I’m Flexible

by Leighann on September 30, 2008

Newsweek has an interesting article about “Flexitarians.”

You already know that my family is “mostly” vegetarian. Though I rarely eat fish, my husband and kids do a couple of times a week. My daughter is addicted to tuna sandwiches and I’ll admit that fish sticks are a fave with both kiddos. We use a lot of meat substitutes to bulk up our meals. But most of our meals are meat- and meat substitute-free.

It isn’t always the easiest thing to forgo meat from a convenience standpoint. It’s difficult to find healthy options while on the road. But we always manage. Between hitting chains that we know, asking for cooks to leave off the meat, or packing a cooler, we always manage.

And what about having a diabetic child? Well lots of foods that have low or no carbs are meat. I know one particular diabetic child who eats lunch meat freely. And even if we weren’t vegetarian, I would not have such highly processed food be the staple of my child’s diet.

The interesting thing is that we went through our diabetes education with another family who’s teenager was diagnosed at the same time. Since her diet was typical of a lot of teenagers, she was having a rude awakening. For us, the healthy diet they suggested (minus the meat) already resembled what we were doing. So it was more a matter of portion control, not changes.

It seemed counter-intuitive to everything I know about nutrition to have to limit my daughter’s portions of fruits, vegetables, and grains. But these all have carbs (especially pasta and rice which we eat a lot of).

She can have lunch meat full of nitrates that might give her trichinosis, but not a big banana? Yep, counter-intuitive. (And don’t chide me about bananas not being local!)

So what do I think of this article about flexitarians?

I think that there are a lot of Americans who are already flexitarians and don’t realize it or don’t label themselves as such. And I think that there are a lot of Americans who would benefit from eating less meat.

In my opinion the representative of PETA who likened this to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day instead of ten is missing the mark. (And I think a lot of non-vegetarians have a poor opinion of PETA to begin with because they are so strongly opinionated and all-or-nothing.)

You are never going to convert people by insulting or chastising them. Rather, if you support them in trying new things, maybe they will try again and again.

If you had asked my husband almost fifteen years ago when we met if he would be able to count on his hands the number of times he eats red meat in a year, he would have said you were crazy. If you had told him that he would like black bean burgers instead of beef, he would have said “What the hell is a black bean burger?” If you had said that he would use soy milk in his cereal, he would have winced.

(He also developed a taste for dry red wine over the years, too. Thank you very much.)

But being around a vegetarian and seeing and being offered other choices without being pushed, opened up his mind. I never told him that he had to stop eating meat. That was his choice. And I don’t think he would call himself mostly vegetarian. But he definitely falls under the flexitarian umbrella.

I laughed recently when he came home and started telling me about an article he read that broke down the resources it takes to produce meat. I told him that I already know, that’s a major reason why I don’t eat meat. He said he thought I did it because it was healthy. Um, no, it’s always been about environmentalism and politics (never about the treatment of animals, though that is why some people choose vegetarianism). Being healthy is just the great added bonus.

So instead of chiding people who are making an attempt to incorporate vegetarian meals into their lifestyle, why not be encouraging. Every meat meal that is replaced with a vegetarian one should be a triumph for those concerned about the environment. Every time a person chooses a veggie option, it’s one step away from the health crisis in America.

Let’s encourage an everything-in-moderation attitude, and there might just be some converts to the veggie way of life.

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