When Labels Can be Helpful
January 3, 2010

labels1

A few months ago, I interviewed Sarma Melngailis, the gorgeous and glowing owner of New York City’s Pure Food and Wine. When I asked my readers what their favorite part of the interview was, an almost unanimous answer emerged. Over 95% of my readers aid that their favorite part of Sarma’s interview was her statement that she dislikes to use labels like “vegan” or “raw foodist;” though she sticks to a high raw and vegan diet nearly all the time, Sarma noted that she might occasionally try a piece of fish in a famous and celebrated Japanese restaurant, or eat canned (cooked) chickpeas with macadamia nut oil (YUM!) when she’s got a taste for cooked foods.

I wasn’t surprised at my readers’ enthusiastic response to Sarma’s eschewing of labels and of dogma. If one thing has become overwhelmingly clear to me over the course of writing this blog, it’s that almost all of my readers feel that labels are not only limiting and misleading, but downright harmful, prompting feelings of guilt and inadequacy or triggering disordered eating.

For the most part, I agree. Labels are, if nothing else, hopelessly limited. Whether political, racial, cultural, or dietary, they simply fail to capture the variety and complexity of human identity in an adequately nuanced fashion. Let’s take that most obvious of examples: race. To call me “white” is both true (I am more Caucasian than I am East Asian, or Oceanian, or African), and also sort of misleading, since my knowledge of my own ancestry is fuzzy (I know that most of my fathers’ family has been in the United States for a very long time, but who his ancestors coupled with and married is beyond me; certainly it’s possible that there were individuals of non-white racial provenance in the mix). This is not only true of me, but of most of us; most of us don’t have extensive and exact genealogical data about our distant ancestors.

I’m also half-Greek. While Greeks are technically classified as part of the Caucasoid race, they don’t tend to look as “white” as our popular image of “whiteness” would suggest. So when people meet me, they often ask me right away “where I’m from” or “what I am” (this happened more when I was younger, and my hair was curlier). In other words, they suspect right away that I’m not entirely WASPy; they usually assume that I might be part Hispanic, Italian, or Greek; I’ve been asked, too, if I were half-black. Once again, the “white” label (which is conflated with the “Caucasian” label) is accurate, but slightly inadequate, at least insofar as popular perceptions of “whiteness” go.

But I digress. The point of this post is not to analyze the unbelievably complex topic of race, and the words we select to talk about it. It’s to point out that labels don’t usually capture accurately the things they’re meant to describe. And so it goes with dietary labels. I say I’m a high-raw vegan, and this is true: I’m a vegan who eats most all raw food. I also say I’m a raw foodist, and this is a little trickier: I say it because it pretty accurately captures my lifestyle, and because I believe that most people, if they were to spend a day or a week in my company, would probably consider me as such. But of course, it’s also sort of untrue, since I make no great secret of the fact that cooked vegan foods are a part of my diet, too.

So it’s no wonder that people cringe around labels. I don’t believe that there’s a single label – food related or not – that can speak to the complexity of the person behind it. And since labels tend to force us to simplify who we are, they also tend to make us uncomfortable, or to make us feel as though we need to adhere to a set of criteria that may or may not be entirely appropriate for our mental and physical well being.

But today, I want to talk about another side of labels: the upside. Believe it or not, labels can have their usefulness. At the very least, they can provide the people who employ them with a sense of clarity or confidence about the choices and positions they’ve chosen to support. And in this regard, they’re not entirely without usefulness.

Take my friend Mary. A year or so ago, Mary and her Mom transitioned into the vegan lifestyle for health reasons. It was quite a dramatic shift, as she and her mother had previously eaten standard American diets. Over the course of her transition, Mary found that using the word vegan, rather than making her feel anxious or guilty, actually helped her to embrace and embody her new set of choices. When an acquaintance said to Mary that she didn’t believe in labels, Mary acknowledged that while labels can be very problematic, she had found that using the vegan label had helped her and her mom to define and explain their new lifestyle to family and friends. It wasn’t always easy for them to explain the many reasons why they were not in a position to eat animal products anymore, but it was easy enough for them to say “we’re vegans,” and be done with it; declaring their veganism helped Mary and her Mom to avoid long explanations of the events that had preceded their new lifestyle.

