Nettie Cronish

We’ve been introduced to many food reform movements over the years: slow food, vegan, organic, local, whole beast, seasonal, raw, terroir, vegetarian, 100 mile, and more.

They all are highly politicized.

Food choices are a part of the whole array of life choices that we make. We choose the food we eat for a variety of reasons, including nutritional, spiritual, social, political and ecological.

But often people feel anxious about their food choices. They may also feel guilty or feel judged. Those feelings are not life enhancing but instead a huge drain.

It’s time to push away those pressures of guilt and anxiety and to engage in open and relaxed discussion and debate about food and food choices.

Food is so essential to daily life, that how we think about it and engage with it has a huge effect on our mental and physical health.

My latest book, Flex Appeal, is the second book in my flexitarian series (Everyday Flexitarian), an invitation to create a healthy and relaxed dialogue about food and the food choices that are open to us all. I have been teaching vegetarian cooking classes for 25 years and I am often the only vegetarian in the class. Some of the recipes and ideas in this book evolved because people attending my classes told me that they were cooking two, sometimes three different meals for their loved ones. Wouldn’t it be great if they could have a cookbook that offered choice and allowed them to prepare one recipe two ways?

Drawing on my years as a natural foods and vegetarian chef, I have developed delicious and nutritionally balanced vegetarian meals. The “right” amount of meat will be a healthy portion that will not overwhelm your plate (or waistline). Straightforward cooking instructions will let you prepare the recipe to suit the needs of both vegetarians and meat-eaters.

This Flexitarian meal idea evolved over time, not only in my classes, but also in my own home. I have three children, and each of them was vegetarian until the age of six. Once they started going to school, birthday parties, and other kids’ homes, they were introduced to many kinds of foods not eaten in our home. My organic, breast-fed children were sampling candies, sugar-sweetened cereals, deep-fried foods — and to my dismay meat.

At mealtimes we spoke a lot about choice. I explained my reasons for being a vegetarian, and they dutifully listened, but whether it was peer pressure or simple curiosity, they crossed the line and began eating meat socially. At the time, I was very angry. My husband pointed out I needed to “pick my battles”. If I made eating meat a battleground it would be more difficult to find a balance at our family table. Was I to tell every play-date or caregiver that my kid was not allowed to eat meat? Or drink milk? Or eat sugar-sweetened cookies? As the kids got older they told me that they felt that restrictions about eating meat had been forced upon them. I realized that they were living out a kind of coming-of-age scenario in which it felt revolutionary to eat meat.

Initially, I would not allow meat in our house, but as the kids approached their teenage years and began cooking for themselves, I needed to become more tolerant. I have my children to thank for Flex Appeal and Everyday Flexitarian, for it is rooted in the flexibility about food choices that I had to develop out of respect for them. Once I learned to have respect for their approach to food, I had to figure out ways the family kitchen could function for all of us.

Would I have liked a totally vegetarian family? Of course I would. I am a member of several vegetarian societies and organizations. Access to age-appropriate information, books, and videos were all at my disposal. As I explained my ethical and philosophical reasons for being a vegetarian, my children listened and asked questions. We’d talk about feedlots crammed with cows destined for your plate. I’d compare meat to cigarettes, cocaine and white sugar. Alas, life does not always work out the way you want it to. Should I have clubbed them over the head with pictures of cruelty to animals? Taken them to a slaughterhouse? Some of you may say “yes”, but I choose to talk to them about why I am a vegetarian and to listen to their ideas. This dialogue is ongoing.

My family will eat any vegetarian meal I prepare. Overall, they do not eat a lot of meat, but meat has become part of our household meal plan, though not without discussion. We talk about a lot of food issues. We consider the seed stock and agricultural methods used to grow food. Where are pesticides allowed to be used? Can organic certification be standardized? What are humane standards for raising animals? How animals are  raised, how they died, and how meat tastes are centerpiece conversations around our dinner table.

Flexitarian cooking is about choice, tolerance and good health.  My kids (two of them now in university) are conscious about all things that cross their fork. But they’re not afraid of food, quite the opposite. They enjoy it and understand it and appreciate it, not just for good taste and nutrition, but also as a reflexion of how we relate to each other and to the world around us.
That’s what these books are all about, taking pleasure in our food and being flexible and tolerant and informed about the food choices we have. I hope it inspires dialogue around your dinner table, mindful eating, and delicious flexitarian meals.