Choices often based on ethics, budget or health
A flexitarian is:
Types of vegetarians
Total vegetarians: Eat only plant foods and no animals, including fish, eggs, dairy products and honey.
Flexitarian: Eats a mostly vegetarian diet but also meat or fish occasionally.
Ovo: Eats eggs but not dairy products.
Lacto: Eats dairy products but not eggs.
Ovo-lacto: Includes animal/dairy products such as eggs, milk and honey.
Pescetarian: Vegetarian diet that includes fish/seafood.
Pollotarian: Vegetarian diet that includes poultry.
Vegan: Excludes all animal flesh and animal products, including milk, honey and eggs; leather, wool and silk.
Raw: Eats only fresh and uncooked fruit, nuts, seeds and vegetables.
Fruitarians: Eats only fruit, nuts, seeds and other plant matter that can be gathered without harming the plant.
Someone who needs a changeable work schedule to accommodate demands of family life.
A person who frequently tenses the bicep muscle as a way to impress others.
A congressman who belongs to a bipartisan group working to find middle ground on the big issues.
The answer, of course, is none of the above. But you might be one and not even know it.
Dr. Ed O’Bryan is a case in point. The MUSC physician wasn’t familiar with the word, but it describes the way he lives. “I would have thought it was a term for someone who was double-jointed or something,” he quipped in an email.
Last month, the noun “flexitarian” officially became a word by way of being included in Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary for the first time.
The entry reads: “One whose normally meatless diet occasionally includes meat or fish.”
Words are selected based on popular usage. The 114-year-old dictionary traced flexitarian to 1998.
If it seems like common sense, there are those who scoff at the notion of a semi-vegetarian diet, saying it’s like being a little bit pregnant.
Nevertheless, there is a percentage of the population that is eating no meat or not on a daily basis. A 2008 survey of 5,000 people by Vegetarian Times found about 3.2 percent of Americans following a vegetarian diet. Additionally, 10 percent of U.S. adults, or 23 million people, say they largely follow a vegetarian-inclined diet. Flexitarians fall into that group, and they eat that way for a variety of reasons.
Lindsay Smith-Yancey of Seabrook Island was picking up fish last week at a Shem Creek dock. While her diet does include local seafood, which qualifies her as a “pescetarian,” she rarely eats meat or poultry. The 44-year-old doesn’t buy meat in the grocery store or order it in a restaurant, “but if someone invites me to their house and serves me a chicken leg, I won’t refuse.”
“Definitely not every month,” she adds. “It’s mostly in the setting of holidays, maybe four times a year.”
She made the decision about five years ago, primarily concerned about the environmental impact of meat production as well as the humane treatment of the animals.
“It’s a choice whether you have responsibility in the food chain or system or whether you’ll fall to what’s easiest,” she says.
At times it’s a struggle for her to replace the protein she would get otherwise. “I am eating a lot more carbs,” she says. And societal norms, particularly in the meat-centric South, can be challenging. “Especially the trend of putting bacon in everything.” She recently went to a multicourse fish dinner at a local restaurant, and three of the five courses had bacon or ham in them.
O’Bryan also eats fish and occasionally poultry. He relies on egg whites, beans, cottage cheese, milk and peanut butter for his proteins and embraces all vegetables in his diet, particularly locally grown. But he isn’t worried about a lack of proteins.
“In the developed world, protein deficiency is very rare. What’s more important, in my opinion, is where we get the protein from. Clearly beans, nuts, and vegetables are more healthy alternatives than processed foods and ground beef.”
O’Bryan says he has been eating this way intermittently for years, but more consciously and intentionally for the past six to eight months. He, too, has grown “more and more concerned with the artificial methods by which we rapidly bring meat to the table,” including the use of antibiotics and hormones.
But he also believes eating a plant-based diet with occasional meats (both preferably organic) is more beneficial to him — and everyone.
“Honestly, eating this way makes me feel better, less tired, and overall more healthy,” he says. “Ultimately, it affects us all anyway, right? Diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are expensive diseases to treat and on some level we all share the costs of treating the results of what we eat, whether through taxes, higher insurance premiums or increasing health costs.”
Amanda Rosen was picking up lunch — a Palmetto wrap with tofu — one afternoon last week at the Black Bean Co. on Spring Street. The owner of Butterfly Consignments doesn’t shun meat, but buys only organic or cage-free products. She is among those eating less meat as a matter of course. Almost half of her family’s weekly dinners are meat-free: pastas with vegetables, dairy-filled ravioli, salads with chickpeas, for example.
A vegetarian for two years in her late 20s, Rosen wasn’t familiar with “flexitarian.” But it struck her as a healthy choice. “It’s almost like ... something the doctor would recommend, ‘You need a low glycemic, flexitarian diet.’ ”
Sterling Bryson, another Black Bean patron, says he eats meat when he wants it but finds he doesn’t want it that much. Besides, he says, “I think it’s culturally weird that people would eat meat three times a day.”
The 40-year-old sailing instructor imagines another reason more people might be moving toward a flexitarian way of life — money. While vegetarianism usually is a conscious choice, budget limitations and the cost of meat may be forcing people to eat less of it.
At any rate, he doesn’t see many purposely calling themselves “flexitarians.”
“I think it’s worthy of the dictionary but I don’t think it will be a cultural identity. It’s kind of a pun on ‘tarians.’ ”