Last week Dryst and I went to a BBQ sponsored by his soccer league. We knew the menu involved hot dogs and hamburgers and had been asked to bring a bag of chips to contribute. When it was time to eat, I filled my plate with green salad, a bit of pasta salad, Sun chips, and some fresh fruit. I grabbed a bottle of water and sat down on the grass to eat. While I was enjoying my simple meal, I had a realization.
I've been a vegetarian for many years now and both my kids were raised that way from birth. They've each maybe tried fish once or twice, and that's it. But a few years ago, I would have felt unfairly ignored at such an event. My friends and I would have, faced with a similar situation, brought some veggie burgers and asked the guys at the grill to prepare them for us or at least packed some food in a cooler that we could have. I was pleased to realize that, instead of making a fuss, I could easily meet my own needs at such an event, enjoying a simple salad and fresh fruits.
Rather than labeling ourselves, which is a human tendency, I think it may work better to simply eat what appeals to us. Our food needs evolve as we grow and change throughout our lives. There are many people in my life who have recently made big adjustments to their eating habits: a family who ate primarily vegetarian or vegan for years recently added local meats to their diet; my Dad changed his entire way of eating after a heart attack two years ago; and a woman now craves (and enjoys) eggs after not being able to tolerate them for years of vegetarian eating. After a recent illness, I've re-introduced yogurt to my primarily-vegan diet (see, there's that label thing again!), and it's working well for me.
I think when we limit ourselves to a label based on what we eat, while the shorthand is sometimes helpful, we can put ourselves in a box where some foods are "bad" and some are "good." I personally have no plans to eat meat (because it doesn't appeal to me at all), but the addition of some yogurt or butter to what I eat doesn't mean I'm a "bad vegan." I eat what my body asks for and, like everyone, that changes and shifts over time.
And with this relaxed self-definition, I feel more comfortable allowing myself to eat what feels right, without worrying what anyone else thinks about it. It feels great! Why stop at food labels? Maybe there are other self-designed boxes I can simply step outside...