Friday, May 6, 2011

What's In a Name? Vegan, Vegetarian, Raw, Plant-Strong, Nutritarian

I want to introduce to everyone a very special guest blogger. She's a little gun shy about blogging publicly, but boy does she have a lot of very interesting thoughts about healthy eating. Please give a warm welcome to my friend, Chris-Anna.

Most of us seem to like labels to some degree. It helps us to know where we are in this huge world. Who are you? Who am I? What am I eating exactly?

I have worn many food hats (vegetarian, whole food, natural, unprocessed, etc.) over the years and they have all been problematic for one reason or another.

Why do I look for a label in the first place…..good question. In the past it has helped identify for myself what I want to do or what statement I’d like to make. Sometime I am mostly focused on eating “healthy” foods, sometimes it is about the environment, sometimes it is the way I would like to see myself. Labels have given me identity and rules to follow.

Over the past 20 years or so, I have come to realize I don’t need or even want any labels. It’s too restrictive and unnecessary. I have been to many dinners where the host was graciously attempting to honor my label, but would make food I did not want to eat… what? Likewise, I have served meals that my guests were not so thrilled about (who knew so many people don’t eat beans?)

So if I don’t have a food label, what are my food rules now? I try to eat mostly veggies and whole grains. I would say this is about 80% of my meals. The other 20% varies week to week. My biggest weakness is cheese. Because my kids eat it, I am around it regularly. It is beyond me to throw out DELICIOUS mac and cheese…….I MUST finish it if they don’t. Maybe two times in a year will I eat a full portion, but I will “finish” portions about once a week or so.

My main goal is to be healthy. Of course, consuming very little animal protein also helps the environment. That is great, but not why I am doing this. After reading and reading about this subject for decades, I have come to the conclusion that vegan, raw, or other super-restrictive labels are not necessary for where I am in my life right now. I do dry or stock sauté when at home, but I eat out and don’t ask how things are prepared. I know they have oil and salt and I’m okay with that. I use soy creamer, but will use milk when out if soy is not available. I buy mostly organic fruits and veggies, but go to other people’s home and eat whatever they have, happily.

Should I mention “plant strong”? It may fit me, but do I even want that?

What about you? Do you like having a label? Do you like not having a label? Has wearing a label caused you any problems?


Evan Thomas said...

I love this post, and I'm all for ditching the labels. My view is "Food labels are only good for weddings and airline food."

Danielle said...

I feel like I've gone through many phases too- vegetarian, vegan, whole foods, unprocessed, etc. A strange thing happened after I tried to follow Dr. Fuhrman's diet the first time around and cut many things out that I labeled as unhealthy- I ended up binging on food...and then became bulimic. It was really difficult. I'm not saying that restricting types of food was the cause but it didn't help. I now focus on eating as much plant based unprocessed foods as possible but I look at food as neither black nor white, but on a rainbow. Right now no food is off limits. It seems to keep me more relaxed around food. I am still in the process of learning and maintaining a healthy weight, but for now I am so grateful for my flexibility.

Wendy (Healthy Girl) said...

Personally, I do really like the labels "Plant Strong" and "Nutritarian." They do not have the limiting effect of the other labels. It's not about restriction as much as it is about addition of as many veggies, fruits and beans into your diet as possible. They also connote that for me, this is about my health (although any positive effects for animal and environmental welfare are very welcome) first and foremost. I also gave up feeling guilty about eating something that is animal based on occassion and even eating conventional dessert on occassion. The worst thing would be for this to become some kind of prision that resulted in binging. For me, this is freedom from food addiction, not furthering a food addiction. It's important for people to get to a place of ease with food. Keep experimenting and it will happen!

Sindy said...

Way to go Chris! LOVE the post. I'm am so conflicted about this one. I crave rules but then rebel against them and feel guilty. I'm a "vegan" but sometimes I "cheat" (coconut cupcake last night) and then feel badly about it. I probably should let go of the label, but something about it is strangely comforting for me. Maybe I'm scared that if I don't have a label, I'll be out of control and eat everything in sight. Hmm, I would love to explore this further.

Virtually Vegan Mama said...

