The Food Qualifier: Why Food Labels Have Harmed More Than Informed
I was excitedly informing a friend the other week that I had my Mom’s leftover handmade ravioli and she had to try some. (If you tried my Italian mother’s ravioli, you, too, would understand my state of giddiness). To which she replied:
Is it vegetarian?
Is the ocean purple? I stood there in perplexed silence for far longer than socially acceptable until I retorted, “No. It’s meat and spinach.” (Not so much a retort as was a stammered reply.) Once I finished laughing inside thinking about the scene from the movie My Big Fat Greek wedding—you know the one, where the Greek woman introduces her boyfriend to the family and she nervously whispers to her aunt that he doesn’t eat meat and the aunt shrieks, “He eat no meat? Great. I have lamb.”—I was stunned and saddened.
Saddened that we’ve taken well-intentioned labels and turned them into a necessary qualifier for what we eat. Is it vegetarian? Vegan? Gluten-free? The only label I require is that it’s real food, minimally processed, and that I will be enjoying it with love and gusto.
Our reliance on labels to inform our food decisions has clouded our judgment. Mainly because a vegan- or vegetarian-labeled food can still be pumped full of artificial ingredients. And the friend I mentioned above is not vegetarian. I don’t take any issue with the well-informed vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, or myriad other groups there are. My concern is that we’re throwing a label of gluten-free or vegetarian on a product so that the masses will consume it without second guessing its contents. We’ve become draconian about how we speak about and identify with our food.
We need to return to infusing our food with love and passion and a healthy dose of humor. Try—and yes that means reading ingredient panels—to become an informed eater instead of a food label consumer. Eat minimally processed and real food as much as you can. And when you come to the table, do so with enjoyment and appreciation, both for the pure joy of food itself and the nourishment it provides.
And please don’t ask me what label it carries.