It seems more and more people are turning vegan (at least for this month) and are becoming aware of the health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet. I love the challenge of eating only plant-based meals and it does feel like my digestion appreciates it. But, I can’t imagine no longer enjoying a good-quality, organic chicken once a week, which can be turned into so many meals and a delicious, immune boosting stock. Nor can I imagine going without the occasional steak to boost my iron levels. Perhaps this is why the Flexitarian diet has caught my eye.
A group of scientists have recently recommended a new approach to eating which not only improves your health but also vastly reduces one’s carbon footprint. The Flexitarian diet is all about balance and having listened recently to a healthy debate between a vegan and a beef farmer where both parties were understanding the importance of the other’s choice and place in the food chain, it seems to me that this is a good compromise.
The Flexitarian diet is majority plant based with a little meat once or twice a week. This seems sensible to me because if we all cut out beef completely, the livelihood of many people would disappear, especially in poorer countries where there is no readily available alternative. Also, despite the fact that raising cattle requires a large amount of water as well as energy to keep them warm, fed and healthy, cattle can have beneficial effects on the environment. They graze pastures, keeping grass in check, and provided they have the right diet their dung puts healthy nutrients back into the ground.
On the other hand, a plant-based diet can give you a very healthy way of eating with much less impact on the environment. Foods such as lentils, beans, peas, nuts and seeds are extremely good sources of protein and require much less energy to grow than it takes to rear a cow (although some do certainly require a substantial amount of water!). I have read that eating less meat could reduce your carbon footprint even more than reducing the amount you fly. However, if we all decided to go vegan, there wouldn’t be enough to feed the world’s entire population.
By any measure, intensive farming is more clearly an enemy of the environment and of healthy eating. We should all make dietary decisions with the aim to reduce the need to farm intensively.
This is why I’m going Flexitarian and choosing to eat much less but better quality meat, and to make sure the majority of my meals are plant-based.
It's not that hard to cut down on meat and dairy. Some of our really easy weekday meals fall into both categories:
Easy Vegan Ideas:
Stuffed baked potato. Fillings - baked beans, humous, mushrooms
Mushrooms on toast
Fresh Pesto or tomato pasta
Vegetable stir Fry
Lentil and bean soup
Falafels and pitta bread
And some easy vegetarian ideas (these could also be vegan if you use plant milks and nut cheese)
Cheese on toast