Saturday, November 15, 2008

Vegetarianism Does Not Equal Eating Animals

Yes, every little bit helps. That being said, vegetarianism -- by definition -- excludes the eating of animal flesh. Asserting this isn't passing judgement; it's just confirming an established definition. Flexitarianism is not vegetarianism. A friend once put it quite succinctly: By definition, you're no more a vegetarian when you deliberately eat meat (however rarely) than you are a virgin if you have sex (however rarely). And you don't need to eat animals to thrive.

Jessica Fellowes wrote an article for the UK's Te
legraph yesterday ("The New Vegetarianism: Introducing the flexitarian") that implies the opposite. Well, that's all over the place with it, anyway. Fellowes is a writer who, according to her website, specializes in luxury lifestyle pieces. It gets a little tricky when a luxury lifestyles writer takes it upon herself to spread misinformation about nutrition, sometimes stating that ever-convenient (and elusive) source "anecdotal evidence" to back up her claims.

In her piece, she applies the term 'vegetarian' to meat-eaters often , while touting occasional meat-eating as the healthy option (e.g. "Polly is one of a gr
owing number of vegetarians who occasionally eat meat – for the sake of the nutrients that such a diet provides"). She spins the movement as follows:
"Families who now 'go flexitarian' a couple of times a week have come together with pragmatic veggies to create a new breed of health-conscious consumers."
Pragmatic veggies?? So, actual vegetarians who don't eat meat can't be pragmatic? How could they be, I guess, when Fellowes tells the reader that 'vegetarianism' is a term that conjures up "images of strict mealtimes reliant on flavourless soya-based products" and that unless a vegetarian diet is planned methodically, protein and amino acid deficiencies will follow. And besides, according to her "anecdotal evidence" everybody knows that "numerous vegetarians sneak the occasional sliver of flesh on to their plates" anyway so it's obvious that it just doesn't work.

To convey the health benefits of occasional meat eating, Fellowes' article references an interior designer whose name she says "has been changed so as not to devastate her mother". This vegetarian-raised designer ended up reverting to eating meat after developing eczema, which her nutritionist blamed on dairy. The designer told her that without dairy, she was left "craving protein", so the obvious choice for her was to start eating meat again. According to Fellowes, this meant that she was then left consuming less "
dairy and pasta" (pasta's a meat sub?) and enjoyed the added bonus of losing weight. Speaking of weight loss -- Fellowes cites a "nutrition consultant" called Ian Marber in her article (who of course advocates occasional meat eating -- but only happy meat eating, à la Pollan). A quick Google search for his name showed that he's a dieting guru who pushes weight loss books and supplements on his website.

Fellowes ends her article on that old typical "meat is yummy and I'm so clever" note, summing up her stance with a story about getting her protein by accidentally killing a pheasant while out driving and thus delightfully enjoying a free and tasty lunch. I wonder if, like a true Pollan-ite, she plucked and prepared the poor thing herself? I'm guessing not and that she probably didn't want to get her beloved Jimmy Choos dirty.


Unknown said...

As far as I'm concerned, there's no such thing as "flexitarianism." It's a made-up word for people who want to feel better about their habits than they should, or better than they would feel if they couldn't apply some ridiculous made-up word to their eating habits. Almost everybody is a flexitarian - nobody eats ONLY meat. Some meals are naturally vegetarian. Eating them doesn't make you a vegetarian. And it's because of all this confusing back-patting that so many self-described "vegetarians" eat meat, thus making it appear that most vegetarians are not really all that vegetarian. YUCK! I respect Pollan's message of healthy, whole food, local food, mostly plants, etc. etc. etc., but I credit him with going a long way toward destroying the cumulative effect of years and years of demonstrably healthy vegetarian diets. Now that there's so-called "ethical meat," people can pat themselves on the back for eating it and forget everything else of importance.

mv said...

To me, "flexitarian" means "omnivorous".

Anonymous said...

I use vegan with seafood to describe my style as an easy short definition, no more. Your friends logic is poor. Did they ever eat meat in their life, ever, milk?? Sorry, can't ever call yourself vegan, too late :-)

M said...

Veganism is a philosophy. To say you're a vegan eater of fish is like saying your a Roman Catholic who worships Satan. Sorry, Charlie. It doesn't jive.

The point of my friend's comparison was to say that you can't claim to be two contradictory things at once. Perhaps it wasn't the perfect comparison, but I think that the point was clear enough. Cheers.

Unknown said...

Dr. J,

Your logic is a bit lacking. As M stated, veganism is a philosophy. It's generally considered to be much more than just a diet. And of course one can be a vegan if they formerly ate meat and dairy. Almost everyone grows up with these "foods." It doesn't mean that you can't change later.

I called myself a vegan for over a year. During this time I never knowingly ate anything of animal or insect origin. (And fish are animals.) I never wore anything of animal origin or used anything of animal origin if I had any choice in the matter.

Now I eat honey and I use recycled or secondhand animal products (not leather, but I take apart thrift-shop wool sweaters to use the yarn and our children play with silk cloths that were passed on from school). Therefore, I no longer refer to myself as a vegan. I'm NOT a vegan. When people ask about my diet, I say that I have a plant-based diet. If asked to elaborate, I explain that I don't eat meat, dairy or eggs. I do eat honey and I do use some animal products in other aspects of my lifestyle. These were hard decisions and it was very difficult for me to give up a label that I strongly, and proudly, identified with. But I did it to be intellectually honest with myself and others. It's that simple.

If you eat sea animals, you are not a vegan. It's not nitpicking; it's simply about definition. Most people would characterize my diet as "basically vegan," but I don't choose to call myself a vegan because I'M NOT. It's not fair to confuse people about this philosophy, which is important, beautiful and powerful.

I would encourage you to describe your diet as plant-based with occasional use of sea animals. This would be simple, clean and succinct without applying a label to yourself that is simply incorrect.

Cassidy said...

Once again mainstream media miseducates the public...