I can’t say I disagree. When I’m out at a business lunch, and my lunch date asks me why I’m “just getting a salad,” or some such, it’s often easiest to say, “I’m a vegan.” To say, “well, I’m a vegan who eats mostly raw, with an emphasis on proper food combining and optimal digestive health, rather than strictly raw foods, and I eat this way because of my history with irritable bowel syndrome, and because I believe in it, and because I’ve come to feel that it’s the most ethical choice for humans, animals, and the planet alike,” is kind of a mouthful. My lunch date probably doesn’t care why I’m a vegan anyway, or whether or not I’m also raw; he or she just thinks it’s curious that I don’t center my meal around an animal protein. Saying that I’m vegan, plain and simple, answers the question. If I’m dining with someone who’s a little more curious—a date, say, or a new friend—I’ll also usually explain that I’m a raw foodist, in addition to a vegan. I always preface this by saying that most raw foodists believe that the term means someone who eats mostly raw, and not all raw, and that I still eat some cooked foods. It’s more of a mouthful, but it’s still a helpful way to explain my lifestyle. And I believe that it’s accurate.

Of course, these terms don’t begin to convey the full scope of why I don’t eat animal products and why I eat mostly raw foods; they can’t begin to capture the long genesis of how I stumbled on this lifestyle and why; what psychological and physical conditions brought me to veganism, or how veganism and raw foods have changed my life for the better. But they do summarize things simply, and they’re useful to me.

They’re also words I utter with pride! I know as well as anyone that labels aren’t usually adequate, but I also know that they describe choices I’ve made, stuck to, and relished. I’m proud to be a vegan—it’s something I’m very passionate about. If I weren’t, this site and my counseling business wouldn’t exist! It makes me proud to say that I’m a vegan, just as it makes me proud to say that I eat mostly raw.

For a long time, I was a vegan who didn’t yet say she was a vegan. This was for a few reasons. The first was that I wasn’t yet sure veganism was something that I would want to do forever, and I wouldn’t say it unless I meant it. Moreover, I was touchy about what the word implied: when I heard it uttered by other people, I envisioned dreadlocks and Birkenstocks. This was my fault, of course, not the fault of the word; over time, I came to realize that a) dreads and Birks can be cool, and b) so what if that’s what “vegan” signifies to most people? It signifies a whole lot more to me, and I’m the one saying it.

Here’s another example: last night, I dined with a new friend at Pure Food and Wine. As he ordered, I expressed thanks at his trying out a vegan joint with me. “Of course,” he said. “I’m an omnivore!” Often, we associate the word omnivore with eating meat, because we place it in opposition to words like “vegetarian” or “pescatarian.” But in this case, my friend meant to say that he’s more than open to veggies, veggies, and more veggies, because he’s open minded about all things culinary. And it’s a word he uses with pride!

In other words, labels aren’t always categorically pernicious. They’re often turned into dirty words because we load them up with stereotypes. But in essence, they’re simply terms we use to describe a set of facts—what you do and do not eat, what you do and do not believe, etc. For a long time, I also was shy to call myself a feminist, conflating the word (very wrongly, I believe) with a certain radical image. These days, I’m proud to say that I’m a feminist. Last time I checked, the meaning of the word was a person who believes in the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes, or who supports organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests. And that’s definitely me. If someone wants to conflate the word with images or stereotypes, so be it: it’s his or her problem, not mine.

There are other labels that I don’t like to use, because I’m much less comfortable with them. I have a hard time declaring myself a Democrat or a liberal, for instance, because although I usually hew to Democratic party lines when I vote, and align myself ideologically with liberal values, I’m sometimes conflicted about my own political positions, and I also don’t feel educated enough in politics to wear labels with comfort. Ditto for saying that I’m Episcopalian: I am, in the sense that I attend an Episcopalian church a few times a year, and basically worship as an Anglican. But my religious views are rather hazily formed and gentle, and while it’s probably fair to say that I’m a Christian, it’s not fair to say that I’m doctrinaire in the slightest about my Anglicanism.

Another example: while I love to work out, I’d never call myself an athlete. Others might argue that I am one, simply because I keep physically active. But to me, being an athlete implies more challenges, motivation, and competition than I bring to my lil’ old workout routine. So even if others would say that I am one, it’s not a word I’d use: I don’t think I am, and that’s what matters!

I’ve learned, over time, that there are certain things I’m comfortable to call myself, and others that I’m not. And guess what? Those things might change! In thirty years I might be Buddhist, or a vegan who’s not mostly raw, or even a Republican. (I don’t expect the latter two will happen, but life is long, and unpredictable, and who knows.) If such a moment should come to pass, I’ll of course be using different words to describe who I am. And that’s OK. It’s wrong to think that labels need to be permanent: they don’t! They can be fluid—just as fluid as the human experience they describe.

