Thursday, July 23, 2009

Revelry Rant: Labels

Here is the truth:  I hate labeling myself in terms of what I do or do not eat.

I eat about an 85% vegan diet, with some dairy and the occasional seafood meal.  The seafood is doctor ordered; I have dangerously low levels of B12 from some medical problems and my body simply doesn't absorb it from vitamins.  But I do eat organic and I try to buy things that are local and in season whenever possible.

The problem is that, while I do care a lot about animals, I don't eat a lot of them mostly because I think meat is disgusting.   I always have. The very first time my Mom tried to feed me a hamburger, I told her they were gross and looked like worms.  The smell of pork makes me feel ill.  I developed a shellfish allergy later in life.  Reading and research made me give up chicken more recently.  I refuse to cook any meat, fish included, in my house. However, I wear leather, like cheese and I sometimes put honey in my tea. 

The thing is, I hate meat the same way I hate eggs, mustard, watermelon and mayonnaise.  They are all just gross to me.

And that's why I love people like Bryant Terry.  He calls himself a food activist and goes to great pains to distance himself from any label.  "When I reflect on my journey with food, I realize that most of the times when I was naming my diet, it was for other people.  I want to empower people to embrace a more ethical, sustainable and helpful diet without feeling like they have to box themselves into a model," he recently said in an article about his new cookbook, Vegan Soul Kitchen.

Admittedly, it's easier to tell someone I am a vegetarian or a vegan if I am going to their house for dinner.  But neither of those is totally true.  The yogini in me wishes I could be 100% vegan as part of practicing ahimsa, but until those B12 levels stabilize and Sweet Green's froyo stops tasting so delicious, it won't happen.  But I struggle with it within myself and I struggle with explaining to others.  And movies like Food, Inc make me wrestle with that guilt even more.

A label, I guess, is a cognitive shortcut, even if it is an inaccurate one.  And one I dislike.


Anonymous said...

hi lauren! i SO appreciate your post. i totally know where you are coming from. i am not a vegetarian but used to be and i always hated explaining myself to people...and still do. now that i am a nutritionist i still am questioned all the time about what i eat. for me it is an intuitive process. i eat whole organic foods that help my body and give me good energy. as i change, so does what i eat...sometimes daily.

fyi...i take a great vit b! i found it at whole foods and i keep it with me all the time for an extra shot of energy when i need it. it is "B Sublingual TOTAL" ENERGY LIQUID SOLUTIONS. you get 2 bottles per box and it is nice to have one in your purse and one at home. have a beautiful day!!!

Lauren said...

Oh I am so glad you appreciated it! Sometimes I feel like the only one. The opinions and politics surrounding this issues can be so contentious at times.

Thank you for the vitamin b tip! I just ordered some from vitacost, so I will definitely be giving them a try!

City Girl said...

I hear you - I have so hit a point where I don't want to explain anything to anyone anymore when it comes to food. Plus, there's no really easy label to apply to me - ie for the foreseeable future, I am wheat-free, which doesn't mean gluten-free, I am completely dairy-free, which doesn't mean vegan (though for some reason people equate the two, even though being vegan is about so much more than dairy), and after a couple of months of getting my animal protein from fish, I eat meat once a week/once every two weeks, so my pescatarian friends don't know what to do with me.

As for the fact I am on a strict can't eat eggs things for now - well, as it turns out, most people don't think of it as dairy, so what category is it in?

Mainly I want labels to make ordering in a restaurant easier - otherwise, I have zero interest in labeling.

Ok, rant over, thank you for listening :)

Did you read the Nardini article Kiki posted about:

I really identify with it, in so many ways.

Vienna said...

I've always said I am a 'born vegetarian'. As a kid, I just hated meat and milk. I found them disgusting. My mum's weekly struggle and possibly 'brain wash' at some point transformed me into an omnivore and here I am now, eating meat (although I still take soya milk, plainly for health issues). If I am at home on my own I never eat meat. Plainly because I don't find it appealing. However, every now and then I really crave some meat (my body asking for it?) and I feel more energetic when I add some animal protein to my diet. The yogi in me has been popping the vegan question every now and then and the answer is always different. I hate the thought of animals been slaughtered to feed me. I deeply believe in the 'non-harming' principle. However, where does the chain end? I seem to care more for some animals simply because are cute or because they are closer to ourselves, humans. Where does the suffering of a living being start and end? Do plants suffer? Is it actually possible and sustainable living a completely vegan life and being healthy? What happens with clothes, shoes and any other aspects of our current lifestyle? I'm only asking this questions to myself. I think everyone is different and I like the 'intuitive approach' mentioned by Kate. Whatever you eat is your personal individual decision and you shouldn't have to be continuously justifying it to the world. As Kiki said in yesterday's post: 'Live and let eat'.

Spinning Ginny said...

Well, you don't like pork and you have a shellfish allergy---dood, keeping Kosher could be so easy for you!

green ink said...

I really appreciated this post too Lauren. I eat a diet almost identical to yours, and in the past have found myself getting very upset and defensive when other people have judged me for not being a "real" vegetarian/vegan just because of a few choices I have made to not only to make life a bit easier, but to make this way of life make sense for me, not a strict adherence to "rules". Being obsessive or extreme about anything is never a good thing, I think.

At the end of the day, I believe in listening to my body, but also in doing my bit for the sustainable future of this planet. I'd like to think I'm succeeding with both.

Thank you once again for sharing your thoughts so articulately. x

dharmagirl said...

my brother dubbed me a vegetarian who eats bacon. ha! how's that for a crazy label?!? you raise a great point here that labels are mostly for others, to give them a tag, or handle, to grasp as they come to terms with our food choices. i appreciate that people eat what they do for a wide variety of reasons, and what i wish is that *everyone* would be more mindful of what they eat, no matter what it might be, because it matters in so many different ways to so many different people...that's my mini-rant of the day:)

i'm looking forward to seeing what goodies you make from the vegan cookbook!