I asked this question to my friends on Facebook: If you had to identify yourself as one of the following (and don't think about the dictionary definitions, just what you'd say you are) would you say you're a vegan, vegetarian, omnivore or carnivore?
The question came after I wrote about Chipotle’s vegan Sofritas. The restaurant’s website said the dish was designed to get “vegans and carnivores to unite.” I thought for a while about the use of the word “carnivore” in Chipotle’s marketing campaign because technically, the word is used incorrectly.
A carnivore, if you remember your grade-school lessons, eats primarily meat. The correct term for an animal that eats both plants and animals is omnivore. If you walk into Chipotle and order a burrito with meat, you’re eating an omnivorous dish. The grains in the tortilla, the beans, the lettuce, the tomatoes, and the corn in that burrito all come from plants. Those who normally order a burrito with pork, but opt for the vegan Sofrito filling instead, are not going from eating like a carnivore to a eating like a vegan; they’re going from eating like an omnivore to a vegan (as long as they skip the cheese).
After thinking, I took to social media to get my friends’ thoughts on these common terms we use to describe eaters. Out of the 36 people who responded, three answered vegetarian, one vegan, one carnivore and 29 omnivore. If you’re doing the math, that adds up to only 34 answers. I also received one answer of pescetarian, and one funny guy who identified himself as a pizzavore. (He got several thumbs up from my other friends, and I made the decision to not to let my teenage sons know that being a pizzavore is an option.)
I understand why Chipotle would use the word carnivore in its marketing. It’s associated with meat eating. Omnivore is associated with third-grade science class and Michael Pollan. “Vegans and carnivores to unite” creates a stronger impression than “vegans and omnivores to unite.”
But, what about those of us who are writing about food, not selling it? Should we be using the terms omnivore and carnivore interchangeably? I have. I googled my name and the word “carnivore,” and I found a piece I wrote for Eat Drink Better many years ago titled 5 Ways to Cut Back on a Carnivorous Family’s Impact. In an early piece on my first personal blog, A Little Greener Every Day, I asked vegan blogger Becky Striepe to “point us carnivores to a vegan recipe you think we could enjoy?”
The most recent instance I found of my use of the word was from a Why I cook on Valentine’s Day piece here on MNN from a few years ago. I called my menu a “carnivore’s delight” despite the fact that potatoes and vegetables were on the menu.
What am I getting at here? Really, just a musing, a wondering. Does anyone really believe when they read my words that my family eats only meat? Is it important that I’m accurate with the use of omnivore and carnivore? Is it important that other food writers are?
I’m still kicking these thoughts around. The list of words that we use to identify our eating patterns is growing. I gave my Facebook friends only four choices, but there are many more. When there are no longer, for example, simply vegetarians, but also lacto-vegetarians (will eat dairy but not eggs), ovo-vegetarians (will eat eggs but no dairy), and flexitarians (will eat vegetarian most of the time but allows occasional meat or fish), it’s clear the definitions for eaters are getting more specific, not less.
When I spend this much brain time on something, it means something. For me, it means I need to be more thoughtful about my use of the word carnivore and make sure it’s the word I want to use when I use it.
I’m not sure what it means for others, though. If you're an omnivore and someone calls you a carnivore, do you care? Do you think it’s a problem that carnivore is often used for omnivore when it comes to people who eat meat?
Related on MNN:
- Try a weekday vegetarian diet
- Vegetarian types: Understanding plant-based diets
- Petunias and potatoes added to list of carnivorous plants