Don’t get me wrong, readers: as I said at the start of this post, I see all of the reasons why labels are deficient or tricky. But in spite of the fact that I’m a person of strong opinions, I do like to see both sides of the coin, and I think it’s only fair to examine how labels can be helpful, just as much as they can be harmful. They can frustrate or confuse or divide us, yes, but they can also help us to clarify choices, and they can help us to express pride in those choices. So much of their value depends not on the terms themselves, but on how carefully and conscientiously we employ them.

With that, I’ll leave this post with a few labels I feel comfortable and proud to wear.

•    New Yorker
•    American
•    Vegan
•    Editor
•    High Raw Foodist
•    Christian
•    Feminist
•    Nutritionist
•    Urbanite
•    Aspiring yogi
•    Student (yes guys, being an editor means being a perpetual student! To say nothing of the fact that we’re all students of life)

Obviously, I could go on. We could all go on!

In the end, words are never enough to capture the variety and complexity of life. If I’ve learned anything from reading and editing, it’s that. But they have value, too; they’re the tools we use to describe who we are. And if we use them well—all the while acknowledging their inherent limitations—they can help us talk about who we are and what we do.

What about you guys? Are there any labels you feel comfy using? Tell me! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Switching topics quickly, I wanted to share some fun news: I’m in VegNews!

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If you check out pages fifty-six and fifty-seven, you’ll see my feature on raw “steak and potatoes”—that is, marinated Portobello mushroom caps with raw cauliflower mashed potatoes!

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I’ll be reposting the recipe soon, but I really urge you all to support the very awesome VegNews magazine by checking the article out yourself!

Alright. I’m off to frantically prepare for work tomorrow. Having a week off has been lovely and indulgent in every way, but I’m paying the price in back-to-work catch up! Happy Sunday.

xo

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    64 Comments
  1. I love this perspective on labels. I especially appreciate your view on labels being “fluid”. I totally agree and try to stay away from them because I am someone whose labels change daily and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Very well said.

    Thanks,
    Kristyna C

  2. i am so late to the party here! but gena, i seriously love this post. this topic is so fascinating to me, and you’ve presented it in such a detailed and eloquent way. i agree that we are all made of many, many labels – i try to stress that at all times. i also agree that labels can be very useful in explaining oneself to other people. this is where i struggle though, because i purposely don’t like to place myself in any specific category, which can make my life much more complicated when i meet new people. i’d love to hear your tips on that! i usually say i’m mostly vegetarian, but that really doesn’t explain anything, as i often say you can be vegetarian and eat cheese, white bread, and candy all day, which i don’t.

    labels i do love though – new yorker, american, jew, foodie, aspiring yogini, theater enthusiast, confused twentysomething. 🙂

  3. I really enjoyed this post, Gena! I could go on + on but will just say that I love your writing and your views on things. Inspiring! Congrats on getting in VegNews!!! That is just completely awesome!

  4. I personally think labels are what the powers that be use to divide and conquer the masses. Any time you label yourself or let someone label you, the separation/division between what is really just “humans” begins to manipulate your thoughts and actions.

    I love your blog Gena, it’s helped us get to 75% raw. But it’s really saddening to see very smart people let the powers-that-be divide and conquer them. We are one people, fighting a battle that can only be won if we don’t label ourselves. A couple of the labels that you’re proud of can be misconstrued and often will be.

  5. Gosh, I really love this post! (When you tweeted about it, I thought it was going to be about reading nutrition labels. Haha.)

    Anyway, such awesome points & insight (as always). I agree that it is very convenient to be able to use the term “vegan” to describe myself to people – and it’s a label I use with immense pride. Like you, depending on the company, I’ll elaborate (or not) on my food choices & lifestyle – but it’s nice to have a starting place (or a succinct explanation) by using the term “vegan.”

    Other labels I wear happily:
    -Girlfriend
    -Dog mom (hehe)
    -Humanist/free-thinker
    -Liberal
    -Feminist
    -Animal-lover
    -Environmentalist

    So many more, but that’s enough for now! 🙂

    Congrats again on VegNews! Great article/recipes!

  6. […] deal of the human experience, and our obsession with labels (a topic that is on my brain because of Gena’s beautifully-constructed post on their potential usefulness). Of course, I didn’t get too caught up in thinking about this at the time (expect more […]

  7. Congrats on your VegNews article! I was so excited and surprised to see your photo there when I cracked open my issue- Great article. Hope you’ll make this a regular feature. 🙂

  8. Gena, this post is a shining example of why I love your style: always taking something that can be and is often thought of as restrictive and showing how it can be liberating and life-affirming. Thank you!

