In defence of vaguetarianism

Posted: January 28, 2010 in Food, Health

You needn’t go the whole hog – go vague instead!

Vaguetarians can be seen as a bit of a joke. Too wimpy to become full vegetarians and too much like hippies to become carnivores, they attempt to embody the middle ground with as much dignity as possible.

The urban dictionary’s definition sums up the cynical attitude many people have towards vaguetarians:

Someone who professes to be a non meat eater and fesses up to gobbling (no pun) turkey or chicken etc. Also very keen on fish …..and pork is ok.

“For goodness sake take that rabbit food away I am a vaguetarian now’t to stop me having some of your Chickenburger”.

At the start of this year I resolved to become a vaguetarian. You probably think that an odd thing. Why resolve to be vague about something? That’s like resolving to give up chocolate on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Or resolving to give up beer except when you’re at the pub, or at a friend’s, or watching a football game etc.

I believe that vaguetarianism is a great thing however. For some, it is a comfortable transition phase from being a meat-eater to being a vegetarian. For others, it is a welcome compromise.

I find it hard not to eat meat. Yet, I also find myself preferring a vegetarian diet. To the absolutists, I am a either a failed vegetarian or a carnivore in denial. As far as I am concerned, I am a healthy compromise – a meat-eater whose diet has an emphasis on non-meat food.

The benefits of a vaguetarian diet are numerous. For starters, you eat less meat and more vegetables. Growing evidence suggests that eating less meat (particularly red meat) is good for you, while vegetarians tend to be healthier and live longer.

There is also an economic incentive. You can dramatically reduce your shopping bill by cutting down on meat and eating more vegetables instead. Meat dishes in restaurants are almost always more expensive than their vegetarian counterparts, so you can save money while eating out too.

The money you save can be used to buy good quality meat from a local butcher once or twice a week. We are lucky in my hometown in that we have a good butcher who knows the farmers who supply him. The difference in quality between his meat and supermarket meat is remarkable.

Those contemplating the life of a vaguetarian should know that you are in good company. The American transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau was a famous vaguetarian. Despite often professing the benefits of vegetarianism, Thoreau wavered between a meat-diet and non-meat diet throughout his life.

For those familiar with Thoreau this may come as a surprise. Thoreau was a man who lived strictly by principle. In 1846 he refused to pay his taxes as an act of protest against slavery and the Mexican-American War. He was subsequently imprisoned for one night and only released after a relative paid the government off.

How amusing that someone who had no qualms about refusing to pay his taxes for six years should find it difficult not to eat meat! Yet, I and other vaguetarians know the difficulty Thoreau faced.

Some vaguetarians feel guilty about their ambiguous principles. They see their inability to commit themselves to a vegetarian diet as a weakness. I felt this way too, until I realised that there is no use striving to be something I am not. Getting over this guilt is a difficult but important step in the life of a vaguetarian.

Overcome the guilt and the cynicism and you can delight in the vagueness of a vaguely vegetarian diet. Eat, drink and be merry!

  1. Not only is this concept less stringent, it is sensible eating. A balanced diet. We follow that in India, where we’re vegetarians through the week but binge on fish, meats etc. occasionally.

  2. goldnsilver says:

    Ha, interesting article. Perhaps to avoid being attacked by people you could just say, ‘I don’t eat much meat’ rather than giving yourself a title of vaguetarian. However, I think you’re diet seems to be pretty healthy.

    • tommellors says:

      Snarkyserver, thanks for your comment. Glad you enjoyed the article.

      Walkinafunk, you’re right, it is the easy way to keep a balanced diet. I like the idea of eating a vegetarian diet through the week, and eating fish & meat on the weekend. Until recently it was pretty common for people in England to do the same. They ususally ate roast beef/lamb/chicken on a Sunday, but rarely ate meat inbetween.

      Goldnsilver, thanks for your comment. I agree that the term ‘vaguetarian’ does lend itself to criticism. Some people feel more comfortable having a title they can identify with however, and whether you choose to call yourself a vaguetarian, flexitarian, or just say ‘I don’t eat much meat’ doesn’t really matter in the end.

  3. Hi Tom,
    I found your article on the wordpress home page. I had never heard of vaguetarianism – that’s an interesting concept. I am almost wondering if you are kidding about the concept.(Note you are first on searches on google when I looked up the term)
    Let me take it as real for the moment.
    Moving from a meat centered diet to a plant centered diet via the numerous pathways between works many different ways for many people i.e. the path can be vague. So your term can work!

