What am I?
Isn’t that the question any religion worth its holy water forces its believers to confront.
Food begs the question too. As Michael Pollan pointed out, we can eat anything, so we must decide what to eat. In that decision we are deciding not just what our relationship is to the planet, to animals, to our fellow humans.
But I would go farther, deciding what we eat is deciding in a deep way who we are. What do I believe, and how willing am I to act on those beliefs? Who else am I like? What kind of life do I want to lead?
These are the questions wrapped up in the religious search, but you can skip the prayer and rabbis and priests and gurus and just confront them on your plate. We don’t ask other, “What do you eat?” We ask, “What are you? Are you a vegetarian? Are you a pescatarian?” It’s not enough to describe what foods we will and will not eat, we strive to find a word for it. Locavore. Carnivore. Gastrosexual. Our desire to give our bundle of food preferences a single name reveals our inate sense that we are what we eat, and we are what we don’t eat.
So who am I?
Today I had lunch with Tori Avey, the insightful woman behind a new blog called Shiksa Goddess. We ate at Afshan, a kosher Persian restaurant in the fashion district. Afshan’s traditional menu is all Persian (except for an inexplicable listing for “Buffalo Wings.” Do they even have buffalo in Iran?) It’s a hole in the wall, low on decoration yet oddly high on charm, the kind of place that’s chock a block in New York’s garment district, where each enthic denizen has its own commissary. For nine bucks I got chicken koubideh (ground spiced grilled chicken), rice with sour cherries, grilled tomato, two kinds of salad.
Tori and I fell into talking about what we are… vegetarian, etc. In the end I came up with a word to descrivbe someone who won’t say no to tasting anything, our of a love for good food and adesire to connect with the people who eat it—but who doesn’t make a habit of eating things he finds morally or religiously objectionable.
“What would I call myself?” I asked. “I guess I’m a tryatarian. I’ll try anything once.”