I am quite attracted to the creed of flexitarianism, which has become so prevalent that it now merits a dictionary description: “a vegetarian who occasionally eats meat”.
How perfect for an age when everyone is afraid to commit. It adequately describes my eating regime - I consume fish and chicken, but not red meat - but I would never presume to describe myself as representing any point on the veggie spectrum. To my mind, a vegetarian is someone who doesn't eat meat, and a carnivore is someone who does. Anything in between is just a marketing term. And now I have discovered further sub-sects of flexitarianism.
This could catch on
There's pescetarians - fish and seafood, but no meat or poultry - and pollotarians - chicken, but no meat from mammals. They will soon be joined, surely, by equinarians - those who just eat Tesco beefburgers. The point is that if you're tempted beyond endurance by a bacon sandwich or a burger, you are not, however you look at it, a vegetarian.
It's like being pregnant, or bearded: you either are, or you're not. Thinking about it, however, this relaxed approach to rigid concepts could really catch on in other areas of modern life. For instance, those who cheat, but only occasionally, on their partner might find the idea of flexidelity rather attractive. Of course I'm faithful - it's just that, from time to time, I simply can't resist a plate full of forbidden fruit.
Then there's flexitheism. I don't really believe in God, but there are times when it suits me to look to an omnipresent deity. We live in an era of latitude, when no idea is quite as hard and fast as it used to be, and moral judgements would be best placed in the context of a world full of temptations and distractions. Can you imagine what the Ten Commandments would sound like in this era of mix and match? “Thou shalt” would be replaced by “If at all possible, try not to, but if you do, I'm sure we'll be able to come up with a construct that rationalises your actions.”
But back to flexitarianism. What started as a publicity stunt in the 1990s received a boost four years ago when Sir Paul McCartney and his daughters launched “Meat Free Monday”, and millions of people around the world have now reduced their intake of meat. Experts in the field, so to speak, will tell you that the culture of flexitarianism is spreading fast, and those who were not tempted on health grounds have lately found themselves persuaded for economic reasons.
What's not to like?
There is every cause to be scornful of the term itself, and to be sceptical of the movement. Yet there is no doubt that we eat too much meat - in 2011, following a study that linked the consumption of red meat to certain types of cancer, the government reduced its recommendation for daily intake of meat to 70g (that's a very small amount, by the way) - and an initiative that seeks to balance people's diet in a relatively non-prescriptive way should probably be welcomed.
Apart from anything else, it's completely right for a world in which we want to have our steak and eat it.