    Personally, my family choose to call the way we eat a’plant centered’ diet (we all enjoy salmon and sardines so we are not vegetarians) What gets us marked as different (more in the past than now) is that we always choose organic as often as possible to respect the land.
    Yes! organic can be expensive but as a family we figured out ways to get organics cheaper and I wrote an inexpensive e-book on getting organics for less. I appreciate if you can post the link since it can help people out.

    It is interesting to note that when people find out we eat organics as much as we can they assume we are vegetarians. Wait till I tell people we may actually be vaguetarians!

    Keep up your writing and original thinking,
    All the best,

    • tommellors says:

      David, that’s what I like about the term ‘vaguetarian’ – it opens up different diets that would be closed otherwise. ‘Plant centered’ diet sounds good too! I’m keen on eating organic also, and eating less meat can allow people more money to spend on organic vegetables or meat. Thanks for the link, I hope some people will find it helpful.

  4. tofuchick says:

    Haha I love it – I hadn’t heard of vaguetarians before today! You’re so right, there is no reason to strive towards something that is totally impossible. Vegetarianism isn’t for everyone and noone should be forced to make that choice. But I think it’s nice that there are so many people who are starting to realise that a meal doesn’t need to revolve around meat… even if it is only once or twice a week 🙂

    • tommellors says:

      Thanks tofuchick! You’re right, vegetarianism isn’t for everyone and neither is diet with meat in each meal – so why not find a balance between the two. I’ve never liked having meat in every meal. When I was at university I used to cook with a friend every evening, and he always insisted on having meat – he said it wasn’t a real meal without it. Thankfully a lot of people disagree!

  5. Ahmet Korkmaz says:

    “For goodness sake take that rabbit food away I am a vaguetarian now’t to stop me having some of your Chickenburger”.

    Thank you Tom.

  6. L Ryan-Harper says:

    I wouldn’t bother to compare Thoreau’s ambiguity over whether or not to eat meat with his stand against the paying of a poll tax, which he mistakenly thought was a demonstration against the buying (and subsequent eating of) a pole cat, a common error of the day among hermits who dwell beside ponds. Otherwise, I am rather ambivalent in regard to the term “vaguetarianism.” The classification is thus: A vegetarian who eats fish is a piscatarian, one who eats meat is a meatatarian with an order of sides, the fruitarian—eats something, but I now forget— and lastly, the vegetarian who roots in open fields and is known to carry buckshot in his posterior. Further, please note: Henry David marched to the beat of a different drum—this invisible off-beat drum was consistent with Thoreau’s aberrant hearing of voices, a result of prolonged solitude.

    • tommellors says:

      Thanks L Ryan-Harper, I’m always interested to learn something new about Thoreau, and this is definitely something new.

    • E Kent says:

      Tommellors, please note L Ryan-Harper isn’t really saying anything new about Thoreau. It just sounds new because it’s being said with tongue in cheek. (Thoreau was actually very sociable.)

      • L Ryan-Harper says:

        E Kent…when I was young, about 150 years ago, all the kids in my neighborhood used to fish at Walden Pond (our families were staunch White Anglo-Saxon Piscatarians) and we’d throw rocks at Thoreau…he got even by reading aloud from Leaves of Grass…used to read Walden almost as much as the Bible to atone for my stony offense…I knew the man personally and would like to therefore think I am better suited to attest to his nature—but, as he would never return my calls or answer my letters, and hid behind closed shades whenever I dropped by to see him…I’ll just have to take your word that he was actually very sociable…

  7. Megan says:

    Absolutely love it!

    I was a vegetarian for years, but have become vaguetarian in the past year or two–mostly because I want to support small local farmers who have free range and often almost-organic methods. I eat vegetarian/vegan about 98% of the time (vegan just because it happens not to have dairy in it), but will eat meat about once every month or two.

    I’m actually looking to increase my meat intake very slightly. I was just a bit concerned about my kidney beans coming from China and my soy-products coming from “various countries” (which I’m positive aren’t in Europe). Apparently UK climate is ideal for growing lentils, but until that happens, I’ll support small scale farming within Hampshire.

    I think if you’re sticking to other principles, vegetarian or not doesn’t need to be so absolutist.

  8. FINALLY! A name for the way I eat. You said it! It feels so silly, but now I feel almost liberated. How nice. Thanks for that.

