Diet dilemmas: Flexible Vegetarianism
Recently, I read two interesting articles on diet habits that whet my curiosity. Flexitarianism has been around for a while and is slowly gaining momentum as a stepping-stone to full vegetarianism. It offers a modified or alternate path for to be vegetarians and also for vegetarians who occasionally crave for something different. That brings me to an anecdote about Dali Lama’s diet practices. When a reporter asked him, a few years ago, about his vegetarian diet dilemmas as he travels the world. He responded with a term, ‘half vegetarian’. As it impossible to adhere to a strict vegetarian diet while in foreign countries, sometimes he may diverge a bit from his vegetarian diet. That is flexitarianism.
For people who are experimenting with vegetarianism, flexitarianism is a choice to that destination. For many people, the ‘cold-turkey’ way of quitting meat is a difficult process. Rather than a complete immersion into ‘strange’ foods, perhaps it is better to adopt a phased-in approach. Flexitarianism provides such flexibility. Any new food is treated with slight apprehension: our taste buds have to reconfigure and readjust to validate the new taste and feel. A flexible diet may be easier for some. Also, being flexible means more choices to avail if necessary and perhaps it may help improve the dietary habits in a better way. Thus, a ‘flexitarian’ is one who has the ability to change the status quo on a temporary basis. Thus, flexitarian can be a ‘half vegetarian’ if chose to practice it.
These days, there is an increased interest in vegetarian foods, especially among the westerners. The number of restaurants offering creatively crafted plant-based dishes is on the rise all over the world. Scientists and nutritionist are praising the value of a vegetarian diet. Supermarkets carry a huge amount of leafy greens, root vegetables, fresh fruits, beans, peas, and exotic vegetable, and whole grains from all across the world. More chefs are experimenting and concocting palatable vegetarian dishes and promoting them via various media. They are the signs of the times, as more and more people world over opting for a vegetarian lifestyle. Around the world, there is a marked switch in diet habits more to the side of vegetables, grains, and other wholesome ingredients eliminating red meats, high fat, and chemical laden processed foods.
The other interesting headline, “Pork gets sliced from German Diets” attest to the fact that there is a definite momentum towards a healthier diet. Traditionally ‘meat and potatoes’ countries in the west are showing signs of change towards better food habits. Germany is the largest pork producing and consuming nation among the European nations is also on the verge of change. A nation whose food history is embedded in sauerbraten, sausages, schnitzel, bratwurst, currywurst, and hotdogs is slowly changing. They are adding more veggie options into their diets and consuming less pork
It is interesting to note how curry flavored pork sausage took a foot hold in German diet. As I was scanning the travelogue videos of Rick Stein on a recent flight from Vancouver, I see him talking about currywurst: a pork sausage drenched in a mixture of ketchup, and curry powder. German Herta Heuwer concocted the currywurst sausage in 1949 in Berlin as a street food and later became a national obsession. In 1951 she patented a currywurst sauce named ‘Chillup’. The Currywurst Museum in Berlin is dedicated to the currywurst phenomenon. According to the Museum’s estimates, Germans consume about 800 million currywurst every year. These days, curry is one of the main flavoring ingredients in the western world.
Pork is still a staple item in German diet. However, of late, the consumption of pork started to decline as people started to include more and more veggies in their diet. According to reports, consumption of pork has decreased by 10% since 2011. Another report states, "one in ten Germans reject meat". That ratio was 1 in 100 a decade ago. Recently, the demand for pork products is dropping year after year. As an indicator of changing times, the German Minister for the Environment, this year, even recommended vegetarian only meals at official gatherings.
Consumers are becoming aware of health and environmental impacts of their diets. They are concerned about the animal welfare, and the factory farming techniques that negatively impact the lives of the farm animals and the impact on the environment. Organized cattle farmers use high-yield production techniques and unethical factory farming practices that in turn create hardships to the animals. People are becoming more aware of effects of hormones, and enzymes, and antibiotics and genetic modifications occurring in the meat industry. Animal-borne diseases are another concern. From simple food poisoning to major illness such as tuberculosis, to serious bacterial and viral infections are transmitted to human from animals. Thus, human health is closely linked to the health of other living beings.
There have been many research studies done on red meat consumption, and its ill effects. National Cancer Institute studies reported increased risk for bladder cancer due to components in red meat. These studies that point to the ill effects of a diet rich in meat and associated products.
No matter how we look at it, it is a major shift in dietary habits of German people and it is more or less true in other countries of the world. There is a definite momentum towards a healthier eating habit sans heavy fat, red meats, and processed foods. Vegetarian and vegan restaurants are popping up everywhere and flourishing. More people are subscribing to the veggie concept.
Finally, on a related subject, here is an example how mindfulness of people brings about changes to socially and environmentally conscious and responsible corporations. The car maker, Tesla, is moving towards a leather free seat for all its models. Leather will be replaced with plant-based materials. Other luxury brands, Bentley and Ferrari, already offer leather-free interiors prompted by their customers.
(The author, a technology professional, resides in Toronto, Canada with his family)