Who Are The Flexitarians?
A recent poll conducted by YouGov, a U.K. polling company, sheds light on flexitarians and their attitudes and habits, as well as that of vegans, vegetarians, and pescatarians. For the purposes of their study, “flexitarian” refers to people who eat a mostly plant-based diet, but eat meat occasionally.
The vast majority of Brits consume meat: 73% identify as meat-eaters, 14% as flexitarians, 3% each as pescatarian and vegetarian, 1% as vegan, and 6% other/don’t know. Meanwhile, women are much more likely than men to have a specialized diet; 18% of women from 18-24 are flexitarian, and 3% are vegan. For men in the same age range, 10% are flexitarian and 1% are vegan. For both men and women, individuals under 35 are more likely to be vegan or vegetarian, while similar rates of individuals across all ages identify as flexitarian or pescatarian.
Geographically, flexitarians, vegetarians, and vegans are most concentrated in inner London, unsurprisingly. Outside of London, the North East and South West of England have the highest rates of flexitarianism, and Yorkshire and the Humber have the highest rate of veganism. Pescatarians are most common in Wales, surprisingly, and the North East and Outer London have the second-highest rates of vegetarianism. Yorkshire and Outer London have the highest percentage of people who say they intend to go vegan or vegetarian.
The polling shows that flexitarians generally don’t view their diet as a stepping-stone to veganism or vegetarianism. They are nearly three times more likely than the general public to say that they are “actively trying to reduce their meat consumption.” They are also significantly more likely than the general public to say they are likely to go vegan or vegetarian, but the overall percentage remains low at around 7% for vegetarian and 2% for vegan. Flexitarians who intend to go vegan or vegetarian are more likely to be students or part-time workers, live at home or with housemates, and expect a child in the near future. They also tend to rely more on online media than print or television, and use social media at a higher rate. This suggests that they skew younger, in the under-30 demographic.
The subset of flexitarians considering vegetarianism or veganism seem to be motivated by animal welfare, with 44% citing it as their motivation. Roughly 40% cite health reasons as their reasoning, and 35% cite environmental impact. They are also more likely to engage in general socially-conscious behavior, like recycling and buying fair trade. In addition, they are more likely to believe that a meatless diet is healthier and more ethical than one with animal products, and are more likely to feel guilt when eating meat or dairy. Flexitarians are generally more concerned with a brand’s social views and ethics than the general population. Flexitarians and pescatarians consume dairy or meat substitutes at a far higher rate than the general population – pescatarians actually do so at a slightly higher rate than vegetarians. They generally believe themselves to be healthy eaters, though not to the extent that vegans do. They are more likely than most to cook for themselves and try new recipes, though again they fall behind vegans in both categories.
Overall, this information should be considered to be good news for animal advocates. Any reduction in animal consumption is beneficial, especially in a country like the UK with such high rates of meat and dairy consumption. However, part of the problem with assessing flexitarianism is its lack of a clear definition. Vegans eschew virtually all animal products, vegetarians eschew all meat, and pescatarians eschew all meat besides fish and shellfish, but flexitarians don’t fully avoid any food. Someone who eats meat daily may consider themselves flexitarian, but so may someone who eats it weekly or monthly. This problem is compounded when looking at self-reported data, as people are notoriously unreliable at assessing their own behavior. While a significant amount may say they’re attempting to cut out meat and dairy, fewer will likely follow through. The pollsters in this study believe that one major hurdle preventing flexitarians from going vegan or vegetarian is the apparent restrictiveness of these diets. As animal advocates, we should focus on showing the variety of foods and cuisines available on a vegan diet to combat this image.