Being “Mostly Vegetarian” and the Logic of Adopting Labels

Earlier in the year, I decided to become “Vegetarian.” I’m not here to debate the pros in cons of that. The truth is, this habit came the way most health-related things come to me. I heard about it, did some research and decided it was worth a try. Sometimes, my experiments putter out, like that month I tried Insanity. Other times they stick. That’s where I am with vegetarianism.

I rarely tell people I’m a vegetarian unless it comes up. Even then, it depends on who they are. I’m not 100% vegetarian, but it’s easier to tell people I am than it is to explain everything. To actual vegetarians, I’d label myself “mostly vegetarian” or “kind of vegetarian.”

It reminds me of the documentary Vegucated. It’s on Netflix and I highly recommend it. Like anything, it has its bias, but it’s interesting to see the common practices behind our meat processing industry. The core story follows three avid meat eaters as they go vegan for a few weeks. By the end, all three choose to keep most of the change, calling themselves “mostly vegan” or “mostly vegetarian.” That’s where I am and that’s okay. I’m not in it for the label.

I’ve felt awesome these past months and am happy that my weight has largely stabilized without the headache of calorie counting. I’ve discovered new favorite foods I would have never tried before (here’s looking at you artichokes). To those few people who I have fully explain my eating habits to, I’m an anomaly. I’m not a real vegetarian because I don’t follow all the rules.

We are all a bit obsessed with our labels. People don’t understand making a radical change without attaching something to it. If your eating habits are what you change, people don’t accept that a person is mostly anything. They are either paleo or not, vegetarian or not, pescatarian or not. If you fall in the “not” category, people don’t understand why someone might still eat like they are most of the time.

This photo, “Vegtables 2” is copyright (c) 2014 Lee Netherton and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license
This photo, “Vegtables 2” is copyright (c) 2014 Lee Netherton and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license

It’s all or nothing in this country. If you tell people you are sort of, kind of or mostly anything, they treat you like your preference doesn’t exist at all. I see people do it with diets all the time. A person changes their eating habits, loses weight, then drops the label and gains it all back. What would happen if they kept their label, the only sign their diet was over being the increased portion sizes and the addition of a few extra treats here and there. The struggle with maintaining weight after a diet is how much sugary, salty, fried food is put in front of us the moment a diet ends. That’s why diets don’t work. You have to make a lifestyle change.

I’m using eating habits for all  my examples, but it relates to anything. Take all my nerdy habits, for example. When I am  around non-nerdy people, I’m as nerdy as they come. Nerdiness seems to ooze from me. Then, when I talk to fellow nerds, I suddenly feel unworthy of the title. There are people who have played more games than I have or watched more anime than I have. I will feel less than nerdy until I encounter a non-nerdy person again. Only then does it again become clear that the label of nerd fits me well.

People like to try on labels. They try different fitness routines, eating habits, hobbies or music. Often, we feel compelled to go all the way or do nothing at all. Insanity is a fitness routine with daily workouts. Even thought the DVDs tell you to go at your own pace and take breaks between workouts if you need to, people are likely to feel discouraged if they can’t do the workouts every day.

Our labels do have an up side. They make it easier for us to categorize ourselves and others. That’s why, when I asked my pagan friend more in-depth questions about her beliefs she said it would take to long to explain. It was easier for her to say simply say she was pagan. People knew how to categorize that and that category was close enough to the truth for her to take on that label.

I guess that’s why I’ve adopted the labels of vegetarian and nerd. While I don’t follow all the rules of those labels, or most other labels I associate with, it’s easier to explain to people. The boxes they put me in with those labels are close enough to the truth. Besides, I’m not in it for the label.

Do you label yourself as anything that doesn’t fit you 100%? Do you do so because it’s easier or to motivate yourself? Do you think people would accept a lifestyle change over a diet? Why are we so obsessed with labeling everyone?


25 thoughts on “Being “Mostly Vegetarian” and the Logic of Adopting Labels”

  1. My label is simply “Me”
    What i find fascinating is that people after a single week already know while most the time a body needs time to adept to changes. As any person who took a diet. it took about 2 weeks for the body to react. the same amount of time people need to quit when they see no result.

    Another thing I see is, and mind you this is can be biased. Is that is truly shows the eating habits of the US. all or nothing. there is not much balance. Meat or no meat. kind of thing.

