Go meat-free (most of the time): Why the semi-vegetarian diet could be your ideal compromise

From meat-free Mondays to majority vegan meals, a flexitarian (otherwise known as a semi-veggie) diet could be the ultimate healthy/tasty compromise

Flexitarian, semi-vegetarian, meat-free Mondays – forgoing meat at least once a week has become so popular, it’s generated whole new lexicon of terms.

From Jessica Chastain to Anne Hathaway, an increasing number of celebrities are proudly declaring their vegan credentials, citing animal welfare, the environment, weight loss and a renewed sense of vitality as their motivations. Jessica Chastain has been a vegetarian for 15 years and a vegan for six [REX]So if you can't ditch meat entirely, could going semi-veggie be the answer?

And before we dismiss it as yet another La-La Land fad, politico Bill Clinton follows an almost exclusively vegan diet, while here in the UK, hip meat-free eateries are frequented by the likes of Jamie Hince, aka Mr Kate Moss, self-professed “chain-smoking vegan”.


The sort-of vegetarians

Of course, it’s easy to renounce our carnivorous impulses when we have a personal chef at our beck and call to spice up meat-free meals, but for the non-rich and famous, it can be trickier, which is why part-time vegetarianism is on the rise.

“The number of committed vegetarians has actually remained fairly stable over the last ten years,” explains Su Taylor of The Vegetarian Society.

“In a Department of Health and Food Standards Agency UK-wide survey of 1,491 adults and 1,582 children between 2008 and 2011, 2 per cent of both adults and children reported that they were vegetarian.

“The real growth area is meat reducers. These are people who haven't given up meat completely, but are making a conscious effort to eat less of it. The value of the vegetarian food market has grown from £333million in 1996 to £786.5million in 2011 (Mintel), showing that a lot more vegetarian food is being eaten throughout the country.”


Why cut down your meat intake?

What’s encouraging more and more of us to reduce our meat intake? Trendy grains such as quinoa and freekeh, promoted by the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow, have certainly made vegetarianism more palatable.

No longer are non-meat eaters considered difficult and punished with plate of boiled-to-death broccoli at dinner parties.

And a plant-based diet is also associated with a lower risk of cancer, diabetes, stroke and heart disease.

But that's not the only think coaxing us from lamb to lentils.

“Red meat is suffering from a wave of bad press,” says Martin Barrow, Head of Footprinting at the Carbon Trust. “Shoppers’ confidence in beef products has been knocked by the horsemeat scandal, which has also increased awareness of high prices.

"Concerns are also emerging about the environmental impact of rearing cattle and sheep for consumption. As those fears combine, there’s a risk that eating such meat will become less and less popular.”

Su Taylor agrees. “Most vegetarians would agree that not eating meat is more sustainable. Growing grains and pulses to feed to animals is much less efficient than eating them ourselves.

"The livestock industry uses huge amounts of land, water and fossil fuels, while contributing to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and all sorts of other pollution. A balanced vegetarian diet is also one of the healthiest diets around and can be one of the cheapest ways to eat well. Whatever your reasons, going – and staying – vegetarian is a positive life choice.”Anne Hathaway attributes her healthy glow to her vegan diet [REX]

How to get started

If you’re keen to do your bit for the environment and drop a few pounds in the process (both on your waistline and from your weekly shop), but can’t contemplate a hangover without a restorative BLT, here are our top tips:

•    Give Meat-free Mondays, meatfreemondays.co.uk, a go, or choose any other day of the week to eat solely vegetables, pulses and grains.
•    Experiment with recipes. The choice for vegetarians is greater than ever. Visit the Vegetarian Society’s website for recipes.
•    On the days you plan to eat meat, avoid cheap supermarket cuts. Instead, opt for organic, free-range produce from your local butcher, which has a lower carbon footprint than intensively reared cattle.

Have you given it a go? Tell us what you think on Twitter.