It bugs me when people who aren’t really vegetarians claim to be vegetarians. I don’t go around telling people I’m a vegetarian, but if we happen to be having a meal together and looking at a menu, or if someone is about to offer me food, then I will bring up that I’m a vegetarian. I will always follow that with, “I don’t care if other people like eating meat.” In response to that, people will either say, “Oh, I can’t live without meat,” or some will say, “I’m a vegetarian, too.”
It would be fine if the ones who claimed to be vegetarians actually were, but after their order arrives, I witness them eating mussels, or a roast beef sandwich. I don’t understand why some people feel a need to tell me they’re a vegetarian too when they actually are not. It does not help to build rapport, since I already mentioned I don’t care what other people eat. In fact, it only works against them when I see them eating curry chicken. (What do you call a vegetarian who eats meat? A liar. 😛 ) Some say “I’m mostly vegetarian,” because there are certain animals they don’t like, such as lamb or beef, but they still eat fish and chicken. However, saying you’re “mostly vegetarian” doesn’t make sense; you either eat animal flesh or you don’t.
I did more research on vegetarianism, and it turns out, the term flexitarian or semi-vegetarian is used to describe people who have a vegetarian diet most of the time and eat meat occasionally. I’m fine with that. It’s problematic, however, to call a flexitarian a vegetarian because by definition, vegetarians don’t eat meat. The bottom line is, a flexitarian is not a vegetarian.
While I acknowledge that flexitarians are doing their health and the environment a favor by eating less meat, labeling themselves as vegetarians has led to a lot of confusion for people who aren’t familiar with vegetarianism. It’s quite common for me to be met with questions such as “Do you eat chicken?” when I say I’m a vegetarian. That’s ridiculous. By definition, it should be obvious that a vegetarian does not (intentionally) eat animal flesh.* I’d understand if people ask “Do you eat eggs?” since lacto-ovo vegetarians (the kind I am) consume eggs and milk products, whereas vegans (another type of vegetarian) don’t consume any animal products. If you eat fish and other sea food, but no other animals, you’re a pescatarian, not a vegetarian. Thanks to such pescatarians, I once got a “vegetarian” sauce that contained sea food. Now I know to specify “no meat, no sea food” when I order that dish.
I am curious as to why some flexitarians tell people that they’re vegetarians. I’d understand if people with sea food allergies or certain religious dietary restrictions find it too complicated to explain all the details when eating out, so they choose the vegetarian option to avoid accidental consumption of what they’re allergic to or prohibited from eating. Perhaps people think it’s easier to just say they’re vegetarians because not as many people are familiar with the term flexitarian? (Or maybe they themselves aren’t even aware of the term?!) Unfortunately, doing so leads to more people thinking that vegetarians do eat meat. (Hence, I’ve had people who know I’m a vegetarian tell me, “It’s just shrimp. Don’t you eat shrimp?”) If there’s time, why not take the opportunity to explain what a flexitarian is? After all, when people ask me if I eat eggs or dairy, I say I am a lacto-ovo vegetarian, and explain what that means.
As I’ve mentioned before, I have no problem with other people eating meat, or how frequently they have it. My only resentment is when those people say they’re vegetarians, because they are misusing the term. Consequently, others will get the wrong idea of what vegetarianism actually is, which affects actual vegetarians. It’s good that the term flexitarian exists to describe the people who are mostly vegetarian but still occasionally eat meat, since it would be inaccurate to consider them vegetarians. I hope more people will use these terms appropriately.
*I added the word intentionally, because there have been occasions when I have unintentionally eaten meat because I was unaware of the ingredients, or there were no vegetarian options and I had to remove the meat from the food and might have missed a few tiny pieces.