Go flexitarian — it’s the healthy diet of the future

    17 May 2016

    Flexitarianism sounds like just another ludicrous portmanteau invented by millennials, to go alongside masturdating, chairdrobes and sexting. Actually, the concept — a combination of ‘flexible’ and ‘vegetarianism’ — is an adaptable philosophy that may represent the future of how we eat.

    It is not really new. The American Dialect Society named flexitarianism the most useful word of 2003. To begin with it was embraced by only a few quinoa-munching yummy mummies in Hampstead. It entered the mainstream in 2009 when Paul, Mary and Stella McCartney launched Meat Free Mondays. Soon after, a horde of celebrities jumped on the flexitarian bandwagon, from Joanna Lumley to Leona Lewis.

    The campaign was based on the motto that going veggie for one day a week can make a ‘world of difference’. To some, this seems like an unlikely statement. Many will see the diet as a lazy cop-out from full-time herbivorism — simply ‘vegetarianism with benefits’.

    But the benefits are very convincing. My own school of flexitarianism involves two days of veganism a week and generally focusing more on plant-based meals, only adding meat to my plate when absolutely necessary. Admittedly, I frequently cave into a bacon butty on a hungover Sunday morning or a lazy Two for Tuesday Pepperoni Passion pizza. The beauty of flexitarianism is that I don’t need to abstain entirely from my guilty pleasures. I’ve since found that filling my cupboards with ludicrous amounts of couscous, bulgur wheat and lentils and by constantly ensuring that my fridge is packed with plenty of fruit and veg has, for most of the time, reduced my carnivorous cravings.

    Other flexitarians might take the diet a little more seriously than I do, whilst others far less stringently. Even for the least committed, however, as the McCartney campaign hoped to explain, just a mere day off from meat consumption a week can make a big difference. The ‘suit yourself’ ideology with its fairly lax rules mean that it is something everybody could easily do, while still making a considerable difference to your bodies, your wallets and the environment.

    First, the health advantages. Many studies suggest that reducing red meat intake and eating more vegetables, fruit and grains could reduce the chance of heart disease, limit cancer risk, curb obesity and in general improve one’s longevity. A study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association found that early death from all possible causes was higher for those who regularly eat meat. A further review of half a million participants also found that those with low meat intake had a reduced risk of all-cause mortality of 25 per cent.

    On top of this, vegetarian meals are apparently about 60 per cent cheaper than meat-based meals, as well as less calorific. A thicker wallet and a thinner waist doesn’t sound too bad to me.

    Beyond the health and economic advantages, the environmental effects of such a simple change in diet are colossal. It reduces our water consumption, for a start. The meat production industry is a huge water consumer. It is thought that rising demand for water in food production could, by 2050, contribute to land aridity and global droughts. Cutting our weekly meat intake can go some way to mitigating this concern.

    Global warming would be affected by the change too. With reports suggesting that the meat industry makes up anywhere between 18 per cent and 51 per cent of global emissions, doing something as simple as replacing mince with bulgur wheat in one’s chilli con carne or completing a salad with falafel, not chicken, is both incredibly easy and a virtuous step in the right direction.

    For such a simple change in diet, it is clear that the effects are extreme and the derision unfounded.

    Far from being a meaningless millennial phrase, flexitarianism is a lifestyle which could improve our health and make a difference to the planet. With flexitarianism, there’s no need to go the whole hog — just go part-hog, and part-tofu.