Monday, September 15, 2014

Are you vegan, vegetarian, paleo? Shush….

I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief. ~ Gerry Spence

Last week I sat in a new doctor’s waiting room filling out paperwork. It was standard stuff past medical history, family history, medication information (none for me) etc. Then there was a section about exercise and eating. I described my exercise routine, vitamin regime and then stopped at a question you would think was up my alley. The question asked “are you a ” and then listed various dietary regimes such as vegetarian, vegan, kosher and a few others. I settled on something to the effect of balanced eater.

The truth is I don’t subscribe to any particular dietary camp. I’m allergic to wheat, seek out organic produce and wild fish, love certain things paleo (but also like legumes and dairy) and I enjoy perusing raw food blogs and juice daily.  I was reminded of the blogger previously known as The Blonde Vegan whose story received a lot of attention this summer.  For serious personal reasons, this blogger transitioned away from a strictly vegan diet and switched the name of her platform to the Balanced Blonde. She received criticism and threats in the process for not being strictly vegan. 
 Last month a study and corresponding article in the New York Times about low carb versus lowfat made the rounds and I cringed again. The term low carb seems as outdated as low fat. Shouldn’t the conversation be about which carbs are best to eat and the right fats? 

My friend and colleague Ashley Koff has a term “qualitarian” which resonates with me but all of this segregation reminds me a little of why I am a more spiritual person than a religious one. Both religion and nutrition should be about improvement and for me it’s individual with aspects from various faiths and dietary regimes resonating with me.  And let's be clear you can have someone who's a junky gluten free eater subsisting on potato starch-laden products or a vegan mainlining white, bready items.

Why do we need the labels? I can only think the descriptions make sense when someone else is preparing your food. I go to a restaurant and mention my allergy or "gluten free", I can imagine “vegan” makes things cut and dry as well. Although I am fine with eating fish, meat and dairy I understand the desire to exclude all animal products. The second we’re judging someone as not vegan enough or devout enough we’re focusing on exclusion and that to me isn’t healthy.
How do you describe your eating? Are you a ________? Why do you think these camps or terms have become so popular? 

15 comments:

  1. love this i absolutely think putting a label on it leads to guilt and poorer eating habits. years ago pre-nutrition school i went vegan and sustained on horrible cereal and "vegan" crap you dont want to know about... i do think it can make all the food noise and confusion simpler for people but also is super restricting.

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  2. agreed- you don't even want to know about my fat free college eating. The truth is some are 100% paleo or vegan and feel great. I, for example, feel better sans gluten but I just don't think we have to lead with "I'm this" etc. And I love experiments- we quit sugar and it was fun but not necessarily long term for me.

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  3. I think people often need guidelines and labels to help them stick to something, even if they don't stick to it 100%. I consider myself a pescetarian, but that doesn't even begin to define all of the things I will or will not eat, due to various reasons.
    Sometimes I wish I could just go back to my pre-Maya way of eating, which was to eat everything and not get a stomach ache / eczema. The good old days...

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  4. THANK YOU for this great post! The labels are so guilt-inducive! When I went vegan for 1.5 years, I felt like I was lacking in self-control and willpower when I was craving fish and dairy... Guidelines are helpful, but the nutritional information in the media is too much "either/or"... It was not until I started seeing you that I discovered which dairy was OK, and in what quantities... Yay to enjoying vegan dishes, along with fish and no nonfat dairy!!

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  5. I am so with you—I think labels are ridiculous, though I can see how they're helpful when it comes to settings like restaurants or for people dealing with allergies/intolerances. Sometimes I've wondered if labels are popular because they allow people to find others like them—some way of forming/finding a community? When we start judging others for their food beliefs or habits is the ugly side of that, though.

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  6. Veganism is not a diet. Vegans eat a plant-based diet, but Veganism encompasses far more than just diet. The label is important because it clearly communicates to people the concept, and prevents a lot of misunderstandings and problems. When people appropriate the term for their own selfish ends, such as saying they are Vegan but eating honey/riding horses/wearing leather, it creates a lot of confusion and causes issues for people who actually are Vegan.

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  7. Thank you for commenting Athonwy. I don't consider vegan a diet and I do see that it is a good tool for communication. My issues is this, let's say (as with your example) someone does not eat animal products (honey included) but for them feels it ok to ride horses- are they not vegan?

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  8. Well that's interesting because I will search farm to table restaurants when going to a new city (or vegan or raw food) and I so sometimes look at what's new under a hashtag such as gluten free so it can be a way to "network". Even in the comment before you though Jess everyone has their own criteria for various lifestyles and it can get judgey and cultish.

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  9. Right so many clients say "should I eat dairy" or "should I have meat" of course these are personal decisions but to me each group of food has a hierarchy. Why can't you go vegan and then decide that for you fish works. Is fish a weakness?

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  10. No, a person who rides horses would not be considered as living a Vegan lifestyle. Veganism eschews all animal exploitation. Now, I'm sure there are one-in-a-million situations where a Vegan person might need to ride a horse, such as to quickly get the animal to safety, for instance, but barring those highly unlikely scenarios (desert island scenarios, really) riding horses is not considered Vegan.

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  11. See I think that's unfortunate. To me that's akin to a religious establishment saying if you don't attend church or temple or aren't ultra religious than you're not Jewish or Catholic enough. Someone can love animals, believe in the "lifestyle" and also have personal exceptions that seem right for them. After all, wouldn't you want someone doing the right/"vegan" think 90% of the time versus not at all?

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  12. Richard the Big BunnySeptember 16, 2014 at 7:47 AM

    For me, veganism is NOT a diet. It's about living with kindness & compassion and not exploiting animals — especially when eating animal flesh & their excretions is not necessary for superior health and there are SO MANY other food choices that don't involve animal exploitation.

    Part of me really hates 'trendy veganism' — yes, it gets the message out there but, all those failures by folks whose hearts were never in it to begin with, those people validate everyone who won't even try to live more compassionately.

    In my opinion, if you can be vegan (ie, you don't live in an urban impoverished 'food desert' or on that much-mentioned imaginary desert island) then you should be vegan. It's just what kind & compassionate people do. Do not ever tell me you love animals while you eat pork BBQ at the dog & cat shelter fund raiser! Little is more enraging to me than that.

    As for labels, I make fun of them and have fun with them. As I am genuinely a gay vegan atheist feminist geek with a dodgy hybrid accent, I thought humour was the best avenue! :-)

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  13. Even if it's not a diet it's a label. So here's my question- you mention "trying to live more compassionately" which I love. Is veganism the only way? Perhaps there are ways to take steps without being 100% anything. And I so appreciate humor, totally the best avenue.

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  14. unrelated, but Lauren- would love to hear your thoughts on how much is too much protein. In your book, you suggest eating one "carb" (in quotes because this doesn't include vegetables) and one fruit a day, which for me, translates into low carb eating. That usually leads to me eating more protein. Ashley Koff was recently on Fox 5 talking about how much protein is too much. I would love to hear YOUR thoughts on this!

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  15. My eating style has no labels.... I just call it The GiGi Regime! It works for me, for the most part and gives me tons and tons of energy! Now some might find my lifestyle incredibly restrictive but that's because I have to be thanks to food intolerances and allergies... But regardless, I love food more than..... Yeaaaaa ha ha ah ah! And each to their own!!

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