Flexitarian Cooking... or What the Heck is Dietary Fundamentalism, Anyway?
Dietary Fundamentalism? What's that?
I'm glad you asked!
In the not so distant past, dietary lifestyles were pretty strictly delineated: You were either an omnivore, and thus consumed other animals as well as plant foods, or you were vegetarian, and you didn't eat anything that had a face. Various subgroups surfaced, of course... they always do. The pescatarians ate fish, and were generally understood by the other groups to have commitment issues. We were nice to them though. Veggies are nothing, if not tolerant and kind.
A great majority of us were lacto-ovo vegetarians. We ate eggs and dairy products when we felt the urge to let our hair down. It's not that hard to eschew meat when you can eat all the omelets, pastries, and cheese-laden casseroles you want to. If we sometimes craved a medium-rare ribeye, or Alaskan king crab legs drowned in melted butter we didn't let on. Our code declared that we didn't consume other sentient beings, and that was simply the bottom line. Stifling a craving or two was the badge of honor that made us just a little cooler and more socially conscious than our cave-dwelling, bone-gnawing friends and relatives.
And then there were the vegans - the radical fundamentalists of the vegetarian world. Vegans use no animal products at all: neither fish nor flesh, nor good red herring as the saying goes. They also don't use anything produced by animals: No honey, no dairy, no eggs. No products containing beeswax, silk, lanolin, white sugar, wool or - of course - leather. They are the Extreme Exalted Guardians of the Vegetarian Way. Or something like that. They're also kind of daunting to be around, since they tend to be a tad maniacal about food, and also much thinner than the rest of us. They're the neighbors we admire, but don't necessarily want to invite over for dinner and a movie. We could talk about the vegan subgroups - fruitarians, raw vegans, and so on, but you get the point.
What we put in our mouths is often about far more than what we want to eat at that moment. Food can be about making a political statement, or standing up for the oppressed, or raging against the machine. It can be subversive, or antagonistic, or deliberately conscientious. It can be a weapon, or at the very least a tool. But sometimes, the extremity of taking a stand can take over your life in ways that leave you very, very tired. The liberating truth is, a dietary lifestyle doesn't have to be All or Nothing. More and more producers of meat and animal products are hearing the peoples' cries for humanity in the raising and slaughtering processes. There are an abundance of humanely produced animal products available in the markets today: cage-free eggs; free-range, grass-fed beef; dairy products from cows not inoculated with hormones and antibiotics, and not forced to cannibalize their own kind.
Enter the Flexitarian.
A huge number of Americans today are attracted by the idea of eating a vegetarian-inclined diet. The effects of our Western diet are well documented and tragic. Excessive meat and fat consumption (a massive percentage of it in the form of fast food with its attendant "fixins") is directly attributable to the epidemics of obesity, Type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, not just in our country, but in every other country that has adopted our dietary lifestyle. It's time for a change. Flexitarians believe there is a place in a mostly-plant-based diet for the occasional addition of meat or fish. We (notice my "we" is now on the side of the Flexers, rather than the Veggies. I'm fickle like that) believe that moderation in all things is basically healthier than an all-or-nothing approach.
So here I am. My food philosophy has evolved and distilled into three main principles: 1) Developing recipes that, with minimal changes, can be adjusted to suit meat eaters and vegetarians alike. 2) Using humanely produced, sustainable, fair-trade ingredients whenever possible, and 3) Having fun in the process. If we can't have a good time doing this, then what are we here for? Life isn't factory work, it's an adventure! Let's try to enjoy the journey.
It's only food, after all.
Even though it's never only food.
Follow me at http://theflexitariancooks.blogspot.com/