A discussion about diets and labels and the considerations that lead to them

When I was a little girl, my family would often holiday on a farm a few hours from the city where we lived. Water was fetched from a communal well. The toilet was a hole in the ground. There were rolling hills as far as you could see. Kerosene lamps provided reprieve once the sunlight faded.

It was in this setting at quite a tender age that I realised where meat came from. My maternal grandmother cautioned against going around the back of the house. Which immediately piqued my interest and off I went. Like a lamb to the slaughter house, or a goat in this case. Having witnessed the act I simply couldn’t bring myself to partake in any of the delicacies that local Fijian/Fiji Indian cuisine is known for.

I was vegetarian for a few years. Before and after that my meat consumption was negligible. Some chicken. A little lamb. No seafood. Fish, only begrudgingly, and only a morsel. I didn’t love milk. Eggs I struggled to eat, especially the yolk. Answering “yes” to “are you vegetarian?” seemed like the easiest way around the discussion about what I eat or don’t eat.

As I learn more about food, and the various diets, I’m at a loss. Vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, low FODMAP and so on. I don’t try to conform to any particular diet or world view about eating and what we should or should not be consuming. While I see eating as an activity we partake in to nourish our bodies, for me it is a social activity as well, a fairly large one. I enjoy meals cooked and shared among friends and family. Because of the social nature of eating I find it difficult to bring myself to conform to any specific diet.

Instead we try to be conscious of what we are eating (striving for plant-based a majority of the time), conscious of the social, cultural and religious context we’re in and also remembering that eating is such a social activity. Patrick has omitted milk from his diet, he currently has a almond and coconut milk. I’m struggling because I like a hot chocolate and it just isn’t the same without milk so I’m leaning towards continuing to enjoy my hot chocolate the way I’ve always enjoyed it.

Food brings people together and sometimes it means I might have to be flexible with my beliefs. My father-in-law refuses to hear that I don’t eat fish. Every time I visit him he’ll cook me a little fish, separate from the meal he cooks everyone else, and I’ll eat it (with a lot of lemon and a lot of chili). I know it has been prepared with so much love. Similarly, when I’m researching along coastal communities while I may prefer to eat the beautiful vegetables grown near their homes, it will be fish (the food that is valued the most) that is offered to me as a guest. Having said this my father-in-law also doesn’t understand why I want to eat the mustard cabbage from his garden instead of the fish he had ordered (freshly caught) for us.  I would love to cut so many things out of my diet, but I’m realising that for me there are other considerations that matter just as much as health and personal preference.

Do you consider culture, context and the social nature of food alongside health and personal reasons? 

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