    Reading there is a trend with kale. Artichokes, or any kind of veg. I consider basic every day food. sprouts any type of bean.

    When one looks as biased as me one could argue the US has never been very veggie loving in the first place.

    This is a personal observation of reading and watching. It surprises me that these arguments are as you said are used to flip the scale. And rarely see people balance their food habit. And I do consider food being an habit it can be taught by parents.

    Great read. I enjoy your thinking.

    1. I saw a study once that showed vegetables counted for less than 10% of the American diet (not counting potatoes… we eat a lot of fries apparently). That’s just sad. I think the all or nothing exist even on the heath conscious side because it’s so hard to avoid certain things that are just in everything. It’s easier to just commit to 100% avoidance or give up.

  2. “Do you label yourself as anything that doesn’t fit you 100%? Do you do so because it’s easier or to motivate yourself? Do you think people would accept a lifestyle change over a diet? Why are we so obsessed with labeling everyone?”

    I know that people want a quick label that they can use to decide if a person meets their “conditions” for for friendship.

    I wasn’t really aware that there were a set of “rules” for vegetarianism. I think people add extra rules that they think makes someone a true vegetarian, atheist, asexual, or anything else.

    I think that the labels are somewhat useful before you know someone, but after you talk to them, then they become less important.

    Also, I think that a permanent change of eating habits would mean more than a temporary diet. If there is a valid reason for doing something, it seems it needs to be done with some commitment.

    I think it is good for us to live in a way that makes our labels accurate or we can change the labels to match what we really do.

    1. I once new a guy who considered himself vegetarian, but really he was a pescatarian. It really is like the world of nerds. By far, most accept anyone who chooses to label themselves as such, but some will stick up their nose, declaring one is not truly a nerd until they’ve watched or played something specific.

      Labels are a nice way to easily describe ourselves to others, but the hardly define us.

  3. I think we are so obsessed with labeling people because the human mind demands organization (or at least we think so). In regards to my religious beliefs, people who know I am no longer a Christian ask me, “So, what are you?” which annoys me because I am not anything. What I am has no label…and I am learning to be okay with that.

    1. Watching Cosmos, I believe are knack for labeling, organization and planning is part of why we’ve survived for so long. Perhaps we have ancestors who did not feel our compulsion to label, but they died out because of their lack of that characteristic.

      Now, though, I think we are moving into a world where are need to label has more detrimental effects than positive ones. We have to readapt to the idea something can exist outside a label.

      On the topic of religious belief…. I guess I’m rarely asked. I don’t spend a lot of time with particularly religious people. When forced, I’d say I am searching and am perfectly happy to be searching my whole life. That means I will keep learning more about my spiritual ideas.

  4. This is such a great point and I’m right there with you on the being “mostly vegetarian”. I’m just mindful of my eating habits, which ends up with me having a lot less meat than other people, and if I have meat, it’s usually turkey, chicken, or fish. Labels are such a fickle thing but our minds seem to demand it. Great sentiment!

    1. I really wanted to switch my balance around. Instead of a diet with 10% vegetables and 50% meat, I wanted the other way. I wanted veggies to be even more than 50%. But, as I looked at my options in stores, in restaurants and at family gatherings, it became clear the cards were stacked against that idea. So, being “mostly vegetarian” and calling myself vegetarian to others ensures most my meals are veggies. And if there happens to be a few flakes of bacon in a salad or some chicken broth in my soup, I don’t freak out. Seems to be working for me. Not to mention I’ve discovered new favorite veggies I’d never tried before!

    1. Do they actually, though, or do they just say? I remember seeing some survey of churchgoers. They found the people who said they go to church were far more than the amount of people actually going to church. According to the people behind the study, what people really heard when asked the question was “Are you the type of person who would go to church regularly?” I’m just curious if that 47% is similar.

      And ya! Fellow mostly vegetarian! I’m happy to know I’m not alone.

      1. Could be, although I believe in the same study it was a much smaller percentage that said they were vegetarian. It could also depend on the location — People in Alabama would definitely NOT associate vegetarianism with “Oh yeah, that’s a good thing to be, I’ll put yes…” but it could be the opposite in California or somewhere.

