Friday Feature: Label-less

by Jemma on August 26, 2011

in Friday Feature Posts

a pen

SO these are pens.

apples

These are apples.

 salt

This. is. salt.

 

I’m not trying to insult your intelligence. Work with me here

What if these items didn’t have names and we didn’t give things labels.  Would we end up putting salt in our cakes instead of sugar?  Or maybe attempt to write a note with a pen?

Nah! I didn’t think so either. 

Although my Mum has baked two batches of minces pies one Christmas using salt, without having any idea why the pasty was always tasted so salty.  It turned out that the sugar jar and the salt jar were not labeled.  Doh!  We had no mince pies that year! :(

So there’s an example where labeling things can be a huge advantage- I love my mince pies at Christmas!  But, what about when it comes to peoples beliefs and preferences? Why in today’s society do we feel the need to label everything? 

It seems impossible for a vegetarian to simply just be someone who doesn’t feel the need or has any desire to eat meat.  It seems impossible that someone who only eats fish is just someone who just doesn’t eat fish.  It seems impossible that someone who doesn’t drink cows milk must immediately be looked upon as someone with a intolerance to dairy products.  When the simple fact of the matter is that they just cannot stand the taste of cows milk.

labels

It seems that anything that is not labeled these days doesn’t fit. It’s deemed an anomaly if you cannot give that something a name.  Today’s society seems to get really irate when they cannot put a name to an item, someone’s marital status, a flower or an individuals beliefs.

After defining my dietary preferences the other day as “pescatarian” I thought to myself: Why should I have to define my beliefs?  Why cannot they not just be?

I always find labeling a a tough subject to be discuss as it really isn’t a black and white topic.  More like red, yellow, purple and everything else in between.  Labels are not just about image or credibility.  Giving something a name is essential in some ways to make sure that you are understood.  When I say that I am a pescatarian the waiter in the restaurant instantly know what that means.  In many cases labels aid communication and stop mishaps like mistaking sugar for salt for instance.  And like a double edged sword sometimes labels can become negative and objectify people.

In my own opinion labeling someone with a belief can instantly create a pressure for that individual.  It gives them something that they perhaps may feel pressurised to live up to and they may begin to make choices that they may not necessarily agree or be comfortable with to conform to the label given to them.

 

dr seuss

Do you feel the pressure to live up to a label that has been assigned to you by society?

Do you think it is necessary to label peoples beliefs?

Is labeling a negative thing?

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Girl In The Pink August 26, 2011 at 6:49 PM

Interesting post! I definitely think labels can be annoying – I am a “vegetarian” but every once and awhile I do have fish, and I also try to avoid dairy when it makes sense too and only eat organic eggs. There really is no label to define that, it is sort of complicated! I guess that best way to “label” my diet is that I try to eat as cruelty free and healthy as possible!

Amanda @ Running with Spoons August 26, 2011 at 7:22 PM

I think labels can definitely be a negative thing because they’re prescriptive rather than descriptive in a lot of instances. People apply a label to themselves, and feel pressured to act in a way that fits that label, even if it’s not in their best interest. I remember when I called myself a vegan… I was craving dairy and eggs so badly, but I wouldn’t let myself have them for the longest time simply because then it would mean that I could no longer call myself a vegan… so I sacrificed my health for some stupid label that doesn’t mean anything. These days, I don’t call myself anything. I don’t eat meat, but if I ever found myself craving it, I would probably eat it.

Lenna (veganlenna) August 26, 2011 at 7:47 PM

I really do believe that labeling is negative, sometimes even harmful and definitely binding. It makes you feel like you have to fit into a specific frame, with its rules and norms. And when you slip from the given path, you feel guilty. Trying to fullfill someone´s beliefs about a certain label is demanding and stressfull, since no one is perfect and no one can be the perfect example of any label. Eating raw, because you find it wise or trendy, and then craving breaded chicken or toast with cheese every night and day – what a life would it be? Not good, I think!

~Jessica~ August 26, 2011 at 8:50 PM

I hate the way society condemns those that refuse to be labelled. Not that it’s to do with food or exercise, but people generally seem to find absence harder to accept than presence, the example for me being asexual, as I am, with some fairly slack-jawed reactions. Somehow, it’s easier to be bisexual, because that at least has defining terminology, where as asexuality has so many nuances, and being based on the notion of not possessing certain character traits or feelings, that everyone I’ve met outside of the somewhat more enlightened blog world seems either confused or threatened.

The veggie/vegan ‘label’ can be similarly intimidating, and labels in general carry a set of connotations and associations with them beyond the behaviour that’s simply ascribed. Vegans in particular can be perceived as morally preachy and self-rightious, simply by uttering the words ‘I’m a vegan.’ And label definitions are pretty problematic in themselves, as Amanda’s very thoughtful comment has highlighted.

There’s no point in being a ‘something’: a runner/vegan/gym bunny/whatever. All we can be is ourselves. The labels are aspects of our identity, not defining features of it.

xxx

sarah@onedayiwillseethesun August 26, 2011 at 8:54 PM

My opinion is that labelling can be seen as negative as it puts you in to a box and defines you as something when in reality we are all individuals. This is what has annoyed me about being in eating disorder units they would label you as an illness, not as a person, and if you had this you would act in that way which was highly frustrating. Hope you get mince pies this year;)

knittingrunningeating August 26, 2011 at 10:02 PM

A really interesting post. And you know some of my thoughts from our chat on Twitter!

