Extract from a discussion between a vegan, a vegetarian and a flexitarian, held at All Saints Church, chaired by  MM, editor of Kingston Env News, actively involved in Transition Town Kingston, who described her position on food as a part-time vegetarian/flexitarian/reducitarian....

"We’re all going to tell you about the hows and whys of our eating choices: and although our positions vary, we share a lot of the same concerns and values – mainly about the impact of our food habits on the environment and about animal welfare. 

My position – yes, I’m sure we should all be vegan, it is the rational choice if you really care about animals and the environment. But, although I have moved in the direction of veganism, I don’t think I could manage full-time veganism. Let me tell you about my journey, which I think does qualify me for the label “reducitarian”, a term used in the USA to describe the process of eating less meat, and my reasons for still eating a small amount of animal products.

Both my daughters became vegetarians / pescatarians in their teens and they too have moved further and further away from meat eating. One is a professor of animal welfare in Canada and the other is now a vegan, so my family is a source of data and recipes, and we are very used to vegetarian/vegan meals, but I chose to eat less meat but better meat – organic, free range, slaughtered as near the farm as possible ,For quite a while I alternated carnivorous days with vegetarian days, but I did consume milk, yoghurt, cheese and eggs on my vegetarian days.

About a year ago, along with other members of TTK, I took a 3-week Eco-challenge and my chosen challenge was to be vegetarian for 3 weeks – which proved remarkably easy, apart from one lunch with friends (more of that later). After a recent Veganuary discussion, I decided to give up milk and yoghurt and currently my diet is 2/3 vegan: 2 meals out of 3 every day. But...

I still eat meat/poultry once a week and fish once a week, and cheese and eggs. Why? Several reasons:

When we had our 1st panel discussion in January I had little or no idea how much protein I needed and where I could get the necessary amount. I assumed that I probably wouldn’t need very much protein, and was surprised to find that a woman of my age and size needs about 60g a day, mainly to keep up muscle strength. Where to get all this protein? I was disappointed when my husband bought me some vegan cheese as a treat to find it had no protein in it at all – and very little flavour either – and I notice that the non-dairy yoghurts that I now eat for breakfast have about half the protein of dairy yoghurt and need supplementing with, for example, oats. One can end up eating quite a lot of carbs in order to get the protein one needs. So I do allow myself a meal containing animal protein once a day, mostly cheese or eggs, but meat or poultry once a week and fish or shellfish once a week, and then I can stop worrying about it, counting grams of protein etc.

It’s also partly to do with enjoying eating out, sampling different cuisines on holiday, and liking cheese and the texture and taste of meat once in a while. Because we only eat meat occasionally, we can be fussy about its provenance – organic, free range etc are more expensive but affordable if you’re not eating it every day. And then there’s the fact that people of my age find it hard to get their heads round vegetarianism, let alone veganism. If they invite you to lunch, they don’t ask and there is often no choice on the menu!

I’m also a member of a chicken collective and so once a week I have a chicken duty and take home an average of 3 eggs. Our hens are very happy, they’re well looked after and have the run of our community garden for an hour or so every day - and I am unwilling to stop eating their eggs.

My flexitarian approach provides a satisfyingly varied diet, enables me to be sociable and eat whatever my friends put on the table, and is easy enough for anyone to adopt (its main advantage IMO). It’s not perfect, but it is manageable and sustainable, and a more realistic and feasible option than veganism for most people.

There are still ethical problems, even eating limited animal products. Free range can actually be worse for the environment than animals kept in barns, taking up more land and destroying forests. Despite a few places and climates suited for grazing animals and not much else, most meat production is land-, water- and resource- intensive, an expensive way to convert one sort of food into another – and, of course, involves killing animals and sometimes transporting them long distances to abbatoirs (though not venison apparently). Hens, however happy, have been bred to lay eggs every day, a highly unnatural habit which weakens them and shortens their lives.

So I’d give vegans 10/10 for ethics and consistency, vegetarians 9/10, and me about 6/10, with some marks for practicality. If everyone ate as little meat and dairy as I do, the positive impacts on the environment, the climate, and on animal wellbeing, would be enormous, and if everyone was a vegan or vegetarian it would be even better!"

Qs to consider:
- Differences between veganism and vegetarianism?
- Numbers – proportion of vegans in UK pop? Vegetarians?
- How do you feel about eatin roadkill and lab-made meat?
- Favourite recipes? What would you give a carnivore friend to persuade them that your diet is just as delicious as theirs.
- Recommendations to people who really like the taste and texture of meat, or who want to go on eating something like the trad meat and 2 veg meal but meatless?
- Eating out - much better than it used to be for vegans, but is it good enough?