So, you're currently a "dedicated meat-eater" right? (maybe you've already quit dairy for "allergy" reasons....), but are considering making a healthy lifestyle change this year, except you're not sure whether you'd be able to cut the mustard as a vegan or vegetarian, and the thought of going "cold turkey" (pun intended) with your meat and dairy consumption fills you with dread, then there is another option. Take the middle ground and become a ‘Flexitarian’, short for "flexible vegetarian", which means you giving up meat a couple of times a week.
Even Arnold Schwarzenegger has been doing this and can be seen talking about it in this feature on the making of his meat reduction video co-produced by James Cameron, a prominent promoter of a plant-based (vegan) lifestyle.
Whether for health, ethical or environmental reasons (or a bit of each), it makes a lot of sense to a lot of people for the need to cut down on their meat dairy and egg consumption if what The Huffington Post UK has been saying is anything to go by, with an estimated 1 in 3 Brits apparently regarding themselves as a flexitarian.
OK great, where do I begin then?
You could start off by joining in with the Meat-Free Monday movement on social media. This will help you reduce your meat intake quickly and easily, and if you do it every week it'll soon become second nature and you won't even consider eating meat on Mondays. Who knows? The practice might start extending into the rest of the week as well.
There's also Mark Bittman's VB6 (vegan before 6) diet plan whereby you basically eat a vegan diet before 6pm every day. He made the change due to a series of health problems, but said he didn't have the mental dicipline to be vegan, so decided on a compromise with a view to addressing his health issues.
Another way of getting started with a flexitarian diet is to take part in the Veganuary challenge every January, where you follow a plant-based diet for the month. Trying these ideas out is a great way of giving yourself a health boost and helping the planet at the same time. The more you try, the more you'll find you're incorporating certain dietary considerations into your meal plans every day. Positive Health Wellness website is just one of the many websites out there that provides a number of appetising recipes - a lot of which are vegan, plus tips on staying healthy as an added bonus.
What is important to remember is that if you've been a dyed-in-the-wool "red-blooded carnivore" all your life, you're probably not going to be able to change your entrenched lifestyle habits overnight. You'll have been eating a certain way for quite some time and habits can be hard to break, and this approach is way better than doing nothing, or simply thinking you're not cut out for it. For many, I think Flexitarianism could well be kind of like a "try before you buy" approach to a more all-encompassing life-style like veganism and gives you a chance to adapt at your own pace to the new diet.
Will I cope on a flexitarian diet?
You more likely than not will come to the conclusion that eating what is for the most part essentially a vegan diet (even if only "part-time") isn't half as difficult as you first imagined. It actually opens you up to a world of new culinary experiences, instead of the somewhat narrow and unimaginative "meat and two veg" mentality, although there are plenty of tasty meat substitutes out there including our Vegandeli if that's what you miss the most, (and if you fancy a dairy-free vegan "cheese burger" then why not try our vegan sliced cheese too?) Other meat substitutes include; The Linda Mc Cartney range with some of the best "bangers 'n mash" type vegan sausages out there plus burgers and pies, a wide range of meat-free food made in South Africa by Frys Family Foods, with delicious burgers and filled savoury "steak and kidney" style pies to rival Linda Mc Cartney's and of course the new vegan range from Quorn, that is readily available in many supermarkets.
But still, don't beat yourself up if you can't stick to Meat-Free Monday each week or if you fail half way through Veganuary. What's important is that you're starting to think more about where your food comes from and not only that, but what you're actually choosing to put into your body. Over time you'll find that healthy choices become second nature - and you could soon start inspiring your friends to make the same choices as well.
Flexitarian or full-time vegan?
I guess there may well be some people out there who consider flexitarianism a "half-hearted" attempt at being a vegan (or veggie) for people with no real conviction or will-power. While an "all or nothing" approach might be a good fit for some of us, I think however that everyone is different, and what might be an easy decision for one person, is a somewhat daunting undertaking for another. Isn't the destination perhaps more important than the personal journey and means it takes to get there?
When I personally stopped eating animals, there was no question of going back to my old way of eating, (or even so-called "cheating" occasionally) and the choice was a simple one, but that was me, and I consider that we should welcome and encourage any system of eating that helps to reduce the consumption of meat and build a greater awareness of (and reduction to) animal suffering, even if you're not a 100% vegan all the time, and can only be a good thing in the long run.
If you do eventually find yourself becoming permanently vegan or animal-free then great, and it will be through your own effort and commitment. Really, it's better to have got there in the end than not at all, even if it took you a while to reach that point isn't it? Perhaps though you'll never become an actual vegan, but you don't know until you give it a try, and flexitarianism is as good a way as any to start off with, if you're unsure about cutting out meat and animal products totally, and keep putting it off.
There are some very well documented health benefits to adopting a vegan diet, so isn't it worth the effort for this alone? Whatever amount you cut out meat consumption, this also reduces the amount of suffering caused to animals, which is an important consideration along with other aspects that are worth thinking about.
A food revolution can take time (decades in fact) to become reality, and real change only happens when we each make the first step ourselves by putting things into practice in our daily lives, no matter how small that change is to start with (to use a computer analogy, you have to press "enter" for anything to happen!).
The more people change their diet, the more public perception to food will change in general and the knock-on effect is that ever increasing animal-free options become available in supermarkets and eateries. Vegan menus are popping up all over the place in many well-known restaurant chains' menus, such as the new vegan options at Pret a Manger, or the fantastic vegan pizzas at all 17 of The Stable cider restaurant eateries across the country, plus The Harvester has just added a number of vegan options to their menu, so it's definitely worth paying them a visit too. If you like to eat out a lot, there are plenty of choices for you, and this really does reflect the change in customer demand to what was available even just a few years ago. For snacks too, you can now buy vegan sandwiches from the Coop plus other meals marked "vegan", which is also great news for consumers.
So, don't be a "perhaps I will" or "maybe next week" sort of person who merely considers that it just "seems like a nice idea". Why not actually get started on your new adventure now and see where it takes you and experience for yourself the benefits it can bring? While Flexitarianism may or may not end up as the final destination on your journey, it could well be a significant waypoint on the road to a new healthier and more environmentally aware you!