Question: I’ve heard of flexitarianism but I don’t fully understand what it is. Is it similar to vegetarianism? What does it mean for restaurant owners and other members of the foodservice industry?

Answer: Great question! Now that the world has fully accepted the vegetarian, the vegan, the glucose free, the lactose free and the dairy free, it’s about time to throw another player into the mix; welcome the flexitarian.  If you’re tilting your head to one side with a puzzled look on your face, don’t think yourself out of the loop quite yet; flexitarianism is a relatively new trend, albeit one that is steadily on the rise and sneaking into the diets of people throughout North America.

A flexitarian is difficult to define, simply because, unlike vegetarians whose diets are more or less black and white, flexitarians are, well, flexible. Some consider themselves meat eaters with vegetarian tendencies while the others consider them vegetarians who have the green light to cheat every now and then. The National suggests that flexitarianism is an eating philosophy that is “pro-plants, not anti-meats” but in order to get all the answers we need, we asked three self-proclaimed flexitarians why they eat what they do (and don’t); whether flexitarianism is a phase on the out or a long-term trend; and how the flexitarian choice in diet affects consumer behaviour when it comes to eating out.

The motivation behind the flexitarian diet

While all three flexitarians shared similar eating habits, the motivations behind doing so ranged from environmental awareness and social responsibility, to nutrition and convenience.

Jojanneke has been a flexitarian for years and has chosen to follow a primarily plant-based diet because of the environmental repercussions of eating meat: “My motivation has to do with environmental factors (and in the case of fish also with ecological ones) and social equality. I think we should wisely and responsibly distribute our resources. Producing meat (and dairy, for that matter) takes a disproportionate amount of resources.”

Laurie, on the other hand, is very conscious of nutrition and holistic and sticks to a flexitarian diet in order to “avoid the added hormones, antibiotics and chemicals that are in red meat and pork”. She adds that “the benefits of fish oil and the need for complete protein are too great to cut out chicken or fish.”

Ana, the third flexitarian we spoke with, says that flexitarianism simply fits with her schedule since she cooks late at night and finds it easier to digest cooked vegetables, as opposed to a heavy, meaty meal.

The dining habits of the flexitarian

Understanding how customer behaviour will impact the future of the foodservice industry is something every restaurant owner should strive to achieve. Thankfully, restaurants abreast of current trends like vegetarianism and vegan diets will have no problem making small adjustments to suit the needs of the flexitarian, giving its blend of vegetarian and carnivorous food selection.

When asked how being a flexitarian affected their dining habits, participants revealed that they either eat meat (albeit reluctantly), choose the meat option (since they do not eat it at home), or take advantage of the token vegetarian dish offered at most restaurants in North America and Europe. Jojanneke admits however that in Southern Europe she often has to “help the chef” by making suggestions that could be served vegetarian, or resign herself to eating goat cheese salad and wild mushroom pasta every time she visits.

Here to stay?

From the looks of things, and judging from the answers of our participants, flexitarianism isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon. All three participants admitted to having been conscious of what they eat years before the term flexitarianism became mainstream (none knew that flexitarianism itself was the designated term for their dietary choice) and show no signs of giving it up in the near future.

In fact, Jojanneke thinks that flexitarianism has only just begun to show its roots: “More and more people around me having started doing it. Some only skip meat twice a week and some go ‘all the way’, but eventually I think that most people (especially city people) will adjust their diet.” Adding validity to Jojanneke’s claim, Laurie has recently cut out red meat all-together while other animal products like pork and dairy have been completely cut out of her diet for the past five years.

Are you a flexitarian, or a restaurant seeing an increase in the demand for menu items that meet the needs of the flexitarian diet? Leave your comments below and tell us what you think!

image credit: W.O.K World Oriented Kitchen