Worried about all the food scares? Why not become a flexitarian?

The MacDonalds, Zoe, Shona, Sandy and Gregor,'eat more vegetarian meals than meat. Picture: CATE GILLON
The MacDonalds, Zoe, Shona, Sandy and Gregor,'eat more vegetarian meals than meat. Picture: CATE GILLON
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DINNER is about to be served. Horseburgers are off the menu, as is frozen lasagne and, thanks to the latest processed food scandal, so is half the contents of the freezer cabinet. So what on earth is there left to eat?

Being confronted with the stomach-churning truth about what is on our plate could be enough to make some reach for the tofu and embrace a meat-free life as a vegetarian. But what if you quite like the idea of being veggie yet simply can’t let go of your Sunday full English breakfast?

Or having been meat free all week, the waft of someone else’s weekend morning bacon butty has you running to the fridge to hunt down any remaining rashers?

Fear not. For a new foody trend has been invented – and this time, it seems, we CAN have it all.

Flexitarian might sound like just another wacky food fad. But nutritionists are suggesting it could be just the right kind of sensible, balanced and healthy approach to eating that not only keeps our conscience clear, but could be the solution to dealing with the risks linked to an out-of-control, over processed, and complex food industry.

Certainly, the number of people consciously avoiding meat on a daily basis seems to be on the increase. According to the Vegetarian Society, while the number of committed vegetarians has remained stable over the past ten years, the real growth area is among “meat reducers” – people who haven’t quite opted to forgo their steak pie and roast chicken Sunday lunch, but are deliberately eating less of it.

For dad-of-two Sandy MacDonald, flexitarianism is simply a sensible, balanced and healthy diet, whatever name you want to give it.

“I do think it’s a good thing to cut back on how much meat we eat. So I’m trying to eat less meat and more vegetarian meals.”

The main cook in the family, Sandy’s now dishing up regular vegetarian meals to wife Shona, 37, daughter Zoe, eight and five-year-old Gregor at their home in Mountcastle, with fish as an occasional option and meat as a very rare menu change.

It’s meant learning new cooking skills in the kitchen: “I was brought up like most people to have meat every meal time,” Sandy recalls, “So I’m having to try to find new, simple recipes that I can make and that are appealing. Lentil shepherd’s pie with green lentils turned out nicer than I expected – and we eat a lot more vegetable-based homemade soup.”

Sandy, who is a keen runner, was motivated to shift towards a largely vegetarian diet after picking up an injury that left him struggling to train.

“I was watching my weight because I wasn’t training. Meat has a bit of fat in it, and I thought that it was probably healthier and better for my own fitness to cut down.

“And even before the latest news about horsemeat I was concerned about the quality of some meat. We used to eat 80 per cent meat, now it’s probably 80 per cent vegetarian.”

Sandy adds: “I feel it’s healthier for us all and the kids are oblivious, they’re quite happy with Quorn hot dogs, pasta with tomato sauce and margherita pizza.”

There certainly seem to be health benefits from going at least partially veggie: a recent study from the University of Oxford showed the risk of heart disease is 32 per cent lower in vegetarians than in people who eat meat.

Mairi McInness, 26, from Leith, believes the balance of a flexitarian diet doesn’t just seem healthier, but helps her feel she’s doing her bit for the planet, too.

“I flirted with the idea of being a vegetarian a few years ago but it was the bacon roll that got me – I found it hard to do without.

“I’m a bit of an armchair activist and I don’t like how influential some areas of the food industry are. I’m conscious, too, of the environment and I don’t like a lot of meat industry methods.”

Mairi usually cooks from scratch using tofu, vegetables and lots of salads, avoiding meat-style processed vegetarian options like Quorn – arguing that because she already eats meat, she had no desire for manufactured meat substitutes.

“Flexitarian is a new term for me, but I think it’s a healthier diet,” she says.

“I still eat meat, but I’ll spend a bit more on something that’s ethically sourced – and I’ll probably enjoy it more.”


FORMER Scottish chef of the year, Neil Forbes of Cafe St Honore, classes himself as a flexitarian – someone whose diet is largely vegetarian-based, with occasional meat dishes.

“As a nation, we do eat too much meat, and certainly too much meat which isn’t good quality,” he says. “We should all be trying to buy from small, local, independent sources and regard meat as a bit of a treat. I think cutting back on meat and eating more vegetables and fish is just having a good, balanced diet.”

He’s seen the rise in people looking for more vegetarian options when they are eating out. “There are so many people with personal preferences these days – whether it’s vegetarian or gluten free – restaurants have to provide more vegetarian options on their menu,” he says.

The Department of Health (DoH) recommends adults should eat no more than 70g of cooked red or processed meat a day, equivalent to three rashers of bacon or three slices of thin ham.

Meanwhile, British Dietetic Association spokeswoman Helen Bond says a healthy balanced diet can include both meat and non-meat. “It’s just a question of what meat you’re choosing.

“Red meat is still important for iron – it’s much better absorbed from red meat – zinc, selenium, B vitamins and vitamin D.

“My advice would be to cut down on processed meat, and follow the DoH guidelines on red meat.”

Which are you?

Vegetarian: Vegetarians do not eat meat, fish or poultry flesh and avoid products made with animal derived ingredients such as rennet in cheese and gelatine, which is found in many processed foods.

Lacto-ovo vegetarian: Includes egg and dairy products in their vegetarian diet.

Lacto vegetarian: A vegetarian who will eat dairy products, but not eggs.

Pescatarian: A vegetarian style diet that includes fish and shellfish.

Vegan: Do not eat meat, poultry, fish or any products derived from animals, including honey.

Macrobiotic: Unprocessed vegan food, occasional fish, no sugar or refined oils.

Flexitarian: A largely vegetarian diet with very occasional meat products.

Carnivore: If it’s got legs, a shadow and a face, it’s called ‘dinner’.