I'm vegan, but don't call me "orthorexic"

Ok. I'm self-professed health nut, but I'm not an orthorexic. Didn't read "Can Healthy Eating Be Labeled a Disorder?" in TIME Magazine? Well, take a look at first, or you proceed and I'll fill you in a little.

According to the TIME article, the author suggests that "orthorexia" is the latest eating disorder label, "a controversial diagnosis characterized by an obsession with avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthy." And, based on the description in the first paragraph of the 68-lb woman, some people do obsess a little too much about what they eat.

I don't deny the existence of orthorexia, but I'm fearful that people may misconstrue the message of this article. I've witnessed those painfully thin individuals who ascribe to a whole foods diet, perhaps practice yoga a little too often and are in training for their next triathlon. But, this article brought up feelings on my own eating habits, not in a hypochondriac sense, but in how others may perceive my beliefs.

When I went "local" - on top of being vegan - for my senior thesis, some of my friends and family were worried that I may waste away and told me to stay just the way I was. But, if you really know me, I love and appreciate food too much to let that happen. If food is going to end up in my body, I'm sure as hell am going to read the label and find out what's in it. It seems like almost anything now can be attributed to some health scare. But I also didn't jump into this social experiment cold turkey; I did my research and knew what I could and could not eat. In general: Besides animal products, I also buy mostly organic, or at least low spray and almost always locally produced products, foods made without GMOs and don't contain ingredients that I can't pronounce. But, part of enjoying food is discovering new fruits, vegetables and minimally processed packaged foods that are good for you, you can feel good about eating them and can be shared with others.

Orthorexia may be closely related to anorexia because those people affected by the disorder would rather starve than give up their ethics. There's a fine line between this new breed of "orthorexics" and being an ethical eater. Both involve a moral eating code - for lack of a better phrase - but I believe the former to involve involve deep-rooted self-esteem and psychological issues than anything else. Vegetarianism, selective omnivorism or whatever diet "ism" out there should involve, yes, choosing foods that you like, but also a consciousness of responsibility to the greater global community. Vegans may be unfairly classified as self-important, but the crux of what I, as a just one vegan, believe is rooted in bettering the lives of the planet and animals alike.

If orthorexia describes those with obsessively healthy eating habits, shouldn't there also be a term to describe those who don't care what they eat? Avoiding harmful ingredients or production methods are part of being a smart AND healthy consumer. Sure, I may forego in joining you for a meal at a fast food restaurant, but I also won't chastise you if you have a hamburger in front of me.

Food is a really sensitive subject and can bring up a wealth of personal, political, economic and social issues. But, one thing that we can all agree upon is that there needs to be a sense of decorum and respect when it comes to food and the reasoning behind an individual's diet choice. It's too easy to approach a difference of opinion with hostility, so let's try the less obvious route of patience before making blanket, gastronomic judgement calls.