Amazing Blog Post Chris and Than you Wendy for this as well. Here I am, Virtually Vegan Mama. You have pretty much summed up my feelings on the subject. I have a tough time with labels too. Virtually Vegan means my family and I follow a diet that is essentially meat free. I would like to have jumped right in there and made everyone 100% vegan, but I’ve tried it before and it hasn’t worked. It’s our daily choices that have changed our health and well-being by following an “almost” vegan diet. Our health is of the upmost importance to us and we incorporate a 90/10, and it's probably more of an 80/20 rule. If we choose to eat meat, I make sure it’s free-range organic chicken, for example. I want our non-vegan foods to be raised with care and of the highest quality. I am slowly working these out of our diet – it’s easier for me than the rest of the family –I do not freak out if my children eat ice cream or chicken nuggets. I am happiest with the small changes I am seeing in my home. My children now request Hemp Milk or Almond Milk over Cow’s Milk and will ask for a piece of fruit rather than candy (they still love candy and such, and eat it, they are kids, I don't have a problem with this). Wendy, I can't resist the bite of Mac n Cheese either, cheese is the hardest for me. I dream about melty brie with roasted garlic, crust baguette sometimes ;)

Now this has been on my mind...

I will make a recipe that is downright ridiculously delicious and the minute the label "it's vegan" is attached to it, some people will either stop eating (who were honestly enjoying it) and some will not even touch it. I still have not even figured out the whole psychology behind this one? Want to touch on that Wendy? Anyone else experience this?

JL goes Vegan said...

I'm not all that concerned with what people call themselves but labels do exist for a reason. They are descriptive. Vegan, for me, means I don't eat animal-based products. It's a necessary term to use when it restaurants, shopping, etc to prevent consuming an animal product. I don't think label limits or defines me--it's simply true.

Susan TBA said...

This post completely resonated with me. I like the label "almost vegan." I am completely vegan at home, but like you, when I go out, I'm content to be careful but not fanatical. I went out with my son and he ordered a lamb appetizer and I tasted it. Amazingly, lightening didn't strike!

deana said...

i think that sometimes the available labels just don't explain things well enough. i like the label 'vegan' because it describes my entire lifestyle rather than just my diet. but to label my diet 'vegan' doesn't completely explain the way i eat, but i think it's the closest there is. of course "vegan nutritarian" would describe me well, except that not many people know what nutritarian means :).
labels are inherently limiting i guess because there are so many shades of gray...

JL goes Vegan said...

Susan, in some ways your comment is exactly why I do like a label.

The word vegan is not just about diet/healthy diet: "the word "veganism" denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment." (Vegan Society)

So, sure, I could eat lamb and survive the experience. But I couldn't bear how I would feel emotionally about eating a a creature that died so I could eat it. That's what vegan means to me.

Perhaps the term "almost plant-based" actually does make more sense?

Lani Muelrath said...

I can't help but think if we are afraid of being labeled that we ourselves must be quite judgemental about others via our perception of their 'label'. Just off the top.

Other than that, it's important to cultivate value in your own choice and decisions. How strong is your commitment?

Where does integrity of choice for you waver, so that you would be able to avoid taking a stand?

What 'label' do you fear, and why? What is the worst thing that could happen?

Are you afraid of being labeled as wearing a certain type of shoe? Of course not.

Reading through the responses, it's clear that by not complying closely with an ideal, you can actually do anything you want when the mood hits because you haven't take a stand. of course it feels "more relaxed" - there's no ideal to which to aspire if anything goes. No one's saying that's wrong, it's just an observation.

I don't think most people 'label' themselves. Perhaps it's a semantic issue, but I use words to describe my choices and ideals that can help others understand. The whole question of 'label' doesn't quite connect with how I think about it.

In closing, there is an overtone in several of the posts on this thread of wanting to distance themselves from a vegan diet, or 'not be fanatical'. This kind of thinking perpetuates misunderstanding and polarity, and the more matter-of-fact we become about it, the better. After all, bypass surgery, kidney dialysis, stents, and angioplasty are far more 'extreme' than simply leaving animal products off your plate.

Ruchi Koval said...

The only major food rule I follow is Kosher. I am 100% with it, there will never be vacillating. But this complete certainty doesn't meander into other food arenas. I've read "Eat to Live" and love it; but I've already seen that my food habits are much healthier, both physically and emotionally, when I have fewer food rules and therefore just think about food a whole lot less in general. This is a really interesting post. Thanks Wendy and Chris!

Babs said...

I just love this site - I almost always feel like I'm surrounded by people who are on the same page as I am. Chris thanks so much for this post - I really related to it and it's comforting to know that I am not the only one that struggles with labels.

Also comforting to know that right now - my main focus just needs to be on eating mostly veggies, fruits and whole grains.

And, aha - I'm trying something new: asking my body (and then listening to the answer) what it needs and then choosing that. It's taking awhile to be able to feel it, but it's starting to happen. My body is much more pragmatic about food choices than my brain is. It's quite a relief.

Anonymous said...

I agree with JL goes Vegan. Veganism is a philosophy as much as it is a diet, and - in my view - you either are a vegan or you are not.

