Wilde? Child!

A flexitarian diet for the new year

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Need a rationale to eat the way you’ve always eaten? Just add an ‘arian.’

My favorite adage is one Julia Child borrowed from 19th-century poet and playwright Oscar Wilde: “Everything in moderation . . . including moderation.”

Perhaps good intentions of New Year’s resolutions might endure if we were to abide by Wilde’s quote. In the spirit of resolving to relinquish a lifestyle of excess, I channeled my inner Julia Child to process her translation of Wilde’s quote into food terms. What I gained was insight into the impetus for the gastronomic term “flexitarian,” one of many labels meant to identify people who thrive to survive on controlled diets.

A rawist, for instance, eats only uncooked, unprocessed foods. I tried out this lifestyle years ago during a holistic detoxification on Vancouver Island in British Columbia at a place called Fresh Start Health Retreat. We ingested regular wheat grass shots and vegetable smoothies for a few days before eating solid, raw, uncooked food. I do admit I’d never felt healthier in my entire adult life. At least for a few months, I continued to incorporate raw foods in my diet, and I didn’t drink a cup of coffee for nearly half a year.

The labels are ever-evolving to identify a particular order of eating. Ever hear of a fruitarian? Taking restriction to the extreme, a fruitarian eats only what has naturally fallen from a plant or tree, or foods harvested from plants without having an impact on regeneration. Which brings us to the freegan—one who eats only what has been thrown away. Need I say more?

The list continues: If you’re a true vegan, your diet consists only of plant-based foods, but if you’re an ovo-vegetarian, you can eat eggs. If you’re a lacto-vegetarian, you can eat dairy products ’til the cows come home, and if you’re a lacto-ovo vegetarian, you enjoy all things dairy and eggs. And then there’s the pescetarian, who may eat fish in addition to plant-based foods. Hail to sashimi bars!

The gastronomic term employed to accommodate someone who wants to eat healthy without giving up on, well, anything really, is “flexitarian.” Here, my friends, is where the world is your oyster. As a health-conscious individual, you’ll eat a mostly plant-based diet, but in following Child’s borrowed quote, you can eat meat, eggs, fish and dairy in moderation. The semi-vegetarian flexitarian status allows you to fit within the paradigm of a culture obsessed with labels. But you may, on occasion, eat meat, eggs and fish.

Did I mention an occasional glass or two of wine?

With the start of every new year, resolutions are made but hardly ever carried through to the end of the year. We seem to be missing a middle ground, without restriction, and this is exactly why living the life of a flexitarian works. The rules of flexitarianism, a close cousin to the Mediterranean diet, are simple: it’s OK to enjoy a good filet of beef now and again, as long as the cow was grass-fed in its lifetime.

The middle ground is a good place to start in planning a healthy diet long-term. And with so many vegetarian options on menus, eating healthfully is easy and delicious. Restaurants like Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena serve grass-fed options and sell various cuts of beef and lamb at the ranch’s farmers market booth on weekends. How easy is that? If your goal is to stock your freezer, Tomales’ Stemple Creek sells pasture-to-plate meats online, and also makes them available at Oliver’s Markets in Sonoma and Marin counties, and at Good Earth Natural Foods.

While everyone else is restricting their diets and behaviors in the name of New Year’s, my strategy is to embark on a dry January alcohol detox and incorporate the lifestyle of a flexitarian. One “dry” month won’t be difficult, and instead of a rigid diet plan that incorporates the all-or-nothing setup for failure, I choose to step up to the plate and listen to Julia Child.

Here’s a sparkling water toast to 2019 and taking everything in moderation—including moderation as a flexitarian and keeper of a semi–New Year’s resolution.

Charlene Peters is a former editor from the Boston area. Since 2015, she has lived in Napa Valley, where she loves to pen food stories. Charlene can be reached at siptripper@gmail.com.

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