A couple weeks ago I received a lovely email from a reader asking about the best books to help him get started with flexitarianism. As I composed a response it occurred to me that even though flexitarianism has been in my tag line for about 3 years and always the focus of Relishments, I’ve never really provided a clear explanation or guide.
As always, I’m not an expert. Just a self-proclaimed flexitarian with 3 years of cooking and blogging (and 27 years of eating) under my belt. I’m not a nutritionist or a chef, so take my advice with a grain of salt.
What is flexitarianism? Flexitarianism is a diet which is mostly vegetarian, but doesn’t cut out meat completely, sometimes also known as semi-vegetarian or meat-eating vegetarian.
If this way of eating sounds awfully familiar, you may already be a flexitarian! I was both excited and annoyed at the Healthy Living Summit when I suddenly found myself surrounded by people amazed by the concept of flexitarianism, something I’d been talking and writing about for years. A lot of people, perhaps yourself included, already practice a low-meat way of eating without knowing that a term exists for it. Sometimes it’s really awesome to find out that there’s a term for something you do.
Here’s the thing about labels: not everyone with a particular label does things the same way. Your version of flexitarianism will probably look a lot different than mine and that’s awesome. My particular breed of flexitarian eating encompasses a lot of things including a love of cooking, an interest in local food and a desire to avoid processed foods as much as possible. But you can be a flexitarian and not care about any of those things. Changing your diet can be as easy or as hard as you make it. Here are 4 tips to help you make the switch:
1. Make simple substitutions: When I changed to flexitarianism, I started by making just my lunches meat-free. My dinners (primarily cooked by my mother) stayed the same as they’d been for 23 years. If you don’t want to be that extreme, try going meatless one day a week a la Meatless Mondays or try some of Dawn Jackson Blatner’s suggested swaps.
2. Find good produce: It’s a lot easier to eat more vegetables when the vegetables are appealing. We get most of our produce from our CSA, but you don’t have to. Check out the different produce departments at local supermarkets, farm markets and health food stores. Wherever it looks the best, buy it there. Fresh food that looks delicious is going to be much simpler to integrate into your diet.
3. Keep trying: Experiment with different kinds of beans, different grains, different vegetables: eating healthier food and trying new things can be difficult. There’s a lot of choices out there; if you don’t like quinoa, try couscous. If you don’t like broccoli, try peppers. There are plenty of healthy vegetarian options that don’t include tofu or tempeh, so keep looking.
4. Get more information: There is no shortage of books, website and blogs on the topic of flexitarianism. I highly recommend The Flexitarian Diet by Dawn Jackson Blatner and pretty much anything by Mark Bittman or Michael Pollan for expanding your eating horizons, but any vegetarian cookbook can help you get started with cooking meatless meals. If you’re more interested in online sources, there are a multitude of vegetarian and semi-vegetarian blogs other there, especially for recipes. Try Peas and Thank You, Cheap Healthy Good, Herbivoracious, Meatless Monday or Post Punk Kitchen.
In the past few years, my eating has alternated between vegetarian and vegan and serious carnivore depending on the season, occasion and my mood, but that’s the beauty of being a flexitarian. I don’t think full-time vegetarianism is in my future, but that doesn’t mean I can’t eat that way the majority of the time.