When I was in high school I was on some acne medication that had the odd side effect of making me feel nauseous if ever the scent of outdoor grilling wafted through the neighborhood. I lost all appetite for hamburgers and found that I didn’t miss them. So I stopped eating them and soon decided that I could probably live without eating beef maybe for the rest of my life. It’s a decision I’ve always felt good about, not only because of the evidence that too much red meat is not such a great thing for our bodies, but also because I feel like it opened me up to a whole new world of food.
It felt like the gateway into vegetarianism. With burgers off the menu, I looked to mushrooms and lentils and beans for ways to make a tasty patty. I started scanning the vegetarian menus at restaurants and realizing that, hey, I don’t actually have to be vegetarian to order off the vegetarian menu. In fact, there’s nothing anywhere that says I have to eat meat at every meal. And with that realization came another revelation: there’s a lot of really tasty food out there that doesn’t involve meat. Lentils are awesome. There are so many tasty beans. Veggies and grains make meals that are tasty, satisfying, and sustaining. Some of the best food I’ve had has been “vegetarian.”
But I’m not a vegetarian. I’m not a pescatarian or a poultry-tarian, either. I don’t claim any “-tarian” of any kind. I like to think that I’m just an eater, an omnivore, taking pleasure in all the bounty that the earth has to offer (except cows), whether that be beans, nuts, grains, and legumes, or eggs, butter, cream, and bacon. And, like so many of us these days, I’m just trying to find a balance of eating well, eating healthily, and eating food that tastes good.
However, when I read The New York Times this week and saw that Mark Bittman is starting up a new column, “The Flexitarian,” I decided to reconsider. Like Bittman, I think the label “flexitarian” is somewhat redundant. But it is, as he points out, helpful to imagine this term working both for vegetarians who are adding meat back into their diet and meat-eaters who are looking to diversify their diet by adding more “vegetarian” components. Being flexible, I think, is key to finding balance in eating and health and wellness. I appreciate that.
Having said that, I probably still won’t call myself a “flexitarian.” But I do look forward to reading and learning as Bittman brings this approach to flexibility and balance in eating to a wider audience. I hope it catches on.
How about you? Where do you fall on the vegan-vegetarian-flexitarian-meat-eater spectrum?