Young and Hungry

Vegivore: Do Labels Legitimize a Movement?

Do you call yourself a foodie? Or does the word burn your tongue like Sriracha?

I fall in the latter category, but that's only after years of abundant and abusive usage of that food-obsessed term. It seems everyone claims foodie status, because at this point, watching Food Network for two hours a night can verify club membership. Foodie lost its meaning. Foodie became mainstream. The label means nothing anymore.

But that's okay, because food writers insist on creating new categories of eating habits. This past Sunday, New York magazine, in Vegetables Are the New Meat, classified a new league of eaters: vegivores. An outtake:

These chefs and their devoted clientele are less vegetarians than vegivores, a term that connotes fervid vegetable love rather than ardent meat hate. It’s a subtle but important distinction. For the vegivore, a vegetable can occupy the center of the plate, with meat adding flavor or functioning as a condiment.

Writers Robin Raisfeld and Rob Patronite credit farmers markets, famous chefs (José Andrés gets a shout out) and pure deliciousness. "Simply put," Raisfeld and Patronite concede, "the once-meat-obsessed populace is realizing that vegetables actually taste good."

But will this new term actually intrigue people to consume less meat? Did locavore encourage shoppers to buy foods from within 150 miles of their homes? Will locawashing discourage restaurants from jumping on the local bandwagon without actually sourcing in the area? And how come Barbara Kingsolver's "Petrolophobes"— diners avoiding "fuel guzzling foods" — from her 2007 book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, never leaped from the page and into the mainstream?

Labels can help legitimize movements. Where would the Tea Party be without such a catchy and seemingly patriotic name? Labels help form communities. And communities — whether physical or virtual — allow people to feel connected, to stay strong in their beliefs because someone else out there is also toeing the line.

Where the term "vegetarian" cripples one's eating habits, vegivore breaks the glass ceiling of rigid rules. Vegivore allows room for experimentation, for giving power to choose a sausage, egg, and cheese one day and a spinach quiche the next, without explanation.

In fact, it might be the most freeing label there is.

(And for the record, I internet-spotted a few references to the term "vegivore" before the printing of NY magazine's article herehere and here, although none from recognizable sources.)

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