Today was the day that health related podcasts come up on my listening roll as I drive around running errands. In that podcast there was a discussion with a vegan about what kind of vegan she was. There was a good half hour discussion of the ins and outs of the different kinds of vegans (who knew), and that a relative of her was really a vegan except for one or two things she just had to eat. I ended up being done my errands half of the way through, but the entire dialog was exasperating. I’ve never labeled myself by any particular eating style, if for no other reason than I don’t subscribe to one for any particular length of time. But it did make me wonder why would anyone do that? What are the advantages?
There are certainly disadvantages to picking a label. First, there is all of the energy that goes into figuring out what you are or what are supposed to be. “Am I a lacto-ovo vegetarian because I eat an omlette a couple of times a year but otherwise am vegan, or am I just a straight up vegan?” “I’m Paleo by this book’s formulation, but by this book’s formula I’m poisoning myself into an early grave with one post-Agricultural Revolution foods.”
Once you get through that gauntlet you get to go through all of the potential judging by friends. I’m not talking about people complaining because you are trying to eat a certain way that may not conform with what most of your peers do. I mean the judging like you are a vegan out to eat and are conscientious at most meals to make sure you order all vegan everything, even bring vegan food to parties, yet you didn’t get hysterical when it’s clear they buttered that asparagus when they cooked it. Or, when someone who only eats local doesn’t mind having their chocolate dessert in the North East of the United States (hint, they don’t grow chocolate here).
There is of course a sense of community around the different eating styles. Labeling oneself gives you entry to that community and a group of friends that share your particular food selection choices. But the judging from inside the circle can be worse than the judging from without. I’ve heard horror stories of vegan friends who were shunned and denigrated by former friends who were still vegan for being a sell out, or succumbing to the dark side. Thankfully those are exceptions rather than rules, but when you make your friendship circle about the label of how you are eating then when you change that you ultimately will change that dynamic too.
I have friends that are vegan. I have friends that do Paleo. I have friends who do low-carb stuff with no particular label. I have friends who eat pretty much anything. Sometimes I personally choose to eat nothing but fruits, veggies, and nuts. Sometimes I eat veggies and meat. Sometimes I eat fish and chips, hamburgers, and ice cream sandwiches. I don’t want to feel the pressure of having to align to one particular diet or the other. I don’t want to have to wonder if me eating vegan for six months and then choosing to eat an egg means I’m not vegan, in the same way a straight person is made to wonder if they are really gay because they kissed someone of the same sex once in college.
If I had to choose a label, I guess I’d say I’m an omnivore, or maybe a better term is polyvore. I know that’s not specific enough to be satisfactory to many, but if I had to pick a label that’s the closest I’m comfortable with, but it’s really the equivalent of no label at all.