  9. Amen to that!

    I had a good chuckle at your friend’s omnivore comment. Labels are so misleading, but they definitely have their uses.

    Congrats on being in VegNews! I’ve come across it a few times because of magazine work I’ve done–it’s a lovely publication!

  10. Hi Gena – I just wanted to chime in to congratulate you on magazine featuree and on this masterpiece of a essay – you’ve outdone yourself with this blog essay. You are a natural teacher and coach – and clearly an extraordinarily talented writer.
    – Kate

  11. Hey Gena!

    Great post. I related a lot to the problematic nature of labels. I’m always switching up how I describe myself, whether it’s “vegan”, or “a person who does not eat flesh or dairy”, or sometimes even a basic “vegetarian”. Labeling myself as vegan when I am out socially is a lot easier. And I think what you hit upon on this post is that for most people, that word does not even begin to describe how they arrived at the label. Truth be told, I sort of enjoy the label. It means I have to do less talking. I know that’s a bit lazy, but I like it when things speak for themselves, and saying you’re a vegan keeps things short. Although I always invite the conversations that follow, time-allowing.

    My labels?
    American
    San Diegan
    Dreamer
    Tea-Drinker
    Adventurer

    Also, I just started a blog! Nothing too much, but it’s my attempt to get connected to everyone that I love following. Stop by if you get a chance!

  12. Wonderful post! I do not like labels, they always feel limiting. I only feel comfortable saying that I am a vegetarian even though most of my meals are vegan and raw. I feel uncomfortable saying that I am a vegan because I know that not everything I eat for the rest of my life will be vegan.

    And congrats on VegNews! That is awesome 🙂

  13. First of all, congrats on your feature in the VegNews! You are so deserving, and I am so excited to see the recipes 🙂

    Second, I really enjoyed this post, not only because it is well-written (as all your posts are) and interesting, but because it’s a topic that I have mulled over in my head on more than one occasion.

    I’ve always struggled with labels, the idea of categorizing people. I agree that it oversimplifies the human experience; to me, we, as people, are too quick to want to put people into neat categories that make sense to us. Not everything needs to fit squarely into a checkbox, least of all, people! I could go on about this for awhile (I won’t!), suffice to say, I have never been a big fan of labels.

    However, I hadn’t really given much thought to when they can be beneficial, and the examples you shared describe those incidences very well. In fact, I’ve simply stated, “I’m vegetarian,” to explain why I’m not eating something in the past! It’s difficult when a person eats differently than the vast majority of the population, and, as you said, explaining all of the reasons WHY one doesn’t eat processed (or animal-based, or cooked) food can be exhausting and, in some situations, unpleasant.

    While I still have mixed feelings about both labels and the need to explain why I eat what I do (when was the last person an omnivore had to explain why they eat steak?), I really enjoyed your insightful post into when they can be helpful. Thank you, as always!

  14. I read your article in Veg News Yesterday. I always enjoy reading your posts and it was great to see your article in veg news.

    I am really looking forward to the detox as I am sure I will learn a ton from you.

    I am an Iranian and unfortunately most Iranians are ashamed of their hertiage, because of whats in the media.. but that is one lable that I wear with pride… even though now I am an American.. I will always be Iranian.

    So my lables that I wear with Pride are;
    Wife
    American/Iranian
    Engineer
    Vegetarian

  15. Congrats on being in Veg News! That is incredibly great! I recently started reading the magazine (well, a few issues that my dad brought back from the states, we don’t get it here) and I was really impressed. I thought it would be like most other veg magazines and require the use of butter/eggs/cheese in every single recipe but it was all vegan – made me so happy.

    Labels can be misleading or damaging in many ways, but like you, there are some I definitely embrace. I am a vegan for animal rights reasons so I am more than proud to wave that flag loud and clear. I am also a passionate feminist and women’s rights activist so you’ll often hear me shout that from the rooftops.

    With those two words (vegan/feminist) I think it is very important to use the label. Many people have stereotypes about vegans and feminists and I want to dispel them. Alternatively, many people don’t think about animal rights or even see the need for women’s rights so by choosing to label myself a vegan or a feminist I am a constant reminder of the oppression and abuse going on in this world.

