Do we really need a Label?


Vegan? Paleo? Gluten free?

I recently heard an interview on NPR with Mollie Katzen, author of the Moosewood Cookbook and now her new cookbook, Heart of the Plate.  Her perspective on diets was music to my ears as she put in words what I have often thought but have not been able to express.

In this age of highly accessible information, we often feel as if we need to dig a stake and have an opinion, a viewpoint — a perspective.  We live in a world that is increasingly divided by  politics, worldview, religion and more.  We are urged to take a stand and make a difference.

But does food need to be that way?

Since the beginning of time, food has brought folks together and united us. Through food, we share, give, receive. We express our love with chocolate, our comfort with chicken soup, our celebration with pizza!

And that is why food labels make me uncomfortable!  When we label ourselves, we put ourselves in a restrictive category. If I state that I am a vegan, first I isolate myself and second, I am in a difficult spot when my favorite cheese is served!  On the other hand, I can thoroughly enjoy vegetarian and vegan foods without carrying the label. Vegetarian food is available for all!  You don’t need a membership card!

As Katzen eloquently states, “food is about what we have on our plates, more than what we don’t. Vegetables at the center, taking main stage, rather than ‘no meat.’ ….While a vegetarian diet is a ‘path to good nutrition and health,’ it is not the only path, and it can even be taken the wrong way! Vegetarian diets in the past focused heavily on eggs and cheese, which in and of themselves are high in saturated fats and cholesterol. When the focus shifts toward the vegetables…not just about swapping out the protein.”

“Ahhh…” I said, “that is me!”

I can truly savor enjoy the starring role of vegetables on my plate without wearing a label! I love the interesting and wholesome tastes of many vegetarian recipes.  Yet, I don’t have to call myself a vegetarian to enjoy them!

And while I’m on the subject, why do self-claimed experts feel the need to call grains poison?  Do we really need to throw the baby out with the bath water?  Whole grains provide fiber, healthy fats, B vitamins, magnesium, antioxidants and protein!  Yes, the typical American diet is heavy in refined, white wheat flour, but there is a huge variety of tasty grains that can be a healthy part of our diet, providing those nutrients that our Western diets tend to lack.

How about focusing on the positive?

What we bring and add to the table? More vegetables; More whole grains, more variety…!

One more label to talk about! There is also no dividing line between healthy and delicious! As we learn to cook and to eat fresh from the garden or farmers market, healthy and tasty become synonymous! Perhaps as we focus on the food itself, the need to restrict entire food groups will not look as appetizing!

Bon Appetite!


For the full transcript of Mollie’s interview with Kojo Nnamdi: