Tesco meat and veg fixture

Source: The Grocer

Tesco’s meat & veg fixture was unveiled in 2019 to cater to the growing flexitarian trend

Is anyone else confused about what a flexitarian is?

It seems everyone you ask has a different definition. Some say it’s someone who is almost entirely vegetarian but eats some meat and fish here and there, whereas others say it’s someone who is open to eating at least one vegetarian meal a week. Quite the range.

The data matches this confusion. Only last month NIQ shared a report saying just 5% of households identified as having one member who is ‘flexitarian’, whereas studies looking at meat reduction in the UK claim anywhere between 35% to 60% of UK consumers are cutting down on meat intake and regularly swapping out meat-based meals for plant-based ones. Something isn’t quite adding up.

I think a more pressing question, however, is whether this even matters. Do labels truly reflect how consumers think and behave? Have you ever met a self-professed ‘flexitarian’? I don’t think I have.

What’s more, are labels having a negative effect? Is labelling those who are open to cutting down on meat and adding more plants to their plate actually othering the very behaviour we want to encourage?

I think so. We are social creatures with a natural drive to follow the ‘norm’. It’s safer and easier, and it’s how we feel we truly belong in our social groups, which is evolutionarily important to us.

In the plant-based sector, if we want to create mainstream behavioural change by getting people to reduce their meat intake and eat more plants, we need to create mainstream norms. Norms that people feel societal pressure to adhere to, to feel like they belong.

This doesn’t come from using labels around who’s open to eating more plant-based foods and who’s not. Or labelling plant-based foods as alternatives and highlighting everything they’re missing.

Instead, it comes from making this behaviour seem normal and obvious. It comes from framing it as a positive change we’re all making, in whatever way we can.

I think we do this firstly by recognising everyone eats plants, and not seeing such a huge distinction between meat-based and plant-based diets.

And secondly, by celebrating what eating more plants adds to our diets and the widespread benefits it will result in, for people, the planet and animals. As well as making it easy, clear and genuinely enjoyable and exciting.

Of course, not all plant-based foods are made equal, and an education piece is needed. But if people eat minimally processed plant-based foods, they won’t go too far wrong.

The plant-based movement could learn a lot from the way gut health has been marketed. Rather than creating labels around who’s open to eating in a more gut-friendly way and who isn’t, proponents have simply demonstrated the benefits of eating in a way that’s more mindful to your gut.

People might follow some of the habits they suggest, but not others, and that’s OK. It’s about slow, incremental, positive changes that build up and normalise over time.

So, let’s stop using the term flexitarian and instead focus on normalising eating more plants.

Let’s no longer position plant-based food as an alternative. Instead let’s celebrate the health and environmental benefits we get from eating a diverse range of responsibly grown, minimally processed plants.

Let’s teach people from a young age to appreciate the magic of plants – from how they grow, to how they taste, to how they nurture the soil, to how they nourish your body.

Let’s normalise, not other, positive behaviours and create long-lasting change.