    I think it is my responsibility to be a voice for those that can’t speak for themselves so I don’t run and hide from certain labels just because I might fear confrontation. If everyone is too scared to call themselves vegan or feminist and stand up for what they believe then we will keep getting offered fish or chicken (because vegans eat that, right???) or told that feminism is unnecessary (and died out decades ago, right???).

    Thanks for another thought provoking post! Your writing always blows me away.

  16. Great post! There are certainly many pros and cons to labelling and it’s interesting to really think about it all broken down. Congrats on your article!! Such an exciting thing to be featured and the recipe sounds great!

  17. I remember your interview with Sarma and I LOVE your post today. I think you hit it on the head. on BOTH SIDES of the fence. I dislike labels as well. I feel they never quite accurately capture ME and are limiting; however I love the other side of the fence you share. THANK YOU

    And Congratulations on your article in Vegnews. That is INSANELY COOL!

  18. I do find labels come in handy while searching eBay (“Blumarine” “Marni” “Chloe”) but otherwise I eschew them completely. There are so few I’m comfortable wearing. Sure, some labels are less ambiguous than others (American, Christian, feminist) but I remember, when I was a student at Yale Divinity School, hiding my bible under my coat, lest people associate me with another (more noxious) variety of “Christian.” And in recent years, on my trips to Europe, I’ve found myself hiding my blue passport whereas I used to show it proudly. The dietary labels don’t work for me at all. What do you call someone who eats animal products a few times a year? “Mostly vegan” works for me, but it’s morally ambiguous and offensive to real vegans. I’m also “mostly raw” and “mostly liberal” but I do eat cooked food, at least a few times a month, and I have a strong libertarian streak which leads me to part company with progressives who favor “nanny state” solutions to social problems. I guess the problem is there are few labels that fit, without some qualification, and there are even fewer that I’d consider to be constitutive of my identity. Over the years, I have shed some labels (“athlete”) and picked up some new ones (“mother”). I’ve never been able to do that exercise where I have to pick only three that define me. Like you, Gena, I’d need a whole list.

  19. OMG OMG OMG – you’re in VegNews. That is huge. SOOOOO excitied Gena! I must pick up a copy today.

    Yes, some labels are good, but for me any label surrounding food is not good. I use them to restrict my eating, not for the health or moral reason that they should be used for. However, there are some labels I am proud to wear as well: Christian, healer, wife, yogini, mom (to my precious pups).

    As always, thoughtful and well written post my friend!

  20. Happy New Year, Gena!! Congrats on the article and the blog awards!

    Labels are helpful and frustrating, as you say. I call myself vegan even though I eat dairy outside the house because the term vegetarian means something different to most people here; when I say vegan they know that whatever they assume a vegetarian can eat, like fish, I won’t eat. And I do strive to be entirely vegan, so I don’t think it’s lying if I fail some of the time. (Though I want to do better. I bow to peer pressure too often.)

    Atop my blog header I have the four labels I am most comfortable with and use as a shorthand intro to who I am for people: Christian, writer, wife, veg*n. (When writing I’ll do the short-hand so people on the interwebs don’t get upset at me calling myself vegan – a lot of vegans online can be militant and hurtful.)

  21. CONGRATS GENA on the raw awards and veg news! That is so fantastic!

    This was such a great post and I love the replies from readers as well! This is important stuff to talk about.

  22. I am getting in the car to go buy Veg News right now. Okay, “exaggerator” may be my label. But so is”Super big Gena fan!” Congrats!

  23. To be honest (sorry), I find peoples’ denigration of “labels” tiresome.

    If you don’t want to label yourSELF, that’s fine, but if I go to a restaurant that lists a dish as “vegetarian”, order it and find it contains fish or chicken, send it back and then have to argue with the staff that a vegetarian doesn’t eat these things, it annoys the buckwheaties out of me that “last week” they had a vegetarian in who maintained that fish was OK. And chicken. Etc. Because they didn’t want to be “labelled” as vegans.

    If there is no definition (shall we call it that instead of the loaded term, “label”?), then we have no idea what to expect. In my country (Australia), vegans have been subjected to animal ingredients on menu items because of this unwillingness to “label”. (eg “We’re all different, why should I be defined by my hair colour/genes etc?” No argument, but please, puh-lease “label” a vegan meal as one made without animal products, OK?) . We need to define otherwise it is ALL meaningless.

  24. Oh Gena.
    What a fabulous post. Here are some of the hats I proudly wear

    Colonic description in restaurant-initiator 😉
    New Yorker (officially in 9 1/2 years)
    Existential crisis-haver
    Gaga Convert
    Humanist (on good days)
    Boyfriend
    Dancer/Athlete
    Sunshine lover

    Congrats girl on Vegnews!

