Not long ago, a friend and I were discussing where to go for dinner. We were still in a getting-acquainted phase, so we hadn’t gotten familiar with each other’s eating habits yet. In the course of the conversation, he gave me a wry grin and said:
I’m not a vegetarian, but sometimes I eat like one.
While that gave me a chuckle and helped us pick a restaurant, I liked the phrase so much that I tucked it away to chew on it later. I’ve been picking little morsels from its bones ever since.
Lately, the phrase has me thinking about labels. Vegetarian. Omnivore. Picky eater. Heck, you can take it way beyond food. Think of any label you’ve casually slapped on a person. Musician. Artist. Businesswoman. Foodie. Scholar. Curmudgeon.
What do they all have in common?
Although they may help paint a picture, they’re also confining. Usually we hear one of those labels and jump to conclusions–good or bad.
If I told you my friend is a meat-eater, a red-blooded, American dude whose favorite cheat food is hot wings, you’d probably never guess that he packs his lunch box with veggies and superfoods and sneaks flaxseed into his kids’ oatmeal, or that he might trip you so he can make it to the salad bar first.
If I told you I have a friend who is a musician, you might assume she has an artsy free spirit and miss that she has a head for details and numbers like you wouldn’t believe.
We have to be just as careful when we assign labels as when we hear them ourselves. There’s so much more to a person than the meaning–or assumed meaning–carried in a single category. Using a label to define someone confines our understanding of that person.
I’m a meat-eater, but I’ll usually choose a black bean cake or a lentil stew over a steak. One of my favorite solo meals consists of sautéed zucchini, bell peppers, and mushrooms. Eggplant parm? Sign me up.
You see, I’m not a vegetarian, but sometimes I eat like one.