In the first half of my 20s, I spent a lot of time thinking about my personal gender expression and how I wanted to present myself outwardly to reflect the person I was in thought and in deed. (I swear this is about food. Just give me a minute.) At some point in the last year, my gender expression resolved itself. I developed a fashion style I liked. I realized that super short hair with a poofy skirt with pockets is just as good as with skinny jeans, and also that I shouldn’t reject the “feminine” styles and give into the cult of masculine = good, feminine [sissy] = bad. Provided that the skirts have pockets and the shoes are comfortable, anyhow.
My later 20s have been rife with a growing sense of discomfort about my food habits, particularly the consumption of meat. Growing up in the Midwest, I was used to meat as the center of the meal and veggies as less-worthy side dishes. At university, I drastically cut down my meat consumption, rarely eating red meat (dining hall…) and eating poultry once a day or so. At language school, I was presented with amazing vegetarian options. Then I moved to Japan, where meat, particularly chicken, is more expensive. I disliked the fatty cuts of meat at restaurants–not fine marbled beef, mind you, but just badly cut meats with fat left on. Sans my oven and a supply of lean cuts at the rural grocery store, I was even less inclined to have meat for dinner, though I longed for burritos and hamburgers.
I also made a lot of vegetarian and pescetarian friends through my Japan-related community and traded recipes with them. I began to notice that I didn’t want to eat meat as much. Sometime in the last year–and particularly when I began a twitter for the blog, I noticed that everyone else’s “#MeatlessMonday” was my “Meat on Monday,” as my vegetarian repertoire has grown to the point where I don’t have to cook any meat to get through a week, though I do usually make fish a couple nights. (Particularly on Mondays after a run to the fish market.)
I think the header came on a business trip to the US. I flew Delta, and my airplane meals were basically meat with meat on meat in meat sauce. “What is wrong with Americans?” I complained to my husband. “You CAN eat meat, so don’t complain,” he responded. In order to avoid another meaty flight, I requested vegetarian meals on our recent flights to the US on United and ANA, but was annoyed to discover that one long flight with a snack only offered some sort of sausage-biscuit thing (that I mercifully slept through). “Why didn’t you order me a vegetarian meal?” I asked. “You’re not even vegetarian! Why are you so bent on being offended for them?” he responded.
Having had food allergies for the last 15 years, I’m a little sensitive about people who get left out of meals. I’ve turned down a lot of sweets for my latex-fruit allergy, but those were generally situations where it was not the only thing to eat on a 6-hour flight. I have friends with gluten allergies, rice allergies, extreme lactose allergies, fish allergies, and I have friends who are vegetarian, vegan, pescetarian, and keep Kosher. But the real issue on the proverbial table was “either commit to being vegetarian or don’t.”
I identify as flexitarian. I generally avoid non-fish meat, but sometimes I eat a hamburger or have a chicken sandwich. My reasons are for my wallet–veggies, beans, and tofu are cheaper in Japan; for my health–avoiding saturated fats and cholesterol; for environmental reasons–eating lower on the food chain and getting only local meats, a.k.a., fish, which is easy in Kanazawa; and for my own peace of mind–after the turkey roasting at Thanksgiving, I can’t see meat as just meat anymore. Lately I’ve been wondering if I should just go for it and just go pescetarian since that appears to be where my lifestyle is headed. But, similarly to my refusal of adopting a single fashion style, I don’t want to commit to that. I don’t want to indulge in a biannual hamburger in front of people who think I’m a strict vegetarian. Moreover, I don’t want people to think that “vegetarians” are noncommittal to a lifestyle, saying “I don’t eat meat” and then ordering some, particularly in Japan, where the understanding of what meat is is very different than it is in the US–octopus, bacon bits, minced pork ARE actually meat.
Instead of flexitarian, I would actually describe myself as “vegetarianish” taking a page from Dan Savage’s term monogamish (links to Savage Love, NSFW). Savage sets up a relationship of two long-term primary partners, but instead of cheating, on one end of the spectrum, or polyamory/swinging, on the other, a relationship negotiated by the couple so that sexual flexibility is okay: “We’re mostly monogamous, not swingers, not actively looking. Monogamish” (“Monogamish,” Savage Love, 20 July 2011–this one is most definitely NSFW). So that’s vegetarianism and me. Vegetables might be my primary partner, but we acknowledge that I do have a relationship with meat sometimes, not as a mistress (read: guilty pleasure), but as a functional though not primary player in my diet.
Vegetarian-ish? Veg-ish? What should I call this? Anything but “a little meat on the side,” thanks.