Who could hang a name on you? (Guest Post)

I am out of the country for the week, so a fellow blogger has kindly lent me two of her blog posts (the first of which was published here at Living Rhetorically on Tuesday). Hanlie blogs at Fertile Healthy; this post was originally published at her blog on August 18th.

There are a lot of things wrong with our society, but one of the most pervasive is our tendency to label people. It makes me angry, but more often it makes me sad.

Labels can generate much hatred and distrust. Does being called a “liberal” or a “conservative” define you? Of course not. Neither does it define the next person.

When you label someone, you will henceforth see the label and not the person. It puts up barriers between people. It stands in the way of reaching out and living compassionately. It separates the us from the them. It covers up our stories.

Each of us has a story.

Labels are often wildly inaccurate.

There is a lot of judgment in labels. In our society, “fat/overweight” is a label. I am fat/overweight, but when you hang that label around my neck, you may not appreciate that I eat healthier than 99% of the people around me, that I exercise regularly, and that I have lost about 50 pounds already. That label will mark me as a slovenly, lazy, unlovable, emotionally disturbed, unmotivated glutton. None of which are true.

Some labels are quite meaningless. Take the term “vegetarian” for instance. It tells us virtually nothing about the person. Everybody has a different understanding of the word, so people who use that term spend a lot of time explaining exactly what they do and don’t eat. Traditionally I think we all understood that vegetarians cut out meat, but still eat eggs and dairy. But I have come across people who eat chicken and fish and call themselves vegetarians!

On the other hand, some vegetarians cut out dairy or eggs too. Most people would think that they should then call themselves vegans. But “real” vegans take exception to that, arguing that true veganism is a mindset and a lifestyle primarily focused on the health and well-being of animals, with a secondary effect of being healthy for humans. They eschew leather, honey, glue, and a whole lot more. And they don’t like people who call themselves vegan by virtue of merely not eating meat, eggs, and dairy.

Us and them again.

Another problem with these labels is that it gives us some inkling of what people don’t do, but it tells us virtually nothing of what people do. A lot of vegans eat absolute crap! They may be relying on their moral superiority complex to see them through, but they are often no healthier than the rest of the population. That has nothing to do with not eating animal products!

The same goes for vegetarians. Craig has a family member who calls herself a vegetarian and I doubt she’s eaten a vegetable or a fruit in the last month.

But what about people like me? I eat animal products, but only rarely. None of those labels apply to me (*heaves a sigh of relief*). The term “flexitarian” has been bandied around a lot lately, but that is as meaningless as calling yourself an “anything-tarian”!

Aristotle says we are what we repeatedly do. I repeatedly eat lots of fruit and vegetables and other whole foods—mostly plants and mostly raw. I transform my life and my body every day. I grow and learn. I care about myself, other people, all living creatures and our planet.

There is no name for that. Just call me Hanlie!

Thanks Hanlie! Check back at Living Healthy in the Real World in September to read about my adventures when I go on a vegan diet for the entire month—we’ll be looking at the availability of all-natural, whole vegan foods to see just how healthy a person can really be on such a strict diet.