On weekday vegetarians, flexitarians, and other part-timers

A while back I wrote a post about the debate between vegetarians and “conscientious omnivores.” I proposed that this debate was largely irrelevant to the bigger problems that characterize the standard American diet:

[T]his is an extremely specialized debate among a very tiny segment of the population. The vast majority of the meat consumed in the U.S. (upwards of 90 percent) is factory-farmed and thus horrible for the environment by any objective measure.

The bottom line is that the standard, meat-heavy American diet and the industry that supplies it are bad for the environment, bad for human health, and absolutely require cruel treatment of billions of animals.

In a similar vein, Time has a new piece on “part-time” vegetarians, or flexitarians as they’re sometimes called. Although there aren’t many numbers in the article, it quotes Graham Hill, founder of the website TreeHugger, who is touting “weekday vegetarianism.” It also has supportive quotes from Peter Singer and PETA president Ingrid Newkirk.

While Singer and Newkirk both agree that part-time vegetarianism is less than ideal, they both support the idea of getting people to eat less meat, even if they’re not going to abstain completely.

This makes sense to me as a simple message, one that’s easy to grasp and implement. A lot of people are put off by the seemingly wholesale lifestyle change required to be a full-fledged vegetarian (much less a vegan). But committing to avoiding meat, say, one or two days a week, or two meals a day (a la Mark Bittman’s “vegan before dinnertime” idea), can be much less disruptive.

It’s also simpler than a commitment to eating only “humanely raised,” “grass-fed,” “free-range” or other boutique types of animal products. Not that I’d discourage anyone from doing that, but (1) as we’ve talked about before, these various labels can be pretty misleading and (2) these products tend to be expensive or not available to a lot of folks. All “weekday” (or other part-time) vegetarians have to do is make the choice not to eat meat at their next meal.

I’d add one other thing: sometimes people find that once they start cutting back on meat, or cut out certain categories of meat, they want to go all the way. In my case, it started with a commitment to give up pork after reading about the conditions that pigs are raised in. From there my abstinence gradually extended to beef, then chicken, fish, etc. I’ve also tried to cut back significantly on dairy and eggs, and my general rule of thumb is to eat at least two vegan meals a day. This gradual kind of process is probably more realistic for most people than a once-and-for-all decision to go veggie.

2 thoughts on “On weekday vegetarians, flexitarians, and other part-timers

  1. I completely agree! If we really want to change the factory farming situation, the thing to do is convince people to first make small changes; very few people will be able to – or want to – become vegetarians overnight.

  2. It also leads to a reexamination of purchases when you do buy meat. For example, I have become fairly sensitive to the quality of meat and we’ve moved to an at most twice a week meat diet with free range and local options.

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