back burner 2019-01-022019-01-07T11:21:12-07:00


by Allan Shewchuk

2019 Jan/Feb

City Palate, guide to the good life in Calgary Back Burner 2018 11 12 Allen Shewchuk Profile image

Time marches on and another new year is upon us. Turning the page to another January in my daytimer meant that, after I’d resolved to lose weight and stop drinking (with my fingers crossed behind my back), I could embark on something I might actually accomplish, which was my annual Google search to find out what the major food trend of the upcoming twelve months would be. It turns out that the consensus among foodie prediction-makers is that this year, vast numbers of eaters will alter their diets and become “flexitarians.” My first reaction wasn’t to wonder whether this prediction was going to be accurate or not, but rather, to blurt out, “What in the hell is a flexitarian?” This new-fangled word was a head-scratcher.

Before looking up the definition of “flexitarian,” I tried to imagine what in God’s name it might refer to. At first, I thought it might be some weight-loss program involving stripping, exotic dancing or contortionism as part of the exercise regimen. Then I thought it might refer to citizens of the U.K. who are angry at the E.U. and hope that Brexit comes to pass, but who will resist boycotting Euro-products and continue to eat French cheese. Brexit into Flexit? Nope. My guesses never even came close, mostly because this may be the stupidest food trend name of all time.

You see, “flexitarian” describes a person who is a “flexible vegetarian.” Also known as “veggie-vores,” these are dedicated vegetarians who, from time to time, will eat meat, when the whim strikes them. I’m sorry, but these cheaters aren’t flexit-anything – they are just freaking omnivores who happen to usually have a plant-based diet and want to sound all health- and environmentally righteous, while they quietly saw into a T-bone once a week. This trend is just verbal sleight-of-hand, and is the equivalent of someone saying they are “married and monogamous” while refusing to throttle back on dating when their spouse is otherwise occupied.

Once I got into researching flexitarianism, I found a host of other terms people use to cover up the fact that they claim to have gone mostly veggie, but turn into a drooling Homer Simpson around a burger. To sound all sneaky about it, some folks call themselves “reducetarianists,” “lessetarianists” or, my favourite, “meat minimalists.” The last one sounds like an artists’ colony that might have created a meat garment for Lady Gaga to wear, but would have limited itself to just a thong or a bikini.

My reading suggests that as a culture, we like words that confound the truth. In fact, the American Dialect Society not long ago voted “flexitarian” as the year’s “most useful word or phrase.” This just beat out “pre-emptive self-defence,” which was defined as “an attack before a possible attack.” Which sounds kind-of like just an attack to me.

I must admit that apart from my being put off by the verbal deception, there are some real positives that arise from even sneaky flexitarianism. The movement has gained real momentum due to the efforts of Sir Paul McCartney and his daughters, Stella and Mary, through their No Meat Monday campaign. As dedicated vegetarians, the Beatle and family are pushing for folks to take one day a week off eating meat. There is pretty clear science that if everyone in the world (or even most of us) took just one day off being a carnivore, the resulting environmental, animal welfare and land conservation benefits would be enormous. And I am in favour of that wholeheartedly, without any need to be sneaky.

My research also turned up trending foodie words that I do favour. One of them is “freeganism,” which has a couple of meanings. The meaning that I am sorry exists applies to the poor souls who eat discarded food, usually from dumpsters. But the alternate meaning that I promise I will use in the future is “freegan,” meaning a person who only eats what they get for free. This would apply to many people with whom I have dined out, who suddenly get short arms and deep pockets when the bill arrives, leaving my credit card the only one that makes it into the point-of-sale machine. Be warned, freegans – the next time you are in a restaurant across from me and the bill is presented, pull out your card to avoid suffering a ferocious round of “pre-emptive self-defence.” Wow – a useful phrase, indeed.

Allan Shewchuk is a lawyer, food writer and sought-after Italian food and wine guru. He currently has kitchens in both Calgary and Florence, Italy, but will drink wine pretty much anywhere.