If you eat a mostly vegan diet but indulge in chicken, lamb or cheese, you are not a vegan... not even close!

I wear my vegan label with pride.

Wendy (Healthy Girl) said...

Re: the last comment by Anonymous-That is exactly why I don't want to give myself the label of "Vegan" and prefer to call myself a "Nutritarian" and "Plant-Strong." To me, Vegan connotes much more than what you eat and extends to the clothing and shoes that you purchase/wear and the cosmetics and other products that you buy. While I support Veganism 100%, I would be a hypocrite to call myself a vegan. There is leather in my closet and I don't educate myself before I purchase cosmetics. And, I do eat food that has some animal content some of the time--generally on special occassions in social settings. But I do strive to eat as little animal as possible--both for my health and for the welfare of animals and the planet. But I'd be falsely labeling myself a Vegan at this point.

Personally, I do support the use of labels and have no problem with them, as long as they are accurate!

katshealthcorner said...

I absolutely LOVE this! :) I don't like to put a label on myself either, but I agree with you Wendy. Nutritarian and Plant Strong -- those you are just striving to eat as many nutrient dense foods as possible. :) It also allows those little splurges once in a while.

Mimo @ PlateFullofPlants said...

Wow and I thought I was the only one challenged by this! Since discovering how much healthier my life can be when its plant based, I haven't touched animal products but I know that once I'm more accustomed to eating enough fruits and veggies, I too will allow myself a bit of dairy (I love goat cheese!) and the rare piece of meat. I tend to think that since vegans need B12 supplements, animal products are a necessary addition to my diet. For now, I'm owning Nutritarian although it's a bit more challenging to explain that word to friends.

Sybil Mays said...

Virtually Vegan Mama touched on a real strong point for me. The "ick, ick" reaction to anything that's labelled vegetarian or vegan. For those of us oldsters who remember the first veggie wave back in the 70's when most of the food really was pretty terrible: leaden, lentil loafs, overcooked grains, two-ton breads, plain tasteless tofu.... it left its mark on perceptions of vegan and vegetarian food.

Someone coined the phrase "vegan-ish" which hilariously tags pretty much what I am. I fall off the wagon, but I keep trotting alongside!

There is a wonderful phrase (word?) Kai-sen, which I'm told translates into 'improving by continually making small changes'. Probably the equivalent of "tweaking" in English but it sounds much more.... enlightened! :D Anyway, I figure that every healthy choice I make counts and offsets the less nutritious option I could have taken. And so we change... one small step and another small step.... Kai-sen.

Wendy said...

That is a beautiful idea! Thank you for sharing it.

wendy said...

I do like the concepts of Plant Strong and
nutritarian--to describe my primary dietary focus. I also appreciate the comment that if you are a vegan that it really is a commitment all the way not just by the foods you eat, but what other items you bring into your life. I don't want to feel like I am 'cheating' if I make a choice that doesn't follow some defined, labelled food plan. I also would rather eat fish or chicken (free range of course)than have something vegan that looks like meat or cheese. Kaizan! I like that philosophy!

vegan girl said...

All words are labels. Lets think about that for a second. ;) Some labels such as "nut-free" "lactose intolerant" etc are extremely important for people with alergies... And then we have labels such as vegan or christian or liberal that are "lifestyle" labels.

For me personally "vegan" label makes my life easier when I'm shopping for food or products and looking for stuff that is animal-free and not tested on animals. I don't feel restricted wearing that label, it's extremely helpful for many of us who try to avoid supporting animal suffering.

I believe that's why labels exist- they are supposed to help you in making the choices you decided to make. But if you eat fish and call yourself a vegetarian, well thats only going to confuse everyone around you and isn't going to help you at all. ;)

Chris said...

First of all WOW! I am amazed by all the meaningful, thought provoking comments here. What an incredible community!

I'd like to address everyone directly, but for time will summerize. By saying I don't want a label, I have just labelled my self "non-labeled." While this miht be seen as just semantical, I am also making a statement about myself and the food world. It is somewhat complicated.

I tend to be a bit of a zealot about things I am into, food, yoga, spritual growth, etc., so making a "commitment" to something I believe in is not hard for me. What I have learned over the past 20+ years is that our understanding of food and our bodies is evolving. I feel confident that eating a mostly plant/bean/whole grain diet is healthy. I have "loosened-up" for many reasons as indicated in my post. I do not feel like I need a strict/no animal protein/no refined oil diet. Maybe in the future I will feel differently.

Sybil, I have to shout out to you.....I LOVE what you wrote!

Thanks to everyone for thinking about this and contributing your thoughts.

Amy said...

Love what Sybil wrote. That is exactly me!

Blogging tips