You Are What You Don’t Eat

OK, vegetarians don’t eat animals, including fish. But that’s only the beginning. There’s a whole other world out there of selective eaters who abstain from this or that because of health, politics, or neuroses. To guide you through the nomenclature of culinary identity, we’ve defined some terms, coined others, and generally split the world into 10 kinds of eaters. And that doesn’t even include the omnivores with a conscience (whom perhaps we’ll call Pollanarians, after Michael Pollan, the patron saint of humane eating).

1. Vegan. A vegan won’t put anything that comes from an animal into his or her mouth, including dairy products and eggs. Though originally associated with hippie culture, veganism garnered much-needed hipster cred with the rise of the straight edge scene (punks who don’t drink or do drugs) in the early 1980s. Notable bands that erupted from this fusion are Vegan Reich and Naturecore.

A closer look at the macrobiotic diet (roll over to see details)

2. Macrobiotic. An ancient Eastern way of eating, macrobiotics today is specifically tailored to each individual, though the basics remain the same: locally grown organic food with meat-free preparation and lots of whole grains as the base. Unlike in vegetarianism, seafood’s permitted, though tomatoes, honey, and eggplant are not. The diet was once thought to cure certain forms of cancer, though there are stories of it exacerbating health problems.

3. Localvore or Locavore. People who make it a practice to consume exclusively local produce and products claim that the ingredients in an average American meal have to travel 1,500 miles to get to one’s mouth. In to-may-to, to-mah-to fashion, some call themselves localvores while others have adopted locavore. The resurgence of farmers’ markets, the inherent environmental benefits, and the fact that it supports local economies have strengthened the philosophy’s appeal. This is all well and good for people living in California, but how’s the local produce in Alaska?

4. Gluten-free Eater. This term is often used as a catchall for people who avoid all types of wheat and gluten products. A strict gluten-free diet is maintained by sufferers of celiac disease, whose systems can’t tolerate gluten in any form (see Seinfeld: “I have no patience for lactose, and I won’t stand for it”). For the most part, someone who is a gluten-free eater can’t ingest breads, pastas, and convenience foods, and—depending on his or her tolerance—kamut, spelt, rye, barley, and oats. In the midst of the Atkins Diet craze, gluten-free started appearing on labels as dieters sought to up their protein intake and cut out the carbs. But technically gluten is a protein, referring to the sticky, water-soluble protein group found in flour.

5. Lachanophobitarian. Broadly defined as someone with an overbearing and uncontrollable fear of vegetables; we have no doubt that any produce-aisle object could evolve into a catalyst for a traumatic event. But why not fruits, and what is the lachanophobitarian’s stance on tomatoes?

6. Flexitarian. A flexitarian makes exceptions to his or her mostly vegetarian diet according to a self-defined set of rules. Common flexitarian rules: “I only eat meat when I’m at someone else’s house and I’m the guest”; “I only eat meat when I know where it came from”; and “I only eat meat when traveling and there’s no vegetarian choice.” CHOW coined its own subcategory of flexitarianism: ba-curious, meaning a vegetarian who just can’t refuse bacon, the gateway drug.

7. Pescatarian. To us, those who claim to be vegetarians while still eating fish are like the people who say they don’t do drugs, just marijuana. Maybe it’s simply less confusing for someone to say he’s vegetarian instead of pescatarian, but if you’re going to label yourself in the first place, you might as well get it right.

8. Calorie-Restricted. The calorie-restricted diet has received a lot of attention in the past year, most recently being provocatively and effectively compared to anorexia. Severely restricting the amount you eat might make you live longer (if you’re calorie-restricted) yet makes you live less long (if you’re anorexic). Either way, eating becomes way less fun.

9. Gravitarian. Fruitarians, a subdivision of vegans, follow a strict diet of fruits, nuts, and seeds. Gravitarian is a term we came up with to deal with a smaller group of hard-core fruitarians who eat only the ripe fruits and vegetables that have fallen naturally from the plant or tree. When they find out that they’re stealing nutrition from foraging animals, they may turn to breatharianism.

10. Breatharian. Followers of breatharianism claim to be nourished only by sunlight and air, free from the rigors of eating and drinking. The most vocal advocate of breatharianism in the 1990s, an Australian woman who changed her name from Ellen Greve to Jasmuheen, has received all sorts of awards for her work, ranging from the Bent Spoon Award (for pseudoscientific piffle) to an Ig Nobel Prize (an ignoble parody of the real thing). The founder of the Breatharian Institute of America, Wiley Brooks, was famously spotted exiting a Santa Cruz, California, 7-Eleven in 1983 with a hot dog and Twinkies in hand. He acknowledged that he periodically breaks his fast with a Big Mac and a Coke, since junk food “adds balance.”