Thursday, January 24, 2008

Vegetarian with Benefits

Plenty magazine has a wonderful article, "Vegetarian with Benefits" about one of the "Most Useful Words of 2003" as voted by the American Dialect Society. The word is "Flexitarian" and the meaning is a person who eats a mostly vegetarian diet, but who is also willing to eat meat or fish occasionally (Sound like anyone we know?). The word has been slow to catch on and not only because it is more than a mouthful, but because it resists easy classification.

Vegetarianism has come a long way since the 50's and 60's, when it was viewed as an odd, overzealous, unhealthy fad, to enter into American vernacular. Our culture now recognizes a vegetarian as someone who has restricted their diet based on moral and ethical objections (described by most vegetarian societies as motivated by either Health, Compassion, or the Environment or some combination thereof) and not because of a food preference.

But what if you are not a strict vegetarian, but you still have moral objections against eating certain foods? Words like "Flexitarian", "Pescetarian", and "Pollotarian" tend to confuse hosts and food servers even more than the eventual dissertation that must follow their use. Because of its familiarity and its strong connotation of moral obligation, the word "Vegetarian" has also become unduly associated with other forms of moral and ethical dietary needs giving birth to the use of "Vegetarian" as a metonym. In other words, the word "vegetarian" is used to describe other diets that are ethically motivated since vegetarianism is ethically motivated, even though those diets are not vegetarian.

This modified use is either your bane as a strict vegetarian or vegan (because the food industry is constantly believing that you will eat fish or chicken stock if prodded) or your blessing (as a "semi-vegetarian you do not need to include a three hour dissertation to your food server using flow-chart). Either way, read the plenty magazine article and discuss the ways the American vocabulary for ethical eating can be expanded.

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