  25. I tend to get the whole label thing with me too- more that people place labels on me when I have never ever called myself any such thing as vegan, raw etc. The only label I would ever use is health supportive and whole- that is the rules of my diet. It would be easy to throw a label on it like ‘I;m vegan” when at a new years party I am passed a tray of disgusting bacon wrapped watercrests (did actually happen) but my go to response is usually something along the lines of “This is (is not) the best thing for me right now”, “not what I choose”, “that’s fried pig fat, are you kidding me?” or whatever is most appropriate at the time.

    I think the thing about labels is that then people feel guilty, when, like the woman you interviewed, they want to sample some fish or eat cooked food because it is well below freezing outside. That guilt/anxiety does more harm to our health than any dietary rule breaking.

  26. Oh labels! yes a very tricky and confusing issue. We agree Gena that you have to know what labels you feel proud to say and there are always two sides to a coin!! We sometimes hate saying we are vegan or raw foodist because really we are just two girls that happen to enjoy only eating fruits and veggies! We like simple food, why does there have to be a label for that??

    We consider you an athlete! We are not hard core athletes either, we just love working out : )

  27. been editing a philosophy book, much? 😉
    I think labels can be deliciously empowering… when chosen. Annoyingly, sometimes the available labels just don’t fit- or you don’t want any at all. In college I enjoyed the label of having an anxiety disorder, because it explained so much about me that I had previously hidden or avoided. As I became comfortable with that part of myself and got treatment, then became a leader at my college in mental health awareness and activism, I wanted that label: I wanted it to explain to people what was often otherwise misinterpreted or unspoken. Of course, college is a prime time for labels- I enjoyed trying on bisexual, then lesbian, then queer- now the whole business amuses me and I’m just happy to announce that I’m engaged to a woman! Similarly, mental health issues have blended back into the background and the desire to label is less pronounced (and way scarier- college is such a bubble!).
    Today I enjoy many labels depending on the context: feminist, free-thinker, liberal, vegetarian, hi-vegan??, part-time raw-foodist, environmentalist, scientist, artist, Unitarian-Universalist, potential Jew, engayged.
    The hi-vegan thing- I actually say “I (try to) eat largely vegan foods and a lot of raw food”- is tricky. Reading “Eating Animals” (and feeling myself slide even further towards complete veganism) illustrated this really well with the example of the vegetarian vs the selective omnivore. Vegan better fits my values, but is inaccurate. Vegetarian is technically accurate, but fails to imply that I can be very very selective about the non-vegan products I consume. For raw food I usually say “I’m really into raw food”- that way it comes across as a passion and a journey, not a strict label that doesn’t fit.
    Great thoughts as always!

    • Labels can also include those given to us and those we give to others, and may or may not be accurate (e.g. many people in my studio may label me as lesbian or vegetarian when in fact, I am neither; and I label anyone white in New York City as Jewish whether or not they actually are).

      The problem with labels is that they may give the illusion of permanence to often fluid characteristics and come with additional associations that may be inaccurate. You identified as vegetarian and my mom decided to make fish any time you came over for dinner, despite the fact that you never much liked fish… and may stop eating it altogether.

      My labels: designer, Jew, engayged, bisexual, feminist, architect-in-training, omnivore, flexitarian, environmentalist, music-lover, lover, student, and friend. I think labels are best when they can be viewed as opportunities for further questions and discussion instead of “answers.”

  28. Ah Gena, you’re such a rockstar. You must accept it. Congrats on VegNews! So incredible!

    Seems to me that any labels that have made me uncomfortable in the past probably just didn’t fit entirely, so I should probably not stew about that. When trends get involved, it’s a whole new ballgame too. And truth be told, there are labels that don’t even apply to me that have made me uncomfortable nonetheless if I suspected someone ELSE applied them to me! So that proves your point that any negative associations I have with whatever-it-is are my own issue, long before anyone has come out and said something about it that involves me (cue visions of aforementioned dreads and Birkenstocks…actually for me I think it’s patchouli and granola, but same difference, haha).

