I am a food blogger, an ethical eater, and a health-conscious person. I am also a flexitarian. And I hate that word.
Perhaps because it has yet to earn a place in either the public consciousness or vernacular, or perhaps because I ascribe to it a collection of perceived negative connotations – whatever the reason, it feels decidedly unflattering. It’s certainly not the hat I put on when introducing myself at parties. Between blank stares or outright hostility, it appears there is no more room for a middling reaction than an ethical middle ground when it comes to food.
So what exactly is a flexitarian?
The name is pretty self-explanatory – if you think you know the answer, you probably have it. Being a flexitarian means, simply put, being flexible about your food choices. As Aristotle once said, “It is better to rise from life as from a banquet – neither thirsty nor drunken.” Or, in other words, practice moderation.
When I meet someone for the first time I usually tell them I’m a vegetarian, or pescatarian if I feel like being a little more precise. It’s mostly true. But from there things start to get complicated. I love vegan food and am perfectly happy going days without animal products. Most of my favourite restaurants are vegan, in fact, simply because I love the way eating a plant-based diet makes me feel. Other days I’ll have wild fish or organic eggs, when I can tell my body is craving some extra protein. And once in a while, on rare and special occasions, I allow myself to indulge in some meat. I don’t believe there is anything inherently wrong with eating meat – rather, the systemic torture and forced malnutrition of farm animals coupled with the environmental degradation that, of necessity, goes along with the whole process of “normal” agriculture is what I find abhorrent. But buying some organic, locally sourced and properly fed meat a couple times a year? Or allowing myself to “do as the Romans do,” so to speak, while traveling, particularly in countries whose agricultural practices are more natural than our own? I see no problem there. I believe the opportunity to eat meat should be treated as a special privilege, not an absolute right. Our ancestors knew this, but somewhere along the way we lost that sense of appreciation.
Yet meat eaters are quick to jump down my throat if I even mention remembering how good a bison burger I once ate was. They seem confused that, while not vegan myself, I prepare vegan meals and eat at vegan restaurants (willingly, and with enthusiasm). I see the unspoken questions in their eyes. Why would anyone subject themselves to so “unsatisfying” a meal when they don’t “have to?” If you aren’t vegan, how can you eat vegan food?
There is an unsettling assumption underlying that thought. No sane person would think to ask, “Who do you eat Indian food if you aren’t Indian?” No one would accuse a Canadian of betraying their English heritage by having kimchi and rice for breakfast one day out of the week, or month, or year, because (obviously) it sounds bigoted and ridiculous. I argue that questioning someone’s choice to eat vegan food despite not subscribing to that label is equally as offensive and equally as ignorant.
Unfortunately, my veggie loving comrades are often even quicker to throw stones. I must not have the willpower, or the dedication, to go all the way, they seem to think. As if eating meat four times a year and 356 days a year had the same impact on the environment or on the suffering of animals. As if gratefully eating an animal who had a happy, healthy, full life and thoughtlessly eating one whose existence was dark, and terrible, and full of pain, were the same thing.
And so I call myself a vegetarian to meat eaters and a pescatarian to vegetarians, to avoid the antagonizing questions and accusations and, quite honestly, to save myself the hassle of having to explain my eating choices. Because in the end that is what they are. My choices. I cringe at the idea of being forced into a neat and tidy box just to satisfy the delicate sensibilities of others – hence some of my resistance to the term flexitarian – but I’m tired of living in the shadows, afraid to admit that I exist in dietary limbo, belonging to neither one camp nor the other.
I am a flexitarian. I choose to live my life without labels, without boxes, without restrictions. I choose to experience all that the world has to offer, provided it does not infringe upon the rights of others, human or otherwise. And I think that’s okay.