Diets, Food and Identity

Recently, I had a nice CNY dinner at Whole Earth that was specialised in ‘plant-based cooking’ which of course is there to appeal to those with ‘plant-based diets’. Really pretty good food and I’m really glad we got to go to the place – and it really did happen only because there were a couple of vegetarians within that group I was having dinner with. And this sort of diversity is great, it brings about new ideas, and causes us to think about things we take for granted. Being challenged even in terms of one’s identity is a useful way to grow.

Yet it can be difficult; when asked why we are on one diet rather than another; we might give a response that evangelises the diet, or one that tries to provide excuses for your personal idiosyncrasies. And when people test the boundaries of those diets (‘isn’t alcohol vegetarian?’ or ‘why do some vegetarians eat garlic and onions while you don’t?’), you might get uncomfortable about it. And you might not even have a ready defence or clear idea because you didn’t really think about it when you signed up to the diet. I think these are times when we can be more genuine, to say we’re still figuring these out, but that there are good reasons that you committed to the diet, and hence you’ll figure out why.

What would be an inappropriate response is to ask ‘why are you on that diet of yours then?’ as a response to the uneasiness or the discomfort of being challenged. Or to offer a more personal counter-challenge veiled in intellectualism: “what is the role of your diet in your life then?” Often we don’t even think much about our diets – the masses of us who just are brought up to eat certain things and in certain way! But with the changes that our global economy needs, we had better start questioning and thinking.