    Look forward to hangin’ out soon, momma. 🙂

  29. Labels always confused me growing up. Although this isn’t about food, I never knew how to label myself in that little “What is your race?” box. Most people automatically label me white. But if I have to put a label on myself, I call myself biracial. My mom is white, of mostly Irish descent. My father is African-American, with a little bit of Caucasian and Native American mixed in there. At least that was the label he was given growing up. More recently he discovered that his background is actually more Native American (Choctaw-Shawnee) than anything else. I wonder how his own image of himself would have been different if he had grown up checking the Native American box rather than the African American box. Just thinking out loud here…Thanks for the post Gena. Made me stop and think.

  30. I LOVE this post! Great topic 🙂
    I am a vegetarian, Jesus loving, caucasian-african-native american, wife, social worker, crafter! And much more =)

    So true how labels can be hard to attach to yourself because of the negative experiences others have had with a certain label.

  31. Gena, Gena, Gena!!

    Yeah VegNews!! I would just like to share that this post is wonderful – ALL of your posts are wonderful and when I cannot sleep at night I often check out your blog – it relaxes me and puts a smile on my face!

    I know in my heart that the label of “vegan” … saved my Mom’s life and continues to make her daily experience so so so simple!

    New Yorker
    Kabbalist
    Golfer
    Vegan
    Triathlete
    Blind Dater 🙂

    LOVE ALWAYS,

    MARY BOEHMER

  32. i completely agree. labels tend to box you in, and i enjoy the lack of guilt without them…but at the same time, its especially difficult to explain all the loopholes and allowances with coworkers. id rather just say straight up im vegan -and go into detail with the people im closest too.

    as always a wonderful post gena. cant wait to check out the latest vegnews!!

  33. I was just telling my family about the blogs I read and I emphasized the importance of well-written posts. How appropriate that I arrive home to such an insightful, eloquent and intelligent post by you!

    Growing up, I found I hid behind labels – fat, nerdy, awkward. Now, as I really come into my own (a bit late, I fear, at 28), I am constantly trying on new labels to see how they fit. Does the label make me feel constricted like a pair of too-tight socks? Or does it slip on like a perfectly tailored evening gown? So far, I am proud to use the following words to describe myself:

    running
    reading
    writing
    searching
    hoping
    planning

    Congratulations on your magazine feature! I can’t wait to pick up a copy.

  34. Thank you for this post—I had a lot of “a-ha” moments while reading it. 🙂 Labels I’m proud of include omnivore, Chinese-American, and to a certain extent, nerd. 😉 But sometimes, I just want people to take me as is—just as a person. Congrats on the magazine stint!

  35. Hi Gena! I get comments when I don’t “properly label” a recipe. Half the time, the person is unfamiliar with the fact that yes, almond butter can be raw. Or that nuts can be raw. Or that “chocolate” can be raw if you use raw cocoa powder + coconut oil + agave and I get “accused” of mislabeling recipes. 95% of the time, the reader is not clued in and the labeling conundrum is their error, but there are times where I am human, I goofed. This is just the backstory to say that people are sooooo incredibly hung up on labels and it’s so annoying to me. I just posted about the lack of wanting to get so hung up on labels. I was a bit light, tongue-in-cheek with it, as the style of my blog is different that yours, but the point was that it’s irritating to me.

    I do see the value, of course, when it’s easier to tell your companion “I’m vegan” vs. the other mouthful. I feel the same way when trying to discuss food allergies, gluten/soy/dairy/eggs, vegan, high raw, etc etc. It’s like if I just call myself vegan, that’s true, and tends to be enough. However, I dont relish “explaining’ or enlightening people; so I hate to even go there!

    Thanks for your yoga-related comment you left me today about how I make it seem easier or more accessible and gentler for others who want to learn more or do more yoga. I am glad to see you put aspiring yogi on your list!

    Labels of who I am, and if you think you get looks when you say you’re high raw vegan, just wait til you tell other you believe in, well I believe in: homebirth, extending breastfeeding, not vaccinating, co sleeping, raising plant-eating children who are unschooled.. not just homeschooled, but unschooling. I am lover of yoga, of freedom of choice & expression, I am a mother, wife, teacher, student, and humble soul 🙂

    Love,
    Averie
    xoxo
    🙂

  36. Gena –
    What a beautiful post. I recently moved to a town that is far more ‘socially conscious’ than the town I previously lived in. As a result, I have given a lot of thought lately to labels as they apply to political and social issues. I feel that my new neighbors’ aspirations are very well meaning. However, I often find the strident efforts of my fellow townspeople to be polarizing and minimalizing to those of us whose political and social views occupy a variety of points along the spectrum and cannot be neatly summed up by any of the common catchphrases and labels. Thank you for such an articulate and thoughtful post for me to think about before I watch Desperate Housewives and abandon all meaningful musings!
    Karen

  37. wow, what a great post! labels do certainly plague (good or bad) us our whole life. ever since i got started my food blog, parents and others have called me a “foodie”. i may not even know what the definition is, but i just kinda smile, and something to the effect of well, i like food and cooking! i also struggled a bit with the label of “triathlete”. i wondered how many you had to do in order to call yourself that, or how fast or whatnot. i finally realized that heck, i was a triathlete and embraced it 🙂

    ps- congrats on the best of raw awards!!