  9. markwoff says:

    I read some writer in the Evening subStandard (or it might have been the freebie ‘Stylist’ magazine, they all look the same to me) refer to this as a ‘flexitarian’ diet recently…

    Thoreau, food and words: I quite approve. Terminology aside, the idea of making meat something a bit more special, less of a commonplace, is important. Without necessarily getting all Ted Nugent about it, more respect for any beasts we might eat would not go amiss, as well as the economico-digestive impact.

    These issues probably don’t trouble cats or killer whales, but we do vacillation so well!

    • tommellors says:

      Megan, you’re right about considering other principles when you decide on your diet. As you point out, being flexible about what you eat can let you think about other issues. Great blog by the way – and congratulations on going a year without buying anything new!

      BreadToBeEaten, thanks for your comment!

      Markwoff, I find that I enjoy meat more when I eat it less, so making meat less commonplace is not only good environmentally it can also make meals more delicious. A little more reverence for meat is definitely a good thing.

  10. lilabyrd says:

    Love the post. I was taught the proper diet should be like the seasons…spring and summer light foods like fresh veggies, fruits and little amounts of meats like fish…fall and winter more of the heavier foods like beans, potatoes,rice, pastas, breads and a little more of the meats. Mostly the lighter foods in spring and summer digest better and you feel less waited down in the warmer days and your body stays cooler and in winter the heavier foods give your body the energy to keep warmer…lol..the stick to your ribs motto. Works for me…. :} but I like the term “vaguetarians”…..I can make that work too! Enjoyed the read and the feed back you give! Have a good one….. Lila

    • tommellors says:

      Sounds like good advice Lila. A lot of people are waking up to the joys of eating seasonally. Although I’m not a strict seasonal eater – I’ve eaten a few salads this winter! – I always feel better eating lighter foods in the summer and heavier foods in the winter. Thanks for your comment!

  11. sittingpugs says:

    Why resolve to be vague about something? That’s like resolving to give up chocolate on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Or resolving to give up beer except when you’re at the pub, or at a friend’s, or watching a football game etc.

    That’s not odd or vague at all. Having chocolate only on Tuesdays or beer only in certain social contexts just puts one on a schedule.

    • tommellors says:

      Good point sittingpugs. I wanted to emphasise what is seemingly a contradiction in terms – resolving to be vague. I suppose there’s nothing odd about that really – most politicians do it all the time, and with admirable dedication.

      • sittingpugs says:

        Who doesn’t love a good oxymoron?

        A coworker was explaining to me one day about what he does and doesn’t eat and we both came to the conclusion that the most concise way of expressing his eating habits would be: If it gives off oxygen as a byproduct, he’ll eat it.

  12. karmafreecooking says:

    I like your POV – As a vegetarian myself, I find it hard to understand when people define themselves as vegetarians, but still eat fish/seafood, poultry and such. I like your terminology – Vaguetarian – it’s a nice middle ground when transitioning to a more veggie-centered diet. I will defintely share this with my readers too…

    I agree you should never deny yourself or your inner feelings. Food is something we develop a very strong attachment to from early on and only when your mind is prepared to let go of certains holds, is when you will be able to make lasting changes in your diet… never before. Maybe in a few years, you’ll surprise yourself and will fully enter “the veggie side”. 😉

    • tommellors says:

      I agree, we develop strong attachments to food from a young age. I’m reminded of Itami Juzo’s cult film ‘Tampopo’ – a movie all about food! The final scene shows a mother breastfeeding her baby – it seems to suggest that from the moment, food plays a VERY important role in our lives. Who knows, maybe I will join the ‘veggie side’ one day!

  13. blackwatertown says:

    Vaguetarianism wouldn’t go down well in our house. Though it could make overseas travel a bit more joyful.

  14. julia says:

    Loved this post! “Too wimpy to become full vegetarians and too much like hippies to become carnivores” – our family is actually too much like hippies to become total vegetarians, because we just ADORE free food. We tend to do mostly vegan at home, and then anything goes when other people are serving us. So I call us “freegans with vegan tendencies.”

    • tommellors says:

      Julia, I’m fond of the freegan diet too! Being flexible when other people cook for you can make things a lot easier for your friends. I tend to do this myself, but I see sticking to principles (such as not eating meat) in such situations as a good way too. Whereas I don’t mind the contradiction (in this case), not everyone is comfortable with it. Thanks for your comment by the way!

      Blackwatertown, I agree with you about travelling. I have a friend living in Japan who was always a vegetarian while she lived at home in the States, but when she moved to Japan she became a regular meat eater. If you feel a strict diet will get in the way of an experience (say, experiencing Japanese culture), then vaguetarianism could be the way to go.

