Can Becoming a Flexitarian Save the Planet?

We’ve read a lot recently about how flexitarianism is good for our health. But can eating less meat be good for the environment? Let’s take a look.

What is a Flexitarian?

The Flexitarian diet is a way of eating food that is mostly plant-based but which also allows meat and animal products in moderation. A flexitarian is someone who follows a flexitarian diet.

Origins of the Flexitarian diet

It’s believed the diet was created by the dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner to help people gain the same benefits of vegetarianism while still enjoying the experience of eating animal products. The word ‘flexitarian’ first appeared in the Oxford English dictionary in 2014 and the definition of a Flexitarian is given as: “A person who has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish”.

How popular is Flexitarianism?

The latest analysis by YouGov shows that 4 per cent of British people think of themselves as flexitarian. Interestingly, this is double the amount of people who claim to follow a vegan, vegetarian or pescetarian diet.

Environmental impact of the Flexitarian diet

The key purpose of the Flexitarian diet is to eat less meat. That’s not only good news for our health, it’s great news for the environment.

The effect animal agriculture has on global warming is clear. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reports that 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions derive from animal agriculture.

“Animal agriculture makes a 40% greater contribution to global warming than all transportation in the world combined; it is the number one cause of climate change.”

— Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Eating Animals

Eating meat today means intensive animal farming, which has a high environmental impact. Bearing in mind yearly global meat production has doubled in the past 30 years to 335 million tonnes, only a drastic change in our meat-eating habits can reverse this trend.

According to research by the scientist Joseph Poore at Oxford University, if every person in the UK substituted a red meat meal to a plant-based one just once a week, the impact for the environment would be the same as reducing all the cars on the road by 16 million.

Further research published in the science journal Nature states that compared to current projections for 2050, greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by up to 52 per cent if more people switched to a flexitarian diet.

Vegetarian or Flexitarian – which is better?

Interestingly, research by Johns Hopkins University (JHU) in Baltimore found that a flexitarian diet could be better for the environment than a vegetarian one. It found that by following a “two thirds” vegan diet consisting of less dairy, upping fruits and vegetables, and eating meat only once a week has more environmental benefits than a vegetarian diet where dairy levels are maintained.

Dr Keeve Nachman of JHU said:

“Our study found that in the UK, switching to a vegetarian diet that includes eggs and dairy is actually less helpful for reducing greenhouse gas emissions than a diet that includes meat, dairy and eggs for one of three meals, and is exclusively plant-based for the other two meals.”

Summing up

If you want to do something about cutting your personal emissions you should seriously consider changing to a plant-based diet or become a flexitarian. It’s a small change to make as an individual, but collectively the impact could be enormous – one that could truly save the planet!