Are you serving flexitarians?

July 20, 2011 | by Melissa Abbott
Are you serving flexitarians?

After a decade of intense meat worship, chefs are procuring, preparing and serving vegetables with the same love and attention they previously reserved for Ossabaw pork or grass-fed marrow bones.

If you're not vegetarian or carnivore, what are you? The term "flexitarian" is catching on, although author and all-around food guru, Mark Bittman, likes the term "smartly thought-out omnivore." His most recent books, Food Matters and The Food Matters Cookbook, arose from his own vegan-by-day/carnivore-by-night lifestyle. Lately, we've seen consumers looking to flexitarianism to cut out meat during the day to save calories or cut back on it during the week to save money or wear-and-tear on the planet.

These "flexitarians," meat eaters who consciously choose to go meatless on certain days or for certain meals, comprise 30-40 percent of the U.S. population, and the numbers seem to be growing. Spearheaded by celebrities like Paul McCartney, programs like Meatless Monday, an international campaign that encourages people not to eat meat on Mondays, have gained popularity across the country. Mario Batali has adopted meat-free Mondays in all 14 of his restaurants. Even Oprah has gotten in on the trend, declaring a one-week vegan challenge last February and taking her 387 staff members with her (300 made it). She's also added a Meatless Monday at Harpo Productions. The list of celebrities and average consumers keen on the Flexitarian vibe keeps growing, with a total of 40 percent of Americans occasionally going meatless on Mondays or any other day of the week.

Aforementioned flexitarian hero Mark Bittman has gone one step further in his quest to ditch the meat with VB6, or "Vegan Before 6PM." Varying versions of these Vegetarians With Benefits abound. Below, we provide a glossary of flexitarian permutations.

Vegetarians with benefits

Ethical Eater- a person who only or mostly eats food that meets certain ethical guidelines, particularly organically grown food and humanely raised meat, poultry and fish.

Flexitarian - a person who eats a mostly vegetarian diet, but who is also willing to eat meat or fish occasionally.

Nutritarian- a person who chooses foods based on his or her micronutrient content.

Pescetarian-a person who supplements a vegetarian diet with fish.

Rawist - a person who eats only unprocessed, unheated and uncooked food, especially organic fruits, nuts, vegetables and grains.

Vegangelical-an extremely zealous vegan, who is eager to make other people believe in and convert to veganism.

Vegivore - a person who craves or has a special fondness for vegetables.

VB6- afom the saying, "vegan before 6," a person who eats a vegan diet before 6 p.m. and then whatever he or she wants after that.

The term "flexitarian" itself isn't an altogether new concept. The magazine Vegetarian Times has estimated that as many as 70 percent of its readers are vegetarians who occasionally eat meat, and the American Dialect Society voted "flexitarian" the year's most useful word back in 2003, defining it as: "A vegetarian who occasionally eats meat." What's getting attention now are people who are going in the other direction: Meat-eaters who skip the flesh at least some of the time.

Of course, health concerns are the primary motivation behind flexitarian eating, while environmentalism is a secondary driver. We have found flexitarians to be more food and flavor focused, so health today is less about low-fat, low-carb and more about full flavor, and on some occasions full (good) fats. This is moving away from the small-planet, Moosewood Cookbook era of lentil loaves in favor of ethnic and global cuisine. Here, the vegetable is celebrated and fresh is now becoming paramount. Vegetable-centric chefs aren't pretending vegetables are meat or a meat-like substitute anymore. They are looking to cultures where there is an inherent knowledge in vegetable preparation (i.e., Asia, Italy, France, India), using classical techniques with the addition of modern interpretations.

The rules are fading and labels aren't as important. By focusing on vegetables, meat becomes more of an accent, yet isn't necessarily verboten. This example of moving away from the aestheticism of adhering to a strict vegetarian or vegan diet can be seen at places like NYC's Dirt Candy and Mario Batali's Eataly, where vegetables are king. Dirt Candy's menu and cooking application raises vegetarian food to a whole new standard, while Eataly's Verdure vegetable-centric restaurant and exclusive vegetable butcher engage consumers in inspiring ways.

We speak to many consumers who tell us that they were vegetarian for many years but are now beginning to incorporate meat back into their diets, albeit typically grass-fed or humanely raised meats, which were not an option 10 to 15 years ago. There is a general movement away from highly processed meat analogs (which are often derived from genetically modified soy) to a celebration of ingredients derived from real and whole foods based on a culinary tradition.

Take Away

Vegetables are getting more respect from traditional chefs, where meat-based protein has historically taken center stage. We see chefs and farmers collaborating even more deeply in the future. So how do food service and grocery retail meet the needs of flexitarian consumers? We expect over-the-top localness to result in more micro-slaughterhouses, reducing the need for interstate meat, and an influx in higher-quality, more authentically produced, globally inspired vegetable dishes at prepared food departments, food service and in consumer product goods in the coming year.

Topics: Food & Beverage, Going Green, Health & Nutrition, Sustainability, Trends / Statistics

Melissa Abbott
Melissa Abbott, Hartman Group’s Director of Culinary Insights, dishes up the latest in food culture and its impact on the food industry. Hartman Group is a leading consumer culture consultancy and primary research firm utilizing a multidisciplinary approach to understand consumers, identify growth opportunities, re-energize brands, create relevant experiences and fuel strategic thinking. wwwView Melissa Abbott's profile on LinkedIn

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