  15. Pirogoeth says:

    Interesting concept. But why not just eat less meat and eat more fruits and vegetables like one is supposed to?

    • tommellors says:

      Thanks Pirogoeth, that’s exactly what vaguetarianism is – eating less meat and more fruit & vegetables. Vaguetarianism is just a funny name for it.

  16. Amanda says:

    Good post! I suppose I am a “vaguetarian/flexitarian/whatever” but I do find that if I don’t call myself a VEGEtarian, I am constantly offered meat. At work functions for instance, it’s always turkey or ham sandwich boxed lunches. But since I started using the “V” word people actually make an effort to remember to get something without meat. But I’m never the type to walk around and ask everyone if there’s beef stock in their stuffing. However, at Christmas time or other special occasions, I’ll have some turkey you betcha. But day to day, I really try to be a vegetarian. I guess my point is, it’s good to eat less meat and not be annoying about it.

    • tommellors says:

      It’s funny how some people don’t take your dietary habits seriously unless you adopt a name of some kind. It seems to vary from culture to culture too. I’ve heard that in China, unless you say that you say that you are a Buddhist you will be served meat in restaurants – the term vegetarian doesn’t mean much there.

  17. Why does there have to be a label for everything? Just say you are eating a balance diet and move on. My family eats a plant base diet and occasionally has meat a few times a month. We do not call it anything but normal eating.

    • tommellors says:

      Very good point. This is something you could easily devote a whole blog post (or book even) to. With regard to ‘vaguetarian’, the term can be seen as subversive of labels, in that it plays on ‘vegetarian’, ‘fruitarian’ and other names which have sprung up to refer to eating habits. The question you asked is a much larger one though. While labels can have practical benefits, they can also be very limiting and foster stereotpyes.

  18. Comedy Mike says:

    never heard of this before, interesting – always something new.

  19. Brenda says:

    Thanks for the post, you inspired a post on my own blog (I linked back, thank you again!).

  20. nadiaqh says:

    VERY GOOD! I have been thinking the same thing these past few months. I have a garden blog and I AM eating a lot more veggies and trying to work this out about meat or no meat. I am familiar with the “Freegan” that was posted just before this and that can account for a lot of us I am sure.
    Thought it was great to read a REAL article about going vegan! …. a wordpress garden blog

  21. BadWitch says:

    Formerly a hardcore carnivore, I can swing both ways as long as one of them is Vaguetarian! I find, your body knows what it wants and needs. Shut up, listen and THEN open your mouth informed. Funny one. Thanks!

  22. 1dental says:

    Interesting Article! This really sounds like a great, healthy alternative for people! Thanks for posting 🙂

  23. Diana says:

    great post!!

    i’m such a vaguetarian. mainly because i don’t like most meat… but i’m a philly girl & sometimes i just have to give into a cheesesteak.

    • tommellors says:

      Hi Diana, after a bit of Googling I figured out what you meant – Philidelphia Cheesesteak right? Looks interesting – although the Wikipedia pic isn’t so appetising!

  24. Pamela says:

    Love the discussion. Food seems central to existing….
    Personally, I think the body craves what it lacks, unless we have something like Candida overgrowth, which means we’ll crave sugar, or a magnesium deficiency, which makes us crave chocolate. Of course, being single, other things could have been responsible for that excavation of the Cordial Hershey’s Kisses bag, left over from Christmas.
    After reading how road kill, diseased animals and animals euthanized with sodium pentobarbitol (which does not break down in the body) are part of most pet food, that gives American pets half the life span with kidney and thyroid problems, and knowing this same rendering process is what created mad cow disease in England, meat doesn’t look so great. It helps when I call it eating flesh, instead of meat.

    Grass-eating animals that are being fed other animals are passing the pathogens and drug residues on to humans.
    Americans are said to be the most constipated people on the planet, as meat and dairy have saturated fat and low fiber, so eating more fruit and vegetables and grains is a beneficial choice. Organic and non-GMO are important words for me, too.

    Recently I read on Dr. Mercola’s site where coal plant residues are now being pushed as fertilizers, so lead, arsenic and other heavy metals and toxins can be spread on our soils, kind of like the flouride waste product, sold for a profit and dumped in our water.
    No wonder Thoreau exited. Reality itself is madness.

    • tommellors says:

      Hi Pamela, you raise some good reasons why eating less meat is becoming more important. The best situation is when you know the source of your meat to be good – maybe you raise the animals yourself.

