Words of Wellness: Flexitarian

Posted by on May 10, 2013 in The Food Well | 2 comments

Words of Wellness: Flexitarian

The spring issue of “Your Health” from my insurance provider posed this question on the cover: “How did food become so complicated?” What a good question. Michael Pollan, with his 7 commonsense Food Rules, and Mark Bittman, the minimalist cook–among others–have been addressing this question for years, with lots of advice on how to keep food simple. Pollan’s oft-quoted mantra is: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Can’t get less complicated than that.

Even the latest dietary guidelines for Americans from the USDA, MyPlate, strive for simplicity: fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables; the other half can be split between lean protein and whole grains, with some dairy on the side. Simple.

Simplicity is also the goal of many modern diets. Ban all carbs (Atkins); ban anything that can’t be hunted or gathered (Paleo); ban all animal products (Vegan); ban anything you wouldn’t have seen on an Italian menu 50 years ago (Mediterranean).

Of course I’m over simplifying here; but if you take all of this dietary advice together, it’s far from simple. In fact, it’s contradictory and if you followed all of it, you’d die of starvation. Which perhaps is why so many people are describing themselves these days as “flexitarian.”

Flex your food

Flexitarian is defined as semi-vegetarian; it has the same healthy, disciplined aura. But, in my opinion, it verges on being a cop out. I can say that because I often describe myself as a “flexitarian.”

So does Mark Bittman. In his new book, Eat Vegan Before 6:00 (AKA VB6), Bittman explains that he eats what he knows is good for him (Vegan) all day until supper time and then sets his appetite free (Omnivore).

Dilemma. If we believe we should be moderating our diets in some way, for some reason (e.g., weight control, disease prevention, longevity, morality), why is it OK to flex after 6?

VB6 notwithstanding, flexitarianism is the perfect label for those of us who need to be “something” within the vegan, lacto-ovo, gluten-free, low-carb, sugar-free complexity of the American eating universe. As long as it doesn’t mean we have to completely deny ourselves the bacon (or fish, in my case), we can take our place among the mindful eaters. When called upon to declare our eating preferences, which happens every time someone invites us to dinner these days, we can now say: “I’m a flexitarian.” Ta da, food made simple.

Say grace

Making food less complicated is laudable; but isn’t the most important goal to be mindful about what we eat?  If “flexitarianism” puts us on the path of thinking more carefully about our food choices, then we are one step closer to understanding how those choices affect the entire food system and the planet that supports it.

So I am in favor of being a flexitarian, even in its more tortured forms like VB6. I’m also grateful for the privilege of being a flexitarian. For too many people in the world, the luxury of choosing a style of eating is unimaginable.  We are indeed lucky. So let’s just say grace…and eat…and keep it simple.