The Flexitarian Diet

The term flexitarian (‘flexible vegetarian’) was first coined in 1992, but it has grown in popularity in recent years. If you sometimes actively choose not to eat meat or animal products, you might be a flexitarian yourself - even if you don’t realize it!

What is a flexitarian?

As the name implies, flexitarians take a flexible approach to vegetarianism, focusing their diet mainly around plant-based foods but still eating meat and other animal products occasionally.2

Although there is no set definition, a flexitarian diet doesn’t subscribe to a rigid set of rules. Flexitarians may choose to occasionally eat meat, but the underlying ethos is to consume consciously and try to reduce the quantity (and frequency) of meat consumption. For many people, a flexitarian diet helps make it easier to balance a social life (which often involves eating) with their personal beliefs.

Fun Fact: Though often used interchangeably, flexitarians are not actually the same as so-called ‘semi-vegetarians’. Semi-vegetarianism excludes specific kinds of meat (often red meats like pork, beef and lamb) from your diet, but includes eating white meat (such as poultry and fish). Flexitarians usually do not limit the type of meat they eat, but instead limit how much meat they eat. 

How popular is flexitarianism? 

The flexitarian movement has become increasingly popular in recent years. An increasing number of people across a wide range of European countries seem willing to limit their consumption of animal products, with 43% of people in Poland, for example, already strongly limiting their consumption of meat or eating no meat at all.4

However, precisely because ‘flexitarianism’ lacks a strict definition, it’s tricky to compare statistics about flexitarians between different countries, since each culture may define a ‘flexitarian’ in their own way: for example, in some countries flexatariants are classed as omnivores, while others they are considered closer to vegetarians.3 People may also follow the principles of a flexitarian diet whilst being unaware of the term: a 2018 study found that despite many people in Poland actively trying to eat less meat, only 1% of Poles would self-identify as a ‘flexitarian’.7 

Benefits of flexitarianism

Much like other diets focusing on reducing intake of meat and animal products, following a flexitarian diet carries a range of health, economic, and ecological benefits.8 At the same time, flexitarianism is generally more widely accepted and welcomes by others in society than more rigid plant-focused diets, largely because it still leaves people with more flexible choices and impacts less on others who still choose to eat meat and animal products. In a recent study, the V-PLACE project found that this lack of negative associations with or attitude towards flexitarians was a major factor in the growing popularity of the diet.3

The V-PLACE project also noted two key reasons for why omnivores generally had a more positive perception of flexitarians over vegetarians or vegans:9

  1. Their openness, curiosity and creativity in finding ways to reduce their own meat intake
  2. Their tendency to critically assess  the merits and drawbacks of plant-based alternatives by making comparisons to the original animal-based products they are replacing

Is flexitarianism the answer to a more sustainable food system?

Many people see the flexitarian approach as a good way of helping to battle obesity and reduce the environmental impact of our food today. While the individual impact may not be as great as for switching to a plant-based or vegetarian diet, flexitarian diets are likely to be accessible to more people and so could actually have a greater overall impact on improving the sustainability of our food as a society. 

Many of us might struggle to give up meat completely - but we can all try to reduce our meat consumption and choose meat of better quality. In the end, the profits for the planet would be more than our own personal losses.

Are you planning to try and eat less meat in future, or are you already a flexitarian? Let us know in the comments below!

Most viewed

The Future

Vertical Farming | What’s the Deal Anyway?

Meghan Horvath

The word farming evokes a range of sentiments. For me, I see images of the sun shining on green,…

The Future

10 things you may not know about GMO

Luke Cridland

Whether you like it or not, you probably have an opinion on GMO. But how much do you actually know…

The Future

How Should We Regulate Genome-Edited Crops? | Opinion

Rebecca Nesbit

Humans have been modifying crop genetics for millennia, but in recent years this practice has…

The Future

How Plants Are Grown In Space | Space Food Technology

Keeren Flora

In order to travel into deep space, such as a mission to Mars, astronauts must be able to grow their…

Earth First

Seed Banks - Safeguarding Biodiversity | A Photo-Essay

Eloise Adler

Take a look inside the seed banks protecting the world’s biodiversity and safeguarding our future.


Repurposing Old Coffee Plantations In Guatemala

Marieke van Schoonhoven

Guatemalan farmers have had to endure a lot these past few years. They saw their coffee production…

Earth First

4 Surprising Foods That Have More Calcium Than Milk

Kelly Oakes

Milk and dairy products are a good source of calcium – but they're not the only way to meet…

History & Culture

How To Use Chopsticks

Samanta Oon

You may pick up a pair of chopsticks to slurp up some noodles or enjoy a plate of sushi. But far…

Earth First

Why Soil Matters

Annabel Slater

Soil is a precious mixture of the living, the never-living, and the dead. It’s a vital resource…

Human Stories

Expanding The Gaze Of Modern Fisheries Management

Oliver Fredriksson,Dr Andrea Reid

Dr Andrea Reid is a citizen of the Nisgaꞌa Nation, an Assistant Professor of Indigenous…

Earth First

The Impact of Deforestation on Brazil Nuts

Molly Melvin

These days, everything we eat seems to come with its own ethical price tag. The story behind the…

The Future

What is the True Cost of Milk Production?

Katharina Kropshofer

Milk has been harvested for more than 11,000 years, when shepherds in the Middle East started to…

Keep updated with the latest news about your food with our newsletter

Follow Us