      As for Thoreau, contrary to what somebody said he never actually went insane.

  25. Lo Woodward says:

    Haha- Great point of view on this! As a two-year-strong vegetarian, I gotta say I know how you feel. I actually became a vegetarian because I was so in love with red meat, it was literally was killing me….or at least smothering my arteries. I must mention though, I found the easiest way to go full-on-vegetarian, is just to do it ‘cold turkey’… pun intended. Cold To’furky?

  26. Charlotte says:

    Love the blog – I am also a vaguetarian and find it suits me better than being all out veggie. I have a yummy tomato soup recipe at take a look if you have chance

  27. I have never heard the term vagueatarian before, but have been a practicing one for years! I love it. Thank you for affirming my choices.

    My ex-boyfriend is a vegan, and we had countless arguments about food and what is good for health, money, the planet etc. I constantly insisted that buying local, mostly vegetarian food was a greener choice than some of his processed vegan food from who knows where.

    For example, can you really say that your processed fake bologna, that was shipped across country in a truck was a better ethical choice than the 1/2 dozen eggs I got from my colleague who raises organic fed, free range chickens in her back yard?

    I’m happy to know there are others that eat like me 🙂

    • tommellors says:

      Good point about the fake bologna – it demonstrates that eating ethically is actually much more complicated than simply being vegetarian, or only eating local. Thanks for commenting!

  28. Kloé says:

    Hah, that’s a very interesting way to categorize it! I am an “ex” vegetarian (I stopped eating meat when I saw my parents eating the chicken that was in my barn the day before)and that lasted for about 10 years. Now I eat some meat, but not much. I still have a lot of vegetarian cooking traits in my food, just because I like it. So am I a vaguetarian? well maybe, but who cares? 😉

    – Kloé

    • tommellors says:

      Thanks Kloe, you’re only a vaguetarian if you choose to call yourself one. Names aside, just doing what you’re doing is what matters.

  29. shutterboo says:

    I’ve never heard the term, but I like it. I love myself a good burger but tend to bulk up on the veggies. I guess today is my vague day as I’ve had zero meat. High five!

  30. Lakia says:

    This is hilarious! “Someone who professes to be a non meat eater and fesses up to gobbling (no pun) turkey or chicken etc. Also very keen on fish …..and pork is ok.” I remember watching a movie and them doing this lol. SO FUNNY!

  31. littlearrow says:

    Nice post. I was a vegetarian for five years, and then I moved to South Korea. Vegetarian food options are limited here, and I immediately realized that completely skipping out on meat would mean missing some important cultural experiences. Since I plan to travel for the next few years in countries where meat and fish are central to the regional diet, it looks like I’m a vaugetarian for time being.

    • tommellors says:

      A friend of mine did the same thing when she moved to Japan, and I can sympathise with the decision. Being a vaguetarian definitely overcomes the sticky question of whether or not it is ok to be a vegetarian in the West, but a meat-eater in other countries.

  32. isis420 says:

    I quite like the term vaguetarianism. Where I am from, we used to refer to those people as California vegetarians. My personal favorite is hypocritical hippies… as I have seem more than 5 eating mass-produces processed meat…. craziness.
    Fun read. Thanks

  33. Megan says:

    The problem with “vaguetarian” is that it can include someone who eats bacon occasionally because they really like it, or people who choose ethically sourced meat on occasion as part of a diet based on principles.

    “Locavore” isn’t always the best policy. What about something like “sustain-atarian”? Is that too much of a mouthful? “Eating ethically”?

    And yes, I wish that more people who consider themselves “carnivores” would lean more towards a “vaguetarian” diet.

    • tommellors says:

      For me, that is actually the strength of vaguetarianism. Real life decisions regarding what is ethical are rarely as straight forward as we would like. As you point out, buying local is not always the best policy. There are other ethical considerations, one being that communities in developing countries may depend upon trade with developed countries for their livelihood. Someone else made a similar comment about being a vegetarian, but eating processed food imported from another country – is that more ethical than eating chickens that are reared locally? One key element of vaguetarianism is that is vague. It allows you to consider each choice before deciding what is best.

  34. tengrosita says:

    Thank you very much for this post. A good read indeed.

  35. LucidlyLost says:

    As a vegetarian, I recently made the decision to eat rabbit once or twice a year.

    I based this firm decision on an ecological basis, so wouldn’t classify my self as something vague in this regard.

    Oh, watch this:

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