Flexitarianism: Eating to Save the Planet

Listen, I really didn’t want one more thing to care about. I know that sounds hard-hearted. But this has been a season where everything that happens is of an incredibly urgent nature—the interconnectivity of COVID-19, racial justice, poverty, our broken health care system, our broken immigration system, and our underfunded public education system, just to name a few. My work involves faith-based advocacy which means that I have to internalize these things, reflect on them, pray about them, eat, drink, and breathe them. It’s been a heavy year. 

So when my church offered a new study in the New Year about environmental stewardship, my initial response was no. I just cannot. I can’t take on one more issue. Other people can save the planet. My plate is full.

Surprise, surprise, I participated in the study, called Oikonomos. It absolutely renewed my relationship to Mother Earth, and inspired me to feed that connection in many new ways, including how I eat. I actually Googled: “How can I eat to save the planet?”

I didn’t have to do much scrolling to find Flexitarianism. The term itself sounded right up my alley. It’s so non-committal! It’s flex. The basics of living the Flexitarian life can be boiled down to eating less meat, more plants. 

If every American participated in Meatless Mondays, for example, and eliminated meat from only one meal per week, the ecological effects would be staggering. We would save an estimated 1.4 billion animals annually, 100 billion gallons of water (did you know it takes 1700 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef?), and countless greenhouse gas emissions.  

So we thought, hey, we could do Meatless Mondays plus some! We can do more than our part, because I know that many people won’t be interested in this, or don’t have the resources. 

But go full-on vegetarian or vegan? That just isn’t for me. I have plenty of close friends who do that, and I am grateful to them for their commitment. I don’t think I can give up sausage wraps at the pool. But on balance, the meals we make and the food we buy are significantly more meatless.

Trying this with our family these last few months has taught us some things. Our children love meat. Oops! Thankfully they also enthusiastically eat a good variety of veggies, so we aren’t at a total loss. We also have one child who does not like the taste of cheese, which eliminates a lot of easy meatless meals (mac n’ cheese is out). 

We have settled on providing one dinner a week with meat. It is usually a pork chop or a chicken breast with two veggies on the side. They gobble it up. So instead of one meatless meal, we’ve reversed it to one meal with meat. It’s a good compromise for us. Plus, we tell the kids that they can choose whatever they want from the school’s lunch menu, even if it contains meat. Our school is a free lunch campus. This eliminates a lot of fuss from our morning routine, and I prefer to keep it that way! 

Also, pre-Flexitarianism, our meal rotation was long. We had plenty of recipes to choose from and often didn’t repeat dinners for a month. This variety is difficult to maintain with a more limited diet. So we had to adjust our expectation and reduce our rotation to more like two weeks.

We have settled on a pretty easy template for weekly meal planning. In each week, we know that we will have a pizza night, a pasta night, a meat + veggies night, and a taco night. Beyond that, we only have to fill in three dinners. This has made it more manageable for us, and more predictable for the kids. 

Our new flex diet has been a fun adventure, has definitely saved us money at the grocery store, and we feel like we are doing something to help Mother Earth. 

If you’re interested, the two main resources that motivated me are David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet, on Netflix, and Braiding Sweetgrass, a memoir-style book by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Both are beautiful, challenging, and hopeful works.

And here are a few winning (easy!) recipes that we circulate on repeat.

My Favorite Flexitarian Lunch

  • Peeled, cubed and roasted sweet potatoes
  • Chickpeas (drained and rinsed from the can)
  • Halved cherry tomatoes
  • Chopped fresh kale
  • Ranch dressing

Mix it all together, and it stays fresh for an easy lunch for several days! Good with a side of toasted naan.

Flexitarian Veggie Fajita Bake

(adapted from a chicken fajita bake)

  • Sliced bell peppers of all colors
  • Sliced red onion
  • Black beans, drained and rinsed from the can
  • Fajita seasoning
  • Shredded cheese

Put peppers, onions and beans in a casserole dish, drizzle with oil and seasoning, cover with cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for thirty minutes. Enjoy in tortillas with guacamole.

Flexitarian Mexican Cornbread

  • Two boxes of Jiffy cornbread (plus its required ingredients)
  • Chopped bell peppers
  • Chopped onion
  • Black beans, drained and rinsed from the can
  • Seasoning (I use cumin, oregano, salt and pepper.)
  • Shredded cheese

Sauté peppers and onions until soft. Mix with black beans, seasoning and cheese in a bowl. Prepare cornbread according to directions. Pour half the cornbread batter into a casserole dish, then layer the cheese and vegetable filling, then top with the remainder of the batter. Bake according to cornbread directions, or a little longer.

I grew up in Dallas, went to college and grad school in the Carolinas (Furman-->Wake Forest) with degrees in art history and ministry/theology. I work for organizations that allow me to do things I care deeply about: advocacy for immigration, public education and religious liberty. We moved to San Antonio in 2012 for my husband to pastor a church here. When we moved here, our two older daughters were babies/toddlers, and we eventually added a third. They are now 5, 8 and 9. We chose to live really close to the church and hit the neighborhood jackpot. I'm a bookworm and always have 2-3 books going at once. I have learned to love good music by osmosis (my husband has great taste!) (my current favs: Brandi Carlile, Lone Bellow), but I'm pretty happy with silence too, since it's hard to come by with small children. We don't have grandparents or immediate family in town, and I'm insanely jealous of those that do. But luckily our friends here have become like family. Favorite Restaurant: El Mirasol Favorite Landmark: Eisenhower Park Favorite San Antonio Tradition: 4th of July neighborhood parade