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flexitarian

noun [countable]

a person who consumes mainly vegetarian food but occasionally eats meat or fish

flexitarian

adjective

flexitarianism

noun [uncountable]

'Flexitarians adhere mostly to the vegetarian diet as a healthy lifestyle rather than following an ideology. They feel an occasional meal that includes fish, fowl or meat is acceptable.'

The Baltimore Sun 2nd May 2004

'Suzanne Havala Hobbs, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, credits the growth of flexitarianism to the nation's better understanding of the diet-disease connection.'

USA Today 16th March 2004

there are many people who eat mainly vegetarian dishes at home, but are happy to eat meat dishes when eating out in restaurants or at the homes of family and friends

The term flexitarian was voted the most useful word of 2003 by the American Dialect Society, and it does seem very useful, since it's likely that the majority of us will either know or count ourselves a member of the flexitarian population. There are many people who eat mainly vegetarian dishes at home, but are happy to eat meat dishes when eating out in restaurants or at the homes of family and friends. This group of people, unlike those who firmly stand in the meat- or strictly vegetable-eating camp, have hitherto not been categorised, though we have taken great trouble over the years to label other kinds of dietary behaviour, with for example terms like vegan, fruitarian, pescetarian (fish eater), or the recent coinages rawist (eater of uncooked vegetables and seeds) and freegan (someone who eats food that has been thrown away).

It has been estimated that whilst true vegetarians only account for around three per cent of the American population, the number of flexitarians could be as high as forty per cent. This reflects a general increased awareness of healthy living and the benefits of cutting down on, but not necessarily eliminating, the consumption of meat. The wider availability of organic meat and dairy produce has also helped popularise the idea of flexitarianism, the uncountable noun coined to describe this dietary behaviour.

Background – flexitarian

The word flexitarian, first coined in the early nineties, is a blend of the adjective flexible and the noun/adjective vegetarian. The term incorporates the idea of a flexible approach to eating, with no rigid rules about the non-consumption of meat products. In contrast to the word omnivore — which describes an eater of plant and animal foods but hasn't ever really been in mainstream use as a categorisation of humans — flexitarian attempts to encompass the idea of those who are vegetarian-inclined, usually eating four or more meatless meals per week, but do not completely reject the consumption of meat and animal products.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 18th June 2004.

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