The Flexitarian Diet: Buy or burn?

The Flexitarian Diet sounds like it would be a book right up the alley of every almost vegetarian.

Well, it might be. But then, it might not. After all, the author, Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, LDN, says “I was a closet meat eater, a vegetarian trying not to get caught with a pork chop, beef patty, or chicken sausage in my hand.” Making her, in my book anyway, more of an omnivore than a flexitarian or almost vegetarian.

But let’s look at her book and see what we can see.

The Flexitarian Diet
Written in a catchy, supermarket, pop-psych, style (right down to the prerequisite quiz which, in this case, is entitled What's your Flex Score), The Flexitarian Diet touts the advantages of a vegetarian diet ("Eating a plant-based diet is the hands-down, smartest thing we can do for our health"), but delivers a diet that includes meat because this is ". . . a realistic and delicious way to eat more plants."


And the good news is . . .
Okay. So the logic is off. But is there any good news in The Flexitarian Diet? Sure. The quick introduction to all sorts of foods that anyone not reading food or health magazines or, heaven forbid, blogs, might not know about.

Take the section on grains, for example. This provides clear and helpful mini introductions to everything from wheat berries (unprocessed wheat kernels) to spelt (a type of wheat higher in protein than whole wheat). Of course, it would be more helpful if there were suggestions here on what, exactly, to do with these grains, but at least there are great tips such as “There is only one way to ensure you are buying whole grains; read the ingredients for the word whole.”

And what about the recipes? Well, let's take a look.

Uninspired recipes
The recipes are, alas, exactly what I would expect from a non-chef; in a word, uninspired and just not worth the bother. Like, for example, Ginger Bark which is chocolate chips and candied ginger. Yawn.

(And, erm, in who's book is chocolate chips and candied ginger, both of which are probably made with refined white sugar, "healthier"?)

Recipes simple to the point of stoopid
Take, for example, the Three-Cup Quickie. This is cereal with milk and blueberries. And, hey, is that a recipe for Honey Café au Lait? Yes it is! And it is, wait for it, Café au Lait with honey!

Now I don’t mind simple. In fact, a good, simple recipe is a prize. But there is simple and there is stoopidly simple.

I'm going back to my See Jane Run book now. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Questionable ingredients
And then there are the ingredients I find questionable in a healthy diet. For example, the Fettuccine Florentine with Lemon-Garlic Butter recipe calls for, not butter as the name says, but margarine (so, in all honesty, the recipe should have been called Fettuccine Florentine with Lemon-Garlic Margarine). I would not use margarine. Ever.

Tasteless ingredients
Here's another place where a chef could have been of some help: Avoiding ingredients that no one wants to eat.

For example, take the Peapods and Ranch recipe. Peapods have utterly no taste and a nasty, stringy texture; all the taste and tenderness having been spent on the peas. So I certainly don’t want to eat them. And I’m not alone. A few months back as I was shelling peas in a cooking class, I asked the chef if there was anything one could do with the peapods. She said there was: Dump them in the garbage.

No amount of ranch dressing is going to help here.

Hidden animal ingredients
But the biggest problem of all is that some of these recipes slip in animal products without telling the reader. And it is done, not in an obvious drop-in-a-slab-of-meat way, but in a subtle include-this-seeming-vegetarian-item-that-was-made-with-an-animal-product.

For example, the Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts with Parmesan recipe never mentions the fact that the Parmesan cheese the reader is using was probably made with rennet which, in turn, comes from a cows stomach.

And lest you think that this was clarified elsewhere in the book, I could find no mention of rennet in the index. So the reader will never know.

Now, of course, you need to decide if this is a problem. After all, this is a flexitarian book, not a vegetarian book. In my opinion, this is a problem because the reader of this book is likely trying to eat a more vegetarian and less omnivore diet. So that rennet would come as a nasty surprise.

And if this book, which people buy to be more educated about their diet does not tell them, who will?