  38. Gena, thank you for yoru supportive comment on my blog. You are so sweet! I am excited to see what this new doctor brings to the table. I will keep you updated. Imagine curing RSD holistically?!?!?! The disease that has no known cause or cure in the traditional medical world?!?! I would love that!

  39. Saw you in VegNews!!! I was so excited I ran over to my hubby to show him my friend! I felt so cool to know someone featured! HA HA!

    Great post, great topic. I was just discussing this issue with my best friend yesterday. We are both vegan, but don’t fit the vegan stereotype at all (as I am sure you know, and of course you don’t either). I was showing her a video of Matt Monarch from The Raw Food World and she said “He looks vegan..” She is a school teacher and after saying this she seemed a bit surprised that words came out of her mouth. She was doing the exact stereotypical thing that we were talking about. I am proud to say I am a vegan, but I only say it in restaurants, or when someone asks why I don’t eat certain things. I feel weird just walking around telling people, but then again, I am proud that I don’t harm anything when I eat. We were also talking about the whole Italian thing. She isn’t Italian or Catholic and I am and so is my hubby (we are both 75%). She is Jewish and Romanian. She said she always feels like my in laws (her future in laws) think being Catholic and Italian means you are perfect. I told her I could care less what I am, I just like being me! Anyway, long story.. but you get the idea. We just had the convo on labels on so many levels. So it’s ironic you posted on it! 🙂 XOXO! HUGS!

  40. Great post! I agree. I believe that labels can be very helpful. Labeling myself a vegan is very helpful when explaining my dietary and lifestyle choices, and I’m proud of it as well!

  41. Congrats on your feature in VegNews! I have to agree with everything you said about identifying oneself with labels. This semester in a literature class, we examined the idea of labeling in Japanese modern literature. To understand identity in literature, we made the comparison to our own identities and how we label ourselves. This way we could better understand labeling in other contexts. We did this same thing with a list of labels with which we identify. I used many of the same labels that you did, and I feel the same way about being comfortable with labels. Interestingly, though, we also discussed how labels can be created by other people for you like the race reference you made. And whether or not you’re comfortable with such a label does not matter: someone placed it on you. We discussed identity as one’s own definition of oneself versus a set of labels placed on you by peers/society/government/etc. Sometimes no matter how you identify yourself, others see you as a different stereotype and identify you and your group membership differently. It’s such an interesting discussion in that it’s somewhat paradoxical and pervades all cultural, political, social, and historical studies! Awesome post Gena; I love your blog.

  42. I LOVE this post. Gena, you are such an articulate writer and I love the point you are making here. When I stopped eating meat, I wasn’t ready to call myself a vegetarian — probably because I didn’t quite realize it myself. Then I began to think it to myself but still didn’t feel right. Then one day I said it out loud to someone and I just felt RIGHT. It clicked. This is what I am now and saying it solidified it. Then I posted it on my blog and felt even stronger about my decision. It also helps me in situations where people want to share a meat entree with me and I can say “I’m a vegetarian” — and I am proud!

    I don’t dislike labels at all. Some people like them, some don’t. I am now a proud runner, I am a Jew, I am a writer, I am a New Yorker, I am a Democrat, I am American!

    Where do I buy VegNews??? I want it — and I want to make your steak and potatoes!

  43. Woohoo!!!! Congrats!!!!!!! You deserve it!

    I think labels/words only have as much power as we give them. I am a grad student, vegan, and I am also “sick.” Most people would say that is negative because of the power the word is given. I don’t think being sick is negative, it is just a fact right now… I’m not 100% healthy…. that’s all it means to me. It doesn’t mean I am lesser than anyone, that I am worthless, damaged goods, etc… One day, I will be healthy 🙂

    Happy Healing! xoxo

  44. What a well written and thought out post! I always struggle with labels like vegetarian (which I am about 90% of the time) and runner (several time marathoner and countless other races, but I can take months off at a time). I like to just be a person who likes to do and eat lots of things without too much labeling!

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