  5. I adopt certain non-derogatory labels for myself simply as a “flag of convenience”. It is easier and quicker to tell people I am a vegetarian if they are going to be catering for me than to explain that I don’t eat red meat and hope that their interpretation of red meat matches my own. It’s a way to avoid awkwardness. Once I get to know someone a lot better, then it becomes easier t shed the “go to” label and explain my particular eating peccadilloes. I think humans have a tendency towards labelling because we like to find order amid chaos and because such labels provide a shortcut.

    1. “It is easier and quicker to tell people I am a vegetarian if they are going to be catering for me than to explain that I don’t eat red meat and hope that their interpretation of red meat matches my own.”

      Exactly. There’s too much to say. It’s easier to stick with a label that you know fits you mostly. Little changes can be added later.

  6. I can so relate to this post. Especially the part about nerds.

    Compared to most of my close friends, I’m what they call a “hipster” because I listen to “weird” or “eclectic” or “indie” music. But compared to *real* hipster, weird, eclectic, indie people I’m as mainstream, ignorant, and uncultured as they come. So I think labels have to do a lot with who you’re with; the social context of the moment.

    What I don’t like is when people label me as something when I’m only loosely interested. For example, just because I listen to a band you’ve never heard of, you label me a “hipster”? It makes me feel like I’ve been labeled unfairly. It also makes me feel fake, because I don’t see myself as deserving the label “hipster” because the *real* “hipsters” would surely not accept me…

    1. That’s exactly how I feel in the nerd world! I accept and am proud of my nerd label, but sometimes feel like I don’t fit 100%. It was only recently I figured out that I don’t have to fit any of my labels 100%. They are mine and I can use them as I see fit.

  7. The world contains an awful lot of information and we can’t focus on everything, And so our brains create psychological constructs to simplify the world. That’s where stereotypes come from. And it’s where labels come from. So I’m sure we all do it.

    1. I am sure we all do it. I just hope there is a future somewhere where – while we still have labels and stereotypes – we can also accept there might be something that exist outside of them.

  8. I think we “have” to label everything because that’s how we distinguish and sort personalities as we associate better, but not on all levels, with people we can closely relate to? Labels help do that? But yes, a lifestyle change has finality where as a diet has temporary written all over it. I don’t know if you do Awards or not but I nominated you for the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award!

    1. Yeah, I think that’s why I adopted the vegetarian label. I tried limiting meat intake to once or twice a week and it failed miserably. Without that label, the people I associate with on a daily basis didn’t always make sure an ample supply of vegetables were present. This way, I can eat what and how I want.

      And that’s so much for the award! I don’t usually post on my blog, but I will certainly stop by yours to see what you have to say ^_^

      1. That makes a lot of sense yes, and it also provides others with exposure to that lifestyle. They see the way you eat and may be inspired to do the same or even think about that lifestyle. Lead by example kind of thing.
        Haha, I thought that you didn’t, but I love our talks on here and you were among the few that immediately came to mind. Your topics are always interesting and you provide insightful content! I do hope you find it interesting. I think they are so much fun! ❤

  9. I’ve quite a few labels, I’m a feminist, a weirdo (that is the most common one I get), a book worm, a tom boy, a nerd (though I don’t play all too many games), a vegetarian… well you get the idea. Labels and stereotypes, they are like book titles to me. The are relevant somehow but just the title does not give you the whole picture.
    There’s a question that has been bothering me for a while now. Speaking about labels, I’m a feminist but also a tomboy. As a feminist, I believe in everyone being themselves despite the gender. The term tom-boy implies some one with boyish characters. Categorizing some characters as boyish is what I am against as a feminist. So isn’t it hypocrisy to call myself a tom-boy.
    Great post! Beautifully written.

    1. Well, I guess I don’t find anything wrong with the term tom boy as a feminist. There’s nothing wrong with some characteristics being seen as boyish or masculine while others are feminine or girly. The problem, from my perspective, is that we don’t see boyish characteristics as equal to girly ones.

      Labels are a funny thing, aren’t they. I wonder if our lives would be easier without labels.

      1. I wonder…
        It seems as though we as humans are in a constant battle for power, among the sexes, among religions and ourselves in general. We seem to find great joy and relative security in labels like the stronger, greater and so on. So eventually some one has to be the weaker, lazier.. i suppose.
        It may be the pessimist in me talking but I don’t believe we can live entirely devoid of labels. And I don’t know if that is a good or a bad thing.

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