The rise of the flexitarian: why are so many people eating less meat?

By Mark Roper with guest input from Ganesh Raj

With World Vegetarian Month upon us this October, it’s worth taking a look at how attitudes to food are changing as we deal with challenges like climate change, animal welfare and placing our health and wellbeing first.

At Life Health Foods, we’ve found that Kiwis and Aussies, by and large, are increasingly embracing flexitarianism and reducing their meat intake for these very reasons. And also, because it’s easier than ever to do so without compromising on taste.

World Vegetarian Day got started way back in 1977 by the North American Vegetarian Society. It’s worth noting the original purpose, because it rings true to this day: To promote the joy, compassion, and life-enhancing possibilities of vegetarianism. The ‘day’ is 1 October, while the ‘month’ spans all of October.

However, it’s only in recent years that World Vegetarian Month, and the concept of plant-based eating, has really taken off. A recent piece of Colmar Brunton research that we conducted in partnership with Food Frontier found that one in three Kiwis are eating less or no meat, with 13% of us going flexitarian and 18% falling into the meat reducers group, meaning that we’ are eating less meat than we did compared to the year prior. The Australian stats are similar with an even bigger group of flexitarians (20%), with 12% meat reducers.

Plant-based eating has become a big talking point; in the recent New Zealand election Leaders Debate, both Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and National Party leader Judith Collins said meat is on the menu only twice a week; that would make them flexitarian.

The majority of Kiwis and Aussies who are reducing their meat intake indicated that they’re doing so for health reasons. Another Food Frontier study, released last month, showed that meat alternatives were nutritionally superior or comparable to conventional meat equivalents, offering lower total fat; half to five times less saturated fat; higher Health Star Ratings in 5 of 6 product categories; lower or comparable kilojoules and sodium; and higher or comparable protein.

At Life Health Foods we’ve always been all about plant-based foods, providing innovative, healthy, and delicious vegetarian products and championing a plant-based diet for the health, wellbeing and sustainability of our community and the planet. Our very own plant-based products exceed averages found within the Food Frontier study, including Alternative Meat Co Sausages – 4 stars (plant based sausages ave 3.7); and Bean Supreme Beetroot Burgers – 5 stars (plant based burger ave 3.7).

But most importantly, we’re all about flavour and enjoying great taste. Our wide range of products – from Kiwi favourites such as Naked Cuisine soups &  meals and LISA’s Hummus, to Bean Supreme and Vegie Delight vegtarian foods, plus Alternative Meat Co. burgers, sausages and mince, which just launched in NZ supermarkets last week – are all made with great taste in mind. Yes; they’re healthier options, but they still need to taste delicious.

Pictured: Ganesh Raj of The Tasting Shed Pictured: Ganesh Raj of The Tasting Shed

Taste is a factor that chefs are considering as their clientele’s palates begin to change. I asked our World Vegetarian Month ambassador, Eat Well for Less TV co-host and celebrated restaurateur Ganesh Raj of The Tasting Shed – who considers himself flexitarian – for his views on flexitarians, vegetarians, and the dishes he likes to create and serve.

“Firstly, I don’t like to see a distinction between vegetables and other food in a restaurant; food is food. And it’s kind of offensive to describe vegetables as ‘sides’. Vegetables are often the main event, particularly in the cultures which influenced my cooking,” he said.

Having grown up in Singapore, those cultures include Indian, Chinese, Malay, Thai, Indonesian and more.

Raj is a big fan of enjoying food for what it is. He’s also a major proponent of making quality food accessible to everyone. “I love snap frozen veg. It means you aren’t held hostage to ‘seasons’, you always have fresh vegetables ready to go, and you can use what you need for your dish and save the rest.”

And Raj said the vegetarian meals he prepares are the most viewed on his YouTube channel, The Humble Yum Yum. “It’s hard to beat vegetarian meals for flavour without the cost,” he added.

We’re working with Ganesh this World Vegetarian Month to inspire everyday Kiwis and Aussies to experiment with new and interesting ways to enjoy plant-based eating with three recipes – a budget-friendly Bean Supreme and Vegie Delights Mapo Tofu; nutritious Bean Supreme Beetroot Patty Potato Rosti; and a tasty fully loaded Alternative Meat Co and Vegie Delights Chilli Dog.

Check them out here.

Take a peek at and Bean SupremeAlternative Meat Co. and Vegie Delights social media pages for more plant-based tips and recipes and remember… you are what you eat!