Nutrition Labels

February 15, 2012

I’ve been thinking a lot about labels recently. It’s mostly come out of conversations at dinners with friends, or even people I don’t know that well, talking about their dietary preferences, what we’ve all learned, what we’re doing now. Dietary trends change, but it seems now more than ever there are labels for how we’re eating, official sounding names for different kinds of limitations–vegan, locavore, flexitarian. It’s funny that while there are now more options than ever (that probably is also a consequence of blogging, didn’t you know that I’m an expert in, um, writing what I think about?) it seems more confining. I’ve resisted defining how I eat. I’m mostly driven to choose foods based on taste, how they make me feel, what I think is healthy, ease (or sometimes complexity) of preparation, and experience. Maybe I’m just undisciplined, but I think the experience of eating is so much fun, and who am I to rob myself of eating the most delicious, saucy barbecue because I’ve deemed myself a vegetarian (which is, sort of organically–in the naturally coming about sense–how I eat most of the time). Same goes for exquisite cheeses or any number of other delicious foods that in themselves are an experience.

I also read a piece in the New Yorker not that long ago (I can’t find the story now, but it was fiction about Hasidm coming to visit secular friends and the idea of kashrut came up), but it made mention of the fact that people love to call others out on breaking their own rules. I think nothing is more true in the world of dietary rules, everyone loves to police other people’s choices or indiscretions. Maybe the labels are comforting, provide some structure in a world of exploding choices, maybe I have just as many rules as the next person and I should create a label for how I eat. I’m not sure.

One more addendum: for some reason I haven’t been drinking coffee this week. I went to visit my parents over the weekend who no longer (mom) or never did drink coffee (dad) and drank tea instead. I liked it, so I’ve kept doing it (I recognize that it’s Wednesday). I’m nowhere near ready to emphatically not be a coffee drinker anymore. (Did you see my post on coffee in San Francisco? I waited for half an hour for an artfully brewed cup, and it was delicious.) But I did fall victim to labeling as part of this personal tea foray. Standing in the aisle at Westside Market near school, I looked at the selection of Yogi teas (I had had one at my parents house that I liked). My eyes fell on one called “Healthy Fasting.” What does that even mean? I should drink this tea the next time I fast? (Which happens once a year on Yom Kipppur, er, most years, not when wedding planning). I have no plans to fast (I like food, remember?) but there was part of me that thought it would do something beneficial for my body. I opened my first sachet this morning and put it in a cup. It smelled vaguely the the Constant Comment tea my parents used to drink when I was a kid, with sort of a bergamot hue and a licorice-ish shadow. Most of the way through my first cup, I think it tastes delicious, I would be lying if I didn’t have a fleeting hope of pounds dripping off into the industrial carpeting of Buell Hall, but mostly I feel foolish that I bought a tea called “Healthy Fasting.” They got me!

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