What is 'Mostly' Green

I think about food a lot, both in traditional and nontraditional ways. When I wake up in the mornings, breakfast is the first thing on my mind. After a long day, there’s nothing I love more than spending some time in the kitchen to cook dinner. Food brings me balance, it nourishes and supports me.

But as a nutrition student, I’m being trained to take my relationship with food to another level, studying the role of certain foods in chronic disease, identifying methods of medical nutrition therapy for future patients and researching how food can make a positive impact for people suffering from illness. Nutrition, the food we eat, is directly correlated with how healthy we are. Many of the leading causes of death in the United States can be prevented, or the symptoms reversed, with good, often plant-based, nutrition.

My education has forced me to reexamine how I, and society as a whole, approaches food. I’m somebody who has identified as a vegetarian, a pescatarian, and a vegan at various points in my life. But I’ve started questioning whether these labels are helpful, or perhaps hurtful, in promoting health and good nutrition.

So here’s my stance on various “diets” and the labels we put upon ourselves. I am not a vegan. I am human. I eat ‘mostly’ plant-based. I limit animal products, and my plate abounds with fresh produce. I do this because I love vegetables, and I love what they can do for me.

But I also go out to eat at restaurants, dinner parties and family events. It can be tough to have control over the menu in these circumstances. It isn’t worth it for me to pick around a plate that somebody else has graciously prepared for me. I want to enjoy my meal and the company of others without worrying about whether the food in front of me breaks the “rules”.

I try to make the best choices I can, but in the most laid-back way possible because I know it is even more important to develop a good, uncomplicated relationship with food. For most, adopting a “diet” or “label” can be a slippery slope into restrictive and disordered eating. By assigning these labels, any lapse in strict adherence to the rules leaves one feeling disappointed and ashamed. And is that what we really want in a relationship? My guess is no.

I will forever be an advocate for the plant-based diet, and I will always fill my meals with a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables. But I am not losing any sleep if, every now and then, animal products make their way onto my plate.

Kristen Carli