Where Logic Meets Love

On Vegetarians and Lesbians (or the Problem with Labels)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

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On Vegetarians and Lesbians (or the Problem with Labels) | Faith Permeating Life
Back in April, I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and went through an internal struggle, documented here and here, about my consumption of non-local foods and meat from CAFOs.

I finally decided that I was happy taking a few small steps: subscribing to a local CSA (community-supported agriculture) share and avoiding meat when eating out. I decided that a few steps in the right direction was better than trying to make a vast lifestyle switch and quickly giving up. This is right in line with what Gretchen Rubin calls the "moderator/abstainer" difference. I am a moderator -- the thought of giving up bacon or lunch meat for the rest of my life, right now, is too much for me. I want to support sustainable food practices, and I want to reduce my dependence on CAFO meat, but I don't need to go all out to do so.

Here's the problem, though: Our culture likes to put people in boxes. Either you're a vegetarian or you're not a vegetarian. I went out to eat at Chili's with my family shortly after making this decision, and Mike and I ended up combing the menu trying to find something without meat that I could eat. The next time we were at my parents' for dinner they were serving kebabs, and I felt weird being like, "Oh yeah, I know I took forever to find a non-meat item at Chili's, but it's cool if you want to grill me up a big stick of meat from wherever." So I had an all-vegetable kebab.

My own mental description for my eating habits has been "selective meat eater" -- that is, I will eat meat if I know how it was raised. But I don't know if I really want to go that far, even. I'd still prefer to simply take the step of reducing my meat consumption by cutting out meat when eating out. There's no good way to explain that, though.

I think this xkcd comic captures it well: Our culture doesn't take well to doing things halfway. The assumption is that if you really care about the things you say you do, you'll go all out for those causes. You have to jump from the meat-eater box to the vegetarian box -- you can't straddle them and make up your own definition of how much meat you'll eat.

We've still been eating meat at home, with the assumption that that meat would start coming from our CSA, but I'm starting to get nervous because we haven't received any pickup information from our CSA, and I've sent two e-mails asking if our application was received, with no response. So as my meat-eating options dwindle, my whole reassurance of, "It's OK, I'll still have meat to eat at home," is kind of failing.

Mike has been very supportive of my wanting to eat less meat, but almost too much so. He's going to be gone for most of the week, and so we went shopping to pick up some meals for me, and he immediately went after non-meat options only. I really appreciate that, but it puts me in an awkward position because, again, I have no good reason to say, "Oh, no, actually, this meat is OK." It's still just as likely to come from a CAFO far away as any restaurant meat is -- maybe more so.

Basically, I feel like I tried to take one small, manageable step and ended up falling down the rabbit hole into the "vegetarian" box. And I'm not really ready to be there.


This whole experience has provided an unexpected twist of understanding for me. One of the books I read recently was The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson, a YA book that includes two female high school friends who start dating each other. One, Mel, has known for a while that she was gay and this becomes her opportunity to come out, while the other, Avery, has never been interested in a girl before and finds herself resisting the label of "lesbian."

This is hard for other people to understand: How can you be dating a girl and not be a lesbian? But Avery doesn't know -- does she like just this one girl, or other girls? How about this guy she's interested in? Does she really like him? Is she bisexual? Does she like being with him more than with Mel? Or vice versa? Will she want to be with other guys or girls in the future?

From the budding, confusing feelings of a teenage crush, she feels forced to pick and stick with one definitive label for her sexuality.

I mean, it was hard enough for me as a straight high schooler to sort out my feelings about various guys: Do I really like him, or do I just think I like him because he held my hand at the school dance? If the answer to that question had had ramifications for my entire self-definition, I don't know what I would have done.

It's no wonder it's so hard for some people to come to terms with their sexual orientation. Besides the potentially vast social ramifications of putting yourself in one box vs. another, you're being asked to extrapolate from a confusing mass of feelings about one person or another to decide how you want to say you feel about an entire gender for the rest of your life.

I have a lot of friends who place themselves at various points on the LGBTQ spectrum, and I don't pretend to understand every one of their coming out experiences, but I'm starting to gain some appreciation for how much pressure our societal labels can put on what is essentially a matter of self-discovery. You're not "allowed" to date another woman and then say that you're not interested in women, as a rule. There's no label for that. Just like there's no label for only sometimes not eating meat, or kind of trying to buy more local foods but not really being a hard-and-fast locavore.

I get that labels serve a purpose. You have to check off a vegetarian box so your host knows whether to serve you meat or not. You find out if your friend is gay or straight or bi so you know whether to offer to set him up with your cousin. But I still think if we expanded our vocabulary, maybe we'd be a lot better at embracing all shades of diversity.


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