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.

Though often used interchangeably, flexitarians are not 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 Polish people 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 welcomed by others in society than more rigid plant-focused diets, largely because it still leaves people with more flexible choices and is less likely to impact people who eat meat. 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 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 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, so they could 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.

Related articles

Most viewed

The Future

Traceability in the Food System

Luke Cridland

Where has food come from, and where is it going? Knowing this is crucial to sustaining food supply…

Earth First

The Hidden Cost of Eating Shrimp

Maria Pinto

Shrimp dishes have become a staple food in many households and restaurants around the world, leading…

Why Ecologists Don’t Love Honeybees

Sarah Wyndham Lewis

In recent years, environmental scientists have become increasingly critical of beekeepers and their…

Earth First

Don’t Eat Vegan, Eat Sustainably | Opinion

Aran Shaunak

Being vegan is great for protecting the planet - but it's not for everyone. Perhaps we should all…

Human Stories

Short Food Supply Chains: Limitations of Law

Dr Mirta Alessandrini

Short food supply chains represent a great opportunity to support the shift towards more…

The Future

4 Futuristic Food Innovations That Already Exist

Oliver Fredriksson

We've come a long way from horse and cart agriculture. Who would have thought it; would be possible…

The Future

Why We Need Open Innovation For Our Food System

Jane Alice Liu

Have you heard of OI – open innovation? If you think it means openly sharing ideas and…

Supply Chains

How the Red Sea Crisis is Disrupting Global Food Trade

Cait Mack

What happens when one of the world’s most important marine trade routes becomes a warzone?

The Future

Are Jellyfish the Food of the Future?

Maria Pinto

People have eaten jellyfish in several Asian countries for centuries. But this gelatinous marine…

Legumes and their benefits

Dr Ana Baranda

Legumes, like lentils, beans and peas, are one of the best plant-based sources of protein. There are…

The Future

Cultured Meat: Better Than The Real Thing?

Lottie Bingham

Some 60+ start-ups across the globe claim that they will soon be selling cultured meat grown in a…

Inside Our Food

Microalgae | Health & Environmental Benefits

Melissa Vanderheyden

While seaweed is becoming more renowned as the food of the future, its microscopic relatives, the…

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

Follow Us