With Veganuary coming to a close, organisers and long-time vegans alike are celebrating a historic year for the movement, which encourages participants to follow a plant-based diet throughout January. Around 50,000 people signed up to take the challenge this year – more than double the numbers from 2016 – which is absolutely fantastic, and really gives me hope that the predominantly plant-based future our planet needs to survive might actually become a reality.
Realistically speaking, though, not every person who signed the pledge this month will stick to their newly adopted diet going forward. If I am reading the statistics correctly, then 38% of Veganuary 2016 participants (who identified as omnivorous prior to taking part) reported that they were still eating a vegan diet in the first week of February. That’s more than a third, which is great, and the experience will have been a valuable one for many I’m sure. But if over half of participants go back to eating animal products, can we really consider this a win for the vegan future we dream of?
As a person of certain geographical, economic, physical and mental privilege, being vegan is not only relatively easy for me, but is something that I increasingly see as my duty to the planet, the animals and humanity. I haven’t eaten meat for the best part of a decade, and never, ever intend to. I wish that everyone in my life, and beyond it, would make the connection between the “food” on their plate and the animal that had to suffer and die for it, but ultimately this is very wishful thinking. Cognitive dissonance and apathy towards the future of the environment is hard enough to overcome, not to mention the legitimate reasons that might prohibit people from adopting a vegan diet. With all of that in mind, I’ve realised that, really, I’m OK with flexitarianism.
For those who don’t know, flexitarianism – or semi-vegetarianism – is a term used to describe a diet which is mainly plant-based but occasionally includes meat products. The word itself strikes me as rather pedantic if I’m honest; I’d wager (and hope) that a lot of people follow this sort of diet without considering themselves as “flexitarians” or “semi-vegetarians,” for a variety of reasons. The avoidance of regular meat eating can be prompted by concerns over the environment or personal health, among other things.
Although I was disappointed that the environmental benefits of a vegan diet didn’t play a more central role in Leonardo DiCaprio’s otherwise excellent film, Before the Flood, I was very intrigued by what Professor Gidon Eshel had to say on the subject of animal agriculture’s detrimental effect. Essentially, he suggested that simply reducing your intake of animal products – by, for example, omitting beef and replacing it with chicken – you’d be significantly lessening your contribution to climate change.
Can I find it in my animal-loving heart to actually encourage omnis to just eat less meat?
In principle, I personally don’t believe that we need or have an automatic right to consume animals as food. But if switching from red to white meat, or just eating fish, or only eating meat once a week, will make a positive impact on the environment – one of my primary motivations for being vegan – then that’s got to be a good thing, right? Can I find it in my animal-loving heart to actually encourage omnis to just eat less meat?
Some may think that people use flexitarianism as a way to excuse themselves, to feel morally OK about continuing to eat meat. I can understand the concern that it lulls people into a false sense of security and makes them feel better for doing “something,” but I happen to take the opposing side of this argument. I believe that the more exposure people have to meat-free eating – whether it be through flexitarianism, vegetarianism or just educating themselves on the issues surrounding animal agriculture – the more likely it is that they may one day cut meat out of their diets altogether. If flexitarianism can act as a stepping stone towards plant-based living, an attainable way for omnivores to actually make a difference, then I wholeheartedly get behind it.
So, if you’re coming to the end of Veganuary craving a quarter pounder and certain (for now) that you don’t want to commit to being vegan, consider flexitarianism. Keep learning, stay open, and do whatever you can right now to contribute to a healthier and happier Earth.
What are your thoughts on this subject? Is flexitarianism a faddy way out of committing to being veggie, or something that more vegans should encourage and embrace?