You’re a what??

You’ve all heard it: We ARE what we eat. Or at least there’s a word for HOW we eat. Lots of words, it turns out.

We humans are considered omnivores (animals who are designed to eat both meat and vegetable matter), as opposed to herbivores (animals who feed only on plants) or carnivores (animals who mainly eat meat).


Photo by Grupo panda via Wikimedia Commons

Then, some of us make choices (after all, that’s what being human is all about) in our diets that label us things like vegetarian (no meat) or vegan (no animal products at all—including meat, eggs, dairy, and even honey). The choices are endless and can certainly be confusing. My friend Carol, who’s chosen to eat an organic, gluten-free diet (with no other restrictions), experienced this first-hand recently when her 87-year-old mother commented that it “might be better to stop trying to be a vegan and go back to eating normal things.”


Photo by Scott Bauer via Wikimedia Commons

Good thing Carol wasn’t an ovo-vegetarian (eats eggs, but not dairy), a lacto-vegetarian (eats dairy, but not eggs), or ovo-lacto (or lacto-ovo) vegetarian (eats both eggs and dairy—or is that dairy and eggs?). Try explaining those to Mom!

Or how about a semi-vegetarian (cutting back on meat in general), a pollo vegetarian (avoids red meat and fish, but eats chicken), or a pesco pollo vegetarian (no red meat, but eats chicken and fish)? Speaking of labels, all these vegetarians could also be called phytivorous (feeding on plants) or thalerophagous (feeding on fresh vegetable matter).

Take it a step further, and you could be a fruitarian. That’s not quite what it sounds; a fruitarian usually eats fruits AND vegetables, nuts, and seeds, but no animal products or grains. But some fruitarians only eat what would fall naturally from a plant—never harming or killing a plant.


Or hey, take it all the way, why don’t you? There are people called breatharians—yep, you guessed it—who believe that you can give up food and water altogether and live purely off prana (a Sanskrit word meaning “life force”).


In the animal world, there are even more labels.

How about nectarivorous (feeds on nectar),


frugivorous (fruit-eating),

Orang, Malaysia

Photo by Eleifert via Wikimedia Commons

graminivorous (eats grass or cereals),


granivorous (eats seeds),

Tamias striatus

Photo by Gilles Gonthier via Wikimedia Commons

gumnivorous (feeds on tree saps)


Photo by Carmem A. Busko via Wikimedia Commons

arachnivorous (feeds on spiders),

 or larvivorous (eats larvae).


Photo by Hulivili Pro-Mitglied via Wikimedia Commons

Or how about lignivorous (wood eaters), saprophagous (feeds on decaying material), and even geophagus (dirt-eating)? Somehow, these options don’t sound so appetizing.

All this talk about food is making me hungry! I have a hankerin’ for a steak and scrambled-egg-and-veggie sandwich on a whole-grain English muffin with a side of hash browns and a big glass of fresh milk from my Heritage Jersey cow, Maizy. Does that make me a lacto-ovo, phytivorous, non-breatharian omnivore? But definitely not a fruitarian—I’ll have to kill that poor potato plant in order to harvest the potatoes.

While my dinner’s cooking, I think I’ll read a couple pages of one of my favorite books, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan, who gives the best advice I’ve heard so far: “Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”


Leave a comment 3 Comments

  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    I am in agreement with what Michael Pollan says about food and would add my Dad’s advice to always eat in moderation. Too much of a good thing ends up not being a good thing. That veggie sandwich looks like a perfect meal to me!

  2. Terry Steinmetz says:

    Amen, Michel Pollan! My grandparents & great grandparents were farmers & ate quite healthy. I’m glad I learned those lessons early in life!

  3. Kristina Holtrop says:

    OMG I love Micheal Pollan! He’s my hero!! 🙂 I love that The Omnivore’s Dilemma is one of your favorite books. I just finished reading In Defense of Food. I just read about Food Babe today in your magazine and I freaked out when I saw that you referenced her because I love her too!

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