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Know Your Flexitarian

Terms like vegetarian, vegan and locavore may not refer to mainstream movements, but they say a lot about our culture and the way we eat. Very few people, for instance, are able to consume only food grown within a hundred mile radius — yet the influence of “local” can be seen in every mainstream supermarket these days.

And so it goes with the latest term to be added to the health and wellness lexicon: flexitarian.

So what’s a flexitarian? It’s someone who tries to incorporate meatless meals into her diet but isn’t a strict vegetarian. It sounds a bit hard to pin down, but there’s no doubt it’s fully established and making inroads. Compass Group, the world’s largest food distributor, just announced its “Be A Flexitarian” initiative, which will expand the company’s meat-free offerings and promote flexitarian living.

"It doesn't take an all-or-nothing approach to make a major impact, and giving customers more meat-free meal choices will improve health, reduce the impact of global warming and help animals,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society, in a release praising the new program.

Compass reaches millions of students, office workers and sports fans at cafeterias and food stops around the country, so it’s not hard to imagine the impact this will have. Even the most vegetable-resistant, hot-dog-scarfing consumers will be exposed to the possibility that such foods can be tasty and healthy. That kind of exposure will no doubt trickle down to the retail level in some form.

Beyond the impact of Compass’s program, there’s a lot to divine from the rise of the flexitarian diet. It shows the regard consumers have for animal welfare and for meat’s impact on human health and the environment. It also says a lot about consumer expectations. People want to eat mindfully, but they may not be willing to go all the way and give up something, like meat, altogether. For them, there’s no shame in hewing close to the middle and believing every step counts.