From a sociopolitical standpoint, I appreciate and understand identity politics.
Without it, groups of disenfranchised or oppressed individuals would not be able to band together and gain power and strength by celebrating their differences and mobilizing.
In nutrition, though, I often see a more destructive — rather than constructive — side to identity politics.
I often experience it when meeting people for the first time in any context where a meal is served.
They’ll notice the absence of red meat or chicken on my plate and ask, “Are you vegetarian?”
I find the phrasing of the question most interesting. It doesn’t come from a place of wanting to learn or truly know more (i.e.: “what do you normally eat?” or “do you eat meat?”), but rather from one of “what pigeonhole can I stick you in?”
I also find it quite fascinating that just one meatless meal is apparently such a foreign concept to some individuals that their only logical thought is that the person eating this way must be vegetarian.
Here’s another example: over the past year and a half, I have incorporated various raw food dishes into my diet.
I recently met a friend for coffee. Prior to our meeting, I stopped by a local health food store and bought a slice of raw, vegan key lime pie.
No sooner had I taken my first bite when my friend asked, “Are you raw now?”
Obviousness aside (I was drinking a latte along with that slice of pie, so clearly the answer was “no”), I once again was faced with this concept of dietary branding.
Similarly, I see the self-induced pressure many of my clients face when they become interested in a particular style of eating (say, vegan) and begin to embrace it.
Some have described feeling “bad” about the fact that they may sprinkle a teaspoon of Parmesan cheese over their pasta when they go out to an Italian restaurant a few times a month, even though they otherwise eat in a way that is completely in line with their principles.
If a pre-existing dietary mold does not entirely work for you, then define your own diet.
Perhaps the optimal way of eating for you is one that is entirely vegan, except for the three or four times a year that you enjoy tuna sashimi at a top-notch sushi restaurant.
Or, you are a “localvore” who exclusively eats foods grown within a 100-mile radius, but makes exceptions for pineapples and bananas.
There is no reason to feel shame or a sense of failure because you “broke” some sort of pre-defined universal code.
And, if anyone ever asks what “you are”, explain you eschew dietary labels and instead eat a diet that you found to be optimal for YOU.