Flexitarians Aren’t Failed Vegans

Various market research groups point to double-digit annual growth for the global vegan food market. Meat shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic have fuelled this trend, along with questions around whether meat is good for our own health and that of our planet.

The vegan lobby has been advocating a fully plant-based diet for a long time.

But maybe you get cold turkey (excuse the pun) just thinking about giving up meat altogether?

You like the odd burger. What’s wrong with that?

Suffering with a delicate digestion since my late twenties, I abandoned meat. A diagnosed lactose intolerance also led me to plant-based milks and yoghurts.

“So, you’re not a proper vegan then?” people ask me when I eat oysters.

No, I am just faced with the array of food options that the south of France can offer, and oysters marry so well with a dry white wine …

In all seriousness, don’t you sometimes wish life could be less black and white? Something other than those perfectly typed labels: vegan or carnivore.

Well, it can be.

Maybe I fell into a flexitarian way of life, but today it is an active choice, as I am convinced a flexitarian diet can change the course of our planet.

And I am not the only one.


First up, what is a flexitarian?

A flexitarian eats plant-based foods most of the time, so that means less meat and dairy. As such, it is a diet that encourages the consumption of beans, nuts, whole grains and mushrooms as meat alternatives.


Flexitarian health benefits: do you want to live a longer and healthier life?

Your answer is probably affirmative.

Diets higher in plant-based protein are better for your health. Heart disease, cancer and strokes are the three biggest killers and reducing meat consumption protects against these and other diseases.

The latest research from the Journal of the American Heart Association concluded that those who consume more animal products and refined carbs were 32% more likely to die of heart disease and up to 25% more likely to die of all causes during the 8 years of the study.

Food for thought, isn’t it?


Flexitarians are a new demographic

I don’t like labels but giving something a name does help to define it as a concept. The food industry has realised this too.

The innovation consultancy Mattson follows consumer trends in the plant-based food market and a recent study concluded that flexitarians are driving the market, rather than vegans or vegetarians.

How many vegans are there in the world? — it is estimated between 0.1 and 5%. If we take the top end of that range, that still leaves about 7bn people who could be convinced to eat less meat and dairy.

A potential 95% … that is a good marketing segment to go after.


Flexitarians can change the world


#1. Flexitarians can collectively prevent climate change

Climate change directly disrupts agriculture. Lower annual yields, frequent extreme weather scenarios and changes in seasonality directly threaten production. Ironically, however, animal farming is a major contributor to climate change.

A study in 2019 concluded that if all Americans reduced their meat consumption by 25% by introducing more plant-based proteins, it would represent annual reduction of 82m metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

Put another way, if everyone in the USA followed a vegetarian diet for just under two days a week, greenhouse gas emissions would reduce by just over 1%.

Animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector. Reducing your meat consumption can positively impact climate change more than never getting on a plane again.

Think about that for a second.

#2. Flexitarians can collectively shape a sustainable future

Sustainability is the 21st century buzzword. We need sustainable development models as we move forward.

The ready-to-assemble furniture multinational, IKEA, launched a vegan version of its famous, Swedish meatballs across the UK recently. Customers want more choice, but importantly this also feeds into the company’s People and Planet Positive strategy. IKEA want to be a fully circular and climate-positive business by 2030.

Intensive farming causes deforestation (the loss of trees that naturally absorb carbon dioxide) and unsanitary conditions (you only need to look at the number of COVID-19 outbreaks in meat processing plants).

Ask yourself this question: Why are we producing grain to feed animals to farm meat, rather than feeding directly the world’s growing population?


If you are one of the 95% that isn’t vegan, the future is in your hands

It is not just IKEA and other big multinationals that can have a sustainable vision of the future. Everyone can play their part.

You’re convinced. So, what next?

You are probably asking yourself, how often does a flexitarian eat meat?

Put that question aside for now. As we said in the beginning, it is a mostly plant-based diet.

Simply ask yourself this question: how often do I eat meat now? And then set yourself incremental steps to decrease that.

If you are a big meat eater, take it slowly. Maybe you have heard of Meat free Monday, started by Paul, Mary and Stella McCartney just over 10 years ago? It’s a not-for-profit campaign that encourages one plant-based day each week.

Take the time to familiarise yourself with plant-based alternatives. You might not have the recipes to hand at first.

Forks over Knives is the iconic US reference when it comes to vegan recipes, but also check out some of the on-trend chefs, such as the Israeli-English Yotam Ottolenghi, who offer lots of vegetarian options.

Make your first small step today in showing that the 95% can make a difference.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

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