On one of my message boards there's a discussion going on about the label "vegetarian" and the way it is used. It is a conversation that is rehashed time and time again and the main idea is that it makes like so much more difficult for true vegetarians when folks who eat fish label themselves as vegetarian.
I'm the first to admit it. Six or seven years ago when I first made the transition to strict vegetarianism (I used to call myself "vegan" even though I still used some animal products like leather and wool especially for my footwear, outerwear and crafting), I found it wildly offensive that people just had no idea what I ate. I would be in social settings and someone would offer me food and I'd say, "Oh, well, I'm vegan" and they'd try to offer me some kind of cheesy dish or something with eggs or say "But you eat fish, right?" I would even balk at "so-called" vegetarians who did eat eggs or dairy because they were not pure vegetarians like I was. I was haughty and self-righteous. To the point of even holding disdain for omnivores (who I maliciously called "meat-eaters") and all those who were not so advanced in their vegetarianism as I was.
So when I hear vegetarian folks complaining that people who call themselves vegetarian but eat fish make it difficult for "true" vegetarians, it really pulls me back to those days. Because I know it's not true. I've been through such a journey that I've come to realize that it's really just an argument to prove that I am true (read: better) and you are not. In actuality, what someone else labels his or herself really has no bearing on me.
It makes me think about a few years ago when newspapers declared that a RastafarI woman had won the Miss Jamaica pageant. I was so incensed that one who would dare label herself as RastafarI would ever find herself in something as vain and demeaning as a beauty pageant. What RastafarI principle was she upholding by being a pageant contestant?
Fast forward to today and, well, it doesn't really phase me. Because, in all truth, I cannot (and should not) define what it means to be [insert label here] to anyone else. I can only define myself for myself.
I mean, I get that some folks call themselves vegetarian to try to be hip, cool, "in" or "green" or whatever. I get that it is annoying to hear someone who eats fish and even chicken calling themselves vegetarian. But it doesn't have any bearing on me and who I am. I am happy to explain for the gazillionth time that I don't eat x, y, or z even if your "vegetarian" sister does. I realize that being vegetarian is outside of the mainstream or the norm and since most people don't put that much effort in finding out about the "other", I just can't be that mad about it or invest that much energy into it. It's one of the most useless exercises to try to get people to fit into your idea of what holding that label should be.
It's like being told you're not "Black" enough.
When you define yourself for yourself, it really doesn't matter what labels others give you or what labels others give themselves. It gives you f*r*e*e*d*o*m*. Especially when those labels that others have given you just don't or won't fit you anymore. When you define yourself for yourself, you are free to continually bust up and disregard those preconceived notions (which is really all a label is). You are free to work on being yourself. Authentically.