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by Nicole Wilkes

Photograph courtesy of Lauren Fogelström

Meat: it’s delicious, it’s satisfying, it’s a bit problematic. We’ve all heard the spiel from animal rights activists, health professionals and environmentalists—we know the multitude of benefits linked to vegetarianism. Yet, most of us still aren’t vegetarians. Because it’s hard.

Flannery Gallagher (CAS ’20) adopted a vegetarian diet. “I grew up in a household where we ate meat a lot for dinner,” she said. “And something about cutting out such a familiar food forever group just turns me off.”

Americans eat a hefty amount of meat; in fact, about the average citizen eats 57 more pounds of it a year than we did in the 1950s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA also notes that the average American eats twice the recommended daily amount of protein, most of it coming from meat or other animal products such as eggs and dairy. With that extra protein comes a considerable amount of saturated fat and cholesterol—which is why Americans who eat large amounts of meat are 22 percent more likely to develop diabetes. According to these statistics, there is a substantial amount of wiggle room when it comes to eating less meat and remaining healthy.

That’s where flexitarianism comes in—it doesn’t recommend cutting out the food group so familiar to most of us, just eating less of it. A flexitarian consumes mostly a plant-based diet with the occasional inclusion of meat. They don’t abstain completely; they’re, you guessed it, flexible. There are no strict rules to this diet, making it incredibly customizable to your individual dietary needs.

Some flexitarians identify as “vegetarian before six,” meaning they only go for meat at dinner. Others keep their meat consumption to a couple days a week or keep their daily portions on the smaller side. The beauty lies in that, for flexitarians, consuming meat is not considered “cheating,” as it is for vegetarians. There’s no guilt in the occasional morning omelet or celebratory steak.

Vegetarian culture sometimes has a reputation for being militant and harshly binary—either you never touch meat or you’re a bad person. While this reputation, of course, does not represent a great number of vegetarians, it can very easily deter well-intentioned people from making the -full effort to consume less meat. The idea that one has to commit to full-fledged vegetarianism in order to bring any real change has been proven incorrect time and time again, and many wellness and food bloggers are doing their best to make this point know.

“Food is not religion or sports,” said health blogger Michelle Pfennighaus. “You don’t have to choose a side and stick to it for life.”

It’s possible to make a difference for your health and for the environment without committing to a diet you feel is restricting. Moderation is key, as many, many people have once said. Picking a diet should be based on what your ethics and values are as well as what makes you feel good. As always, run any significant changes in diet by your doctor to make sure any transition you make is done safely.

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