Eat without labels.

Words: Glen Burrows

"I hate food labels. Not the ones on the food but the ones we attach to ourselves for what we will or won’t eat. Humans are inherently tribal and love a sense of belonging, we tend to feel a strong sense of attachment to these labels and it’s a convenient way of explaining our belief systems to other people. Often for ethical, cultural, religious or health based reasons.

This is an excerpt from Glenn Burrows essay on the contradictions and confusion of how we label how we eat. Whilst believing in our individual choice, giving ourselves labels can create moral restrictions within our own self. The full article on the intricacies of how we describe ourselves in relation to the food we eat can be read in Issue 1 available here

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Many people who make a conscious choice about food pick a belief system and slot themselves into it, be it fruitarian, vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, semi-vegetarian, kangatarian (vegetarian with Kangaroo meat, honestly this is a thing!), conscientious omnivore, paleo, raw vegan and so on and so on.

So why do I have a problem with other people’s convictions? Surely that means that they are making informed choices about food and choosing which side of the ethical line they feel comfortable on? Well no, they don’t. My point is that they stop making decisions at all. Freeing yourself from labels helps you make decisions.

Robert Anton Wilson famously said “...once you have a belief system everything that comes in either gets ignored if it doesn't fit the belief system or gets distorted enough so that it can fit. You gotta be continually revising your map of the world.”

I’ve been there, blindly labelling myself as a ‘vegetarian’ for nearly 20 years, happily chomping down on my GMO soya products that were possibly grown on deforested Amazonian rainforest land, smug in my moral superiority over the evil planet destroying meat eaters. My worldview fitted my belief system and I had stopped considering alter- natives, for an atheist I’d found my religion.

Of the reasons that cause people to limit the foods they put into their bodies, health, ethics and environment are the most evocative and cause the most passionate debate, with all sides arguing their cases through carefully recited studies that reinforce their existing worldview.

I’ve been involved in debates with vegans who simply cannot accept that it is possible to eat a less environmentally damaging diet as a conscientious meat eater than an un-conscientious vegan. Take the often spouted claim that Brazilian rainforest is cleared to make way for cattle ranches. This simply isn’t true. For example in the Mato Grosso State of Brazil over 70% of cleared forest is used to grow soybeans and over half the nation’s soya harvest is controlled by a handful of international agribusiness companies with questionable ethics. However, the food they produce is a vegan protein staple. Take the alternative conscientious omnivore eating grass-fed beef raised on natural grasslands that have not changed from their natural state for thou- sands of years: clearly, the ethics quickly get confusing.

In other words, freeing yourself from a label helps you make decisions that aren’t just based on your ‘ism’. My own journey has seen my health improve and has seen me take a continuous active investigative interest in the quality and source of everything I eat, with the freedom to make u-turns on a daily basis if it seems right. I have learned to listen to my body and feed it accordingly, with a much improved sensitivity to what I need. To quote Nietzsche “there is more wisdom in your body than your deepest philosophies”.

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