Some great responses here and pretty much summing up what I also think.

I like to be me!! Not an X, Y or Z :-D

Karen August 26, 2011 at 10:49 PM

Nice post. When we label things or people we think we understand everything about them when we really know nothing! For awhile I labeled myself a raw foodist. Finally I decided I wanted to eat whatever I want – which happens to be raw from time to time – and am much happier about never having to ‘explain’ myself! :)

eatinglikeahorse August 26, 2011 at 11:25 PM

I really like this post because it’s what I think. I hardly ever cook meat at home or order if if I’m eating out because I’d rather have other things – but if I order a vegetarian meal because I like the look of it, people ask “are you a vegetarian?” No, but that doesn’t mean I have to eat meat!
On the other hand, some labelling can be useful, like you say. I have to label myself gluten-free but that’s a necessity… :-)

Rachel @ Eat, Learn, Discover! August 27, 2011 at 1:48 AM

I hate labeling myself, especially when it comes to my personal choices. Especially when it comes to food, fashion, taste in music and movies, etc. It drives me nuts that society has trained us to feel like we have to fall into some sort of category in order to fit in. Awesome post!

Melissa August 27, 2011 at 3:59 AM

I’ve been having a problem with labels lately, so this post comes at a great time. A few months ago I began transitioning from ‘pescetarian’ to full on ‘vegetarian’ and then even more towards ‘vegan’. But I sometimes have trouble labeling myself vegan because I sometimes feel as though it’s a lot of pressure. I strive to eat as vegan as possible, but sometimes I can’t, and I don’t like the thought of someone who doesn’t agree with my food choices to “catch” me eating something wrong. Does that make sense. And especially with the term vegan, I feel like some people have negative connotations of it.

kristinerunningonhungry August 27, 2011 at 5:43 AM

What a great post! I am not a fan of labels – I think they pigeon hole, and hold an “all or nothing” mentality. I eat meat (all kinds) but there are days that I eat vegan, or vegetarian, or just fish. It just depends on my mood. I don’t even think they’ve come up with a label to describe that yet! ;-)

buttonss - Cherie August 27, 2011 at 6:50 AM

I agree with the label pressure.
With being ‘vegan’ I feel that way. But I find diet an stuff to be such a personal thing. Im not going to completely freak out if I eat something that has a little whey or something in it, I didnt know, it was a slip up, everythings going to be okay!!
And I feel like if I want to eat something with a little honey on it, maybe I will, I dont want to feel like I CANT because of my ‘label’. Its all your own beliefs so you can change them up however and whenever you like.

athleticali August 27, 2011 at 9:18 AM

This was spot-on. I think the second people find out you’re a veggie/vegan/paleo/meat eater, people make assumptions about the type of person you are and aren’t. In terms of diet labelling, there are some positives – I don’t eat meat, and people need to know that if I’m invited over for dinner – but the assumptions that come from that are the issue.

Laura Agar Wilson August 27, 2011 at 2:25 PM

I think this is a difficult one, generally I think labels are a negative thing certainly when they are used for conformity and restriction. As you say they are necessary to communicate our needs at times. I feel its all down to the individual, some labels – the ones that we can assign to ourselves in a positive way can be extremely empowering!

BrittFit August 27, 2011 at 3:35 PM

VERY insightful post… labels in society are interesting. Some labels can be good.. but becoming synonymous with your label, I think, is wrong because people are changing all the time!

Sarah(everydaysapicnic) August 27, 2011 at 6:02 PM

Thanks for this fantastic post! I never thought too much about labels in terms of my diet before I read blogs. So many people in the blogworld are vegetarian and vegan, that I started think about how to label the way I eat. However, I’ve come to conclusion that it much better for me if I don’t label myself. If anyone asks if I’m vegetarian (because I eat “weird” stuff like tofu) I usually answer that I don’t eat much meat, but I do occasionally.

Sweet Potato Sarah August 27, 2011 at 6:03 PM

I definitely agree with you that it doesn’t seem like you can just not eat meat because you don’t like the taste, you have to be doing it for health reasons or ethics or whatever. At the moment i don’t eat much meat because i hate cooking it myself, but i do sometimes have it at a restaurant or if my mum’s made it, and that’s just how i like to eat. I tried labelling myself at first too but then felt i was “cheating” if i decided i actually would like a piece of chicken when eating out, so silly!

debbie@accidentlydelish August 27, 2011 at 7:32 PM

i LOVE this post because one of the first things i always tell people is “i refuse to label myself, but no, i do not eat meat” sometimes going to a restaurant it is “easier” to say i’m a vegetarian when you want something cooked a certain way, but i also find it not important to even mention when i meet or entertain others.

if i cook a meatless meal, its still JUST a meal. it just happens to not have meat in it. there is no reason for me to have to explain or justify the dish.

unfortunately i feel labels are here to stay and some people love them. oh those elites’ ;)

Ellie@fitforthesoul August 28, 2011 at 6:35 AM

Very interesting post Jem!
Hmmm I would say that everything has its pros and cons. While SOOOMETIMESSS labeling can help in quickly, concisely and briefly showing someone something about ourselves or the subject matter, it can also easily become a burden to society. I think the greatest downfall about labeling TOO MUCH (and perhaps in a wrong or negative way) is the pride factor. I think that pride truly kills and if labeling becomes a product of pride, or vice versa, then it can be dangerous to people in general. Hope this makes sense! :D

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