food People predict, there will be a “notable increase in flexitarian – or demi-vegetarian – eating” in Britain. Cutting down meat is cheaper, healthier and – for carnivores like me – a better prospect than going the whole vegetarian hog.
Flexitarianism started life as a publicity exercise in the Nineties to expand the appeal of vegetarianism. It was revived in 2009, when Sir Paul and his daughters Stella and Mary launched their “Meat Free Monday” campaign. The movement has been adopted by more than a million fans, with endorsement by Gwyneth Paltrow, Sir Richard Branson, Cameron Diaz and Joss Stone.
Strict vegetarians can be critical of part-timers, accusing them of sitting on the fence. But Ben Martin, a campaigner at Animal Aid, says: “Anything people can do to reduce their consumption of animal products is a good thing.”
Eating less meat has nutritional benefits. Red meat is rich in saturated fats, cholesterol and high in calories (linked to obesity, diabetes and certain cancers), while vegetables contain more fibre, vitamins and minerals. This doesn’t, however, mean that we should cut out meat entirely. “Meat is still important for children and for people who exercise,” explains Alice Mackintosh, nutrition consultant at The Food Doctor clinic. “There are pros and cons of total vegetarianism. I tell lots of my clients to try not to have meat every day.”
Indeed, in 2011, following a study that linked red meat and colorectal cancer, the Government reduced its recommended daily red meat consumption to just 70g (the average steak weighs 225g). “Eating red meat once a week is plenty,” says Tom Sanders, professor of nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London. “Vegetarian meals tend to be healthier and lower in calories.”
Cutting down on meat can save money, too. Vegetarian meals are, on average, 60 per cent cheaper than meaty dishes. They’re better for the environment as well. “Animal farming is responsible for more greenhouse gas than all motorised transport in the world,” explains Martin. “There has also been a lot of controversy surrounding animal consumption, such as the recent horsemeat scandal, so people see vegetarianism and veganism as a safer bet.”
So what’s the downside? Unlike vegetarians or vegans, flexitarians can’t use their eating habits to claim the moral high ground. “Vegetarians can get annoyed that a flexitarian is seen as a type of vegetarian, which it isn’t,” says Su Taylor of The Vegetarian Society. “Choosing a veggie diet goes one better by making a clear statement.”
But flexitarians have the best of both worlds – vegetables all week, then a bacon sarnie at the weekend. What’s not to like?
NOW WATCH: Executive Life videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.