The net benefits of flexitarianism

The net benefits of flexitarianism

The extolment of the virtues of flexitarianism has to do with net benefits. If we held a debate tomorrow – Flexitarian versus Abolitionist Vegan – in front of 100 carnivores, and assuming that both had the same levels of intellectual chutzpah and pizazz, I would guess that the flexitarian would have an easier job of convincing the largest population of the audience to reduce their animal product consumption. And the reasons are not exactly rocket science either.

Now, British society is seeing small increases from certain sections of the population in interest in low meat and dairy product diets; amongst frou frou demographics raw food diets, juicing, vegan for a week, vegan before 6pm, are a part of a myriad of inventive ways to ritualise the cutting down, or out, of animal stuffs from people’s diets. By frou frou, I mean of course, those who have both, or some satisfactory mixture of, money and time economy on their side. If you are a single mother, with 3 children hanging out at Asda 45 hours a week (for the sake of you health of course) you might not have the time or energy to be saving the world from your kitchen, and certainly won’t have the spare notes to waste on a juicer and whole grocery shop of veg for one glass of murky squidge.

But of course adaptability and flexibility are useful tools for most of us; statistics show that not only do fairly small percentages of people go vegan but an American study demonstrated that very high numbers of these, 84% no less, return to meat eating.

Lack of morality? Lack of awareness? Perhaps, but those factors certainly wouldn’t account for the breakages in those with a previous veggie/vegan lifestyle. I know myself as a former full time vegetarian, who broke with her traditions whilst travelling in China, willpower is a heavy object and it is hard to hold over your head over the full course of a lifetime. It is the psychological equivalent of waking up to a hellish hangover and promising that you’ll never do that shit again. But you do, of course. Without wishing to offend, it is the old Catholic neurosis of “Thou shalt not…well maybe thou shall just a little.”

A large reduction in the farming and usage of animals is an achievable end goal in my lifetime. But how we get others on board, to make this overall reduction, is not to proselytise evangelically – however right on – to the untamed masses. Because, it simply does not work. The case for veganism has been made for years now and it still remains a very minority choice.

Rather, the Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall method of imploring others to reduce their meat consumption – opting for smaller, less frequent portions of ‘ethical’ meat, rather than more frequent, larger portions of factory farmed meat – is a much easier sell to the wider population as it currently stands. It may even be argued that those who do this, have a greater ‘market’ effect on the meat industry, and how it chooses to operate, than those who don’t buy meat at all. The net benefits of this may be greater than preaching vegan missives to the  already converted.  As Juliet Gellatley of Viva says,

“Any change is positive in my view. Anything that pushes that shift to eat less animals rather than more is good. Plus very few people go straight to a vegan diet. Some change overnight, but we get emails from people every day saying they gave up red meat, then white meat, then fish, then diary etc. Most people go vegetarian before vegan. It’s about opening hearts and minds.”

Indeed, slow alterations in our diets may be easier to manage long term; just as with weight dieting, extreme changes often result in yo-yos. Small changes over time – flexi, to pesci, to veggie, to veeg – may well be more a manageable and successful way of creating long term change.

When political vegans shoot down their lesser sisters, the veggies, pescis and flexis, all they do is potentially alienate groups of people who are making these small positive changes. They are having no effect on the Clarksonite, huntin’n’fishin types who simply have no interest in the debates whatsoever. Just as those in the feminist movement are often lambasted for using the ‘wrong’ terminology, all this does is create fissures in the wider movement; a form of competitive, political ‘keeping up with the Joneses’.

That is no good for the cause, and it takes quite a well managed, Buddhist like ego, to not reject the issues altogether when one is told, quite severely, that their efforts are just not up to scratch.

Rae Story
Vegan & vegetarian food writing and recipes. Organic, biodynamic & permaculture movements, travel & ethical & alternative lifestyling. Side interests in film, literature, politics & feminism.