Let's Be Herbivores

Okay, I hate labels too. Labels tend to put us into boxes and cause us to be identified in ways that we don't necessarily seek to be identified. But we live in a society that does use labels, and sometimes, it's helpful to apply labels in certain situations.

The problem that occurs in the whole food, plant-based world, I think, is that when we label ourselves, we tend to label ourselves as vegans. And that certainly helps because the world knows what the term vegan means. It means we don't eat meat. At least that's how the world sees it. On the other hand, vegan has a much broader context than that. Vegans are about humanity to animals in all respects. So, not only do vegans not eat meat, but they also don't wear leather or wool nor do they eat honey. Being a vegan is a good thing; it's all about humanity to animals.

And many of us who have adopted a whole food, plant-based diet have also become vegans. I'm not totally there myself, and I don't know if I ever will be 100% there, but I'm very close. And I respect those who are.

But eating a WFPB diet is something different. Among those who we term as being plant-perfect, it does include not eating any animal products at all -- ever. Many others, however, who consider themselves as WFPB will occasionally eat very small amounts of animal products. Followers of Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Pam Popper or The Blue Zones Solution are all following whole food, plant-based diets that include some animal products in them. Also, Dr. T. Colin Campbell in The China Study suggests that there's no research that would say that a diet that included 5% of calories from animal products is bad.

So, depending on how you follow the WFPB diet, you may or may not be vegan. But even if you are, the term vegan does not encompass the totality of the whole food, plant-based way of eating. Many people are vegan, but they also eat processed foods and vegetable oils, including olive olive. Neither are part of a WFPB diet, except for some limited processed foods, like whole grain pasta or bread, which can be eaten sparingly or minimally processed foods, like tofu or tempeh.

Then there's the term "starchivore" that Dr. McDougall promotes. While I agree with Dr. McDougall that we need to put starches as the centerpiece of our meals, I think the term starchivore is limiting also. Besides not saying anything about oil and processed foods, starchivore also downplays the importance of green leafy vegetables, vegetables of rainbow colors and other foods that we should be including in our diet. While those foods are in diets promoted by Dr. McDougall, the term starchivore does not encompass them.

Because of that, I think we need a term that fully and better describes how we eat on a whole food, plant-based diet. And the term that comes to mind for me is "herbivore." We are herbivores. In nature, herbivores are plant-eating animals that don't eat processed foods or oils either. And they don't eat other animals.

And why is this important? Because if the term "herbivore" can gain wide recognition, then next time we go into a restaurant, we can call ourselves herbivores and the wait staff will know exactly what we mean. Today, we go into a restaurant and say we're vegan. They know that means no meat, but then they serve us something swimming in oil. We need them to recognize that we are about no meat, no dairy, no oil and little processed.

And it's not just restaurants. Our families can better understand our way of eating if we describe ourselves as herbivores, and the term becomes widely recognized. One thing about the term herbivore is that it doesn't just describe us in terms of what we don't eat. It also describes us in terms of what we do eat. It has a more positive spin on it for many people.

So, I say, let's be herbivores. And for those who can get there, why not be vegan herbivores?