This honestly is a post I have been wanting to write for such a long time. It really is something that is near and dear to my heart, and has changed how I interact with food, and my mindset around food in general.
I guess though that I should preface this by saying that this post is about why I don't do labels NOW, because I definitely was all about them in the past. This is a transformative journey, and I want to make sure you know that right from the very beginning.
I feel that especially in the "nutrition" and "healthy living world" labels are something that really matter, and become a part of who we are, but even more so who we identify as. We are Paleo followers, Vegans, Vegetarians, Pescetarians, Omnivores, Carnivores, Raw Foodists, FODMAP followers, you name it we have a label for it. And while a lot of these labels have done a lot of good in helping people find a diet and a life style that works for them, in many ways I find labels to be very restrictive, and take away the ability to eat intuitively.
So why don't I do labels, well I guess I should start with when I did do labels, and how I transitioned from someone who very strongly identified with labels and why I decided for myself to let those labels go.
When I was in high school I began my journey towards vegetarianism, I began to educate myself on the American meat system and realized that it just wasn't something that I wanted to support. I honestly didn't enter into my vegetarian life style out of an overwhelming desire to save all the animals in the world, although my discomfort with animal cruelty in the American meat system definitely grew over time, but originally for me it was much more about the effect the system had on the environment, the large scale structure of the system, and the little belief that I had in believing that I needed meat to be healthy. So I began to cut out all meat products (I'm talking chicken, pork, red meat) and continued to eat only fish and some dairy. At this point I guess you could say that I was a Pescetarian. I really have always loved fish and living in a fishing town I didn't really have an issue with the system used to catch the fish locally and buy it fresh the day it was caught.
Over time however, when I entered into college I began to become more and more uncomfortable with eating fish and dairy products such as eggs. I didn't like purchasing fish from school, and I began to just form a very strong discomfort around the practice of eating eggs. It was in my sophomore year that I transitioned into a vegan lifestyle and began to practice a true vegan diet that honestly just wasn't healthy for me at the time.
I was in college and not supplementing my diet adequately for a vegan diet at all! I honestly look back on how I ate as a vegan and cannot believe how unhealthy I was, and how many nutrients were lacking from my diet (um hello B12!!!). Now with that said, practicing a vegan diet can absolutely be done in a healthy manner, and I know if I wanted to I could transition back to a vegan lifestyle now and be healthy. However, at that point it time it just was not a lifestyle that supported me. It was during this time that I also found out that I had celiac disease, which made my food options even more limited. My very thick hair began to thin, and it was one day when my Mom noticed how thin my ponytail was and pointed it out to me that I knew I needed to move back to more of a vegetarian way of eating.
So I added eggs and some dairy that I could handle (I have very high lactose intolerance, but I could manage aged cheeses such as parmesan) back into my diet and immediately my hair started to become thick again. I continued to practice a vegetarian diet for a few more years until just about a year ago when I began to feel this desire to begin to incorporate fish back into my diet again. At this point I had been studying nutrition and learning so much about food systems that I really believed that fish was one of those foods that could benefit my diet, and would be one that I could support environmentally. So I started slowly and began to purchase local shellfish from my local fishermen, which I seemed to transition to pretty easily. Now eating an actual fish after almost 6 years of being entirely "meat" free was another story. It took me a long time, and to be honest I still sometimes just cant get my mind around it, but knowing how good local, responsibly caught, wild fish is for me makes it easier to include into my diet.
Now after that long winded story I am going to get to why I don't do labels now...I applaud you if you are still reading :)
As I began to study more and more about nutrition, and learn more about managing a celiac disease friendly diet, I became interested in intuitive eating. There was one point when I said to myself that if I decided that I wanted one of my Italian grandmothers meat balls then I am going to have it, or if I desire a piece of fish then I will eat it, enjoy it, respect it, and feel good about my decision. Trying to put a label around the direction my diet was moving in became too stressful and limiting for me that I knew it just wasn't right for me to live by a label anymore. This did not mean however that I was going to let someone pressure me into eating meat if I didn't want to, and I honestly have not eaten what I consider to be "meat" ie chicken, pork, red meat since I became a vegetarian back in high school.
What I mean by pressure is that, when you don't eat meat there is a lot of influence from outside people (strangers or friends and family) to enforce their views or beliefs on you as to why you should eat meat. And while I know that there are many non-meat eaters who are very preachy and judgemental of carnivores, I have never been one of them.
I respect my choice, and I respect yours, and if you want to learn from me and allow me to explain my choice in a judgement free zone then by all means I will talk to you about my diet choices, but I refuse to engage in conversations around my diet that are aggressive. I mean I am marrying a carnivore, and I come from a large Italian family of meat eaters, there just is no way I would have maintained as positive of a relationship with them all as a non-meat eater if I went around judging my family all the time.
This goes for the non-meat eating community as well. I have found at times that it can be very stressful to live up to exclusive vegan or vegetarian expectations in this community, and I never want to offend anyone. With that said, I also find it difficult when I am criticized for not eating a perfect vegan or vegetarian diet 100% of the time, especially since I do not claim to be the perfect vegan or the perfect vegetarian. We all need a little more love and respect out there and the world will be a much happier place :)
With that said, most of my recipes are however labeled. In my opinion just because I do not label my own diet, does not mean that I cannot label a recipe. Labeling a recipe as vegan is helpful to those who want to find an animal product free recipe, and labeling a recipe as gluten-free also makes it easier for a person who is looking for a celiac disease friendly treat. While gluten-free is a label that I am stuck with due to my celiac disease, I just want to make sure that I address how different labeling a recipe and labeling a person are. You can enjoy vegan recipes and not be a vegan, just like you can enjoy gluten-free recipes and not have celiac disease. A recipe is never going to have an intuitive thought, or feel restricted by a particular diet...at least not that we know of :)
To be honest at this point in my life my diet if you really need to know is probably 95% vegan, and 5% fish, eggs, and some dairy products. But none of that matters, I do not need a label to feel complete, defined, or important anymore. My ability to feel confident in my own food choices is enough for me, and if you are feeling restricted by the labels you have placed on yourself and your way of eating and living, I encourage you to think about losing the labels and living a life that is governed by your own beliefs and intuitive desires. You may find that you still are a vegan, but not because you should be, or have been for so long. It will be because this is what your body desires, and you do not need a label to live intuitively.
Thank you for reading and respecting my perspective on dietary labels. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments!!