Big Ideas

Will Flexitarianism Be The Great Uniter?

Last week, Aeon published an article in conjunction with The Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics that challenged whether vegetarians should make exceptions in their diets. Flexible vegetarians, also known as ethical vegetarians, are on the rise as more people experience the positive effects of a plant-focused diet and responsibly raised meats become more widely available. Can flexitarianism bridge the fundamental divide between vegetarians and meat-eaters? There’s reason to believe so.

A typical meal on a flexitarian diet is entirely plant-based, or plant-based and sometimes accented by small amounts of meat, poultry or fish. Think spaghetti carbonara or pork fried rice. You can get very creative when it comes to the protein, and spring for higher-quality options (like guanciale over supermarket bacon) since you’re only using a third or less of the amount and stretching it as far as it will go. One of my favorite dishes is a sweet and sour roasted seasonal vegetable tossed with the chopped breaded liver of a chicken I roasted or used for soup. The concentrated meat flavor in the chicken liver complements and augments the Brussels sprout, like a supercharged salt, and brings out the meatiness in the sprout itself. The result is heartier than you might think.

What about the protein, you ask? Won’t you get tired or crash from lack of protein? Isn’t protein what keeps you full? Yes, but we eat far too much of it already, according to the New York Times. A healthy daily amount of protein is 46 grams a day for women and 56 for men, and you can get a lot of it from plant-based sources. The average American eats nearly twice that amount, much of it from meat. Just because some protein will help you stay fuller longer doesn’t mean packing in the protein will keep you from feeling hungry at all (and if you have to ask whether you’re an elite athlete and therefore eligible for “extra protein,” you aren’t).

Now, vegetarian food does have a reputation of leaving you hungry, but it’s largely rooted in propaganda. Meat is big business, and has a reputation of making you manly and cool (particularly if you eat huge amounts of it). But in fact, good food is good food, and no meal needs any one thing in particular to be nutritionally complete and delicious. Ugh, I sound like a healthy cookbook author. I promise I’m not: I had a glorious smoky cheeseburger last night.

In conclusion, everyone going meat-free is not an effective bridge between vegetarians and omnivores or a realistic way to move forward. The good news is, collective conscious reduction will do the trick, and involves plates of cured pork pasta, crispy chicken liver and fried rice.