Label me this.

I have always been careful to characterize myself as the kind of person who doesn’t use whiteout. Such a little thing, but for some reason I feel like it has something to say about my character. I look at whiteout as, at best, a smelly substance that takes up room in my bag, and at worst, a testament to your character (attempting, uncreative, perfectionist). I cross out my mistakes, with some scribbly little blackout version. That’s right, I also use a black pen. I don’t take blue pen as seriously- it doesn’t command the page like a thick, black line does. When I use a blue pen I think it makes the page look watery, and my words start to waver. And don’t mention other colours of pens- sure I have many, many different colours of pens, but they are not main-body pens. They are accents, for underlining, circling, crossing, highlighting, and noting. When I find pages that I dashed down in a hurry using a purple, or worse, green pen, I feel so strained as I try and read the weak, “poorly articulated” lines. If Tolsty had handed me “War and Peace” and it was in green pen, I would have handed it back and told him to try harder.

What does this say, apart from the fact that I clearly have a neuroticism relating to office supplies? I like to project meaning onto inanimate objects, and that projection extends in particular to food. And I’m surely not the only one. Eating “bad food” can make me feel like a “bad person”, and I feel a lot of guilt when I extend the same judgment onto other people. I am in no position to impose my own food projections onto other people, and it is completely unfair. I have to actively council myself to go against these judgments, which have clearly been created and perpetuated as the “normal” perception in our society. You can eat “good”, or you can eat “bad”. You are a good person, or you are a bad person.

This is why I’ve had an aversion to labels- I don’t want to project meaning onto mine or, in particular, other people’s food choices. Why do people feel the need to label their eating?  Sure, you can be gluten-free with a peanut allergy- that contains useful information, like I shouldn’t eat peanut butter around you and if I invite you out to dinner we will be skipping the breadbasket. But so many other things we say are really unnecessary. Arguing amongst the alienating labels of vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, paleo, primal, zone, raw, fruitatarian, and more takes a group of people who genuinely are interested in a healthier population, and make them enemies. Good quality food, available from every possible food group, is surely the right answer for everyone. Sure, we can argue about acai until the grass-fed cows come home, but it is beside the point. Whole foods. Single ingredients. Quality foods. Isn’t that as important as being right? This has always been reason enough for me to avoid labels. Until I realized that sometimes the nuance of the attitudes a lot of these “alternative eating” groups might be more important that I thought.

Taking a bite as an adult isn’t like taking a bite as a child. The holiday cover for “Today’s Dietetian” said “This Holiday, Prevent Childhood Obesity”- a far cry from the friendly holiday wishes of the past. Mixed messages abound too- “don’t make a big deal out of holiday meals so kids don’t get attached, don’t make food the most important part” to “take time to savour your food- think about every bite and enjoy all the flavours on your palate” to “enjoy your dinner as a family and allow children to pick the food for themselves” to “don’t serve family style- children will choose too much of the wrong thing and end up eating themselves until they are stuffed”. Manufactured messages and tense attitudes. Wishy-washy “healthy” ideas. I support health. This magazine supports health. So is there a difference after all? Is that why we have to label ourselves? Maybe.

It didn’t take much though for me to decide that I’m against stuff like this. I’m against making food something formal and “fuel only” based. I’m also against making food something frivolous and inconsequential. I’m against breaking everything down and attaching guilt. If I’m so against some things, then there must be things that I’m for. That’s why I decided to label myself as someone who eats and prepares food according to traditions. I’m for having the skills and available ingredients to make quality meals at home. I’m for nourishing our bodies with good foods, and not having to pour over labels for ages. It might not mean everything, but it’s something, and it’s time I’m “for” something and not just “against”.


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