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).
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.”
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),
graminivorous (eats grass or cereals),
granivorous (eats seeds),
gumnivorous (feeds on tree saps)
arachnivorous (feeds on spiders),
or larvivorous (eats larvae).
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.”