Often it is sitting confined and cramped on an airline, where out of sheer boredom (and a desire to forget your surroundings) you flip through the inflight magazine. Usually, these offerings are jam-packed with advertisements and photos of glamourous people doing what glamourous people do, but recently, to my joy, I came across a two-page spread on The Future of Food.
A new religion?
It makes some sense that an airline is interested in food trends, as their positioning is often cutting edge, but what really caught my eye was a snippet of information about another food sub-group, sub-culture, sub-whatever. Specifically, the recently coined term peganism which is a mash up of vegan and paleo- and only one vowel away from paganism.
While that vowel is important, it has sometimes been suggested that our fanaticism with our diets is akin to a religious belief and, when all said and done, they are often both value-driven.
According to Carrie Dennett in the Washington Post: “While the pegan diet is more moderate - and potentially easier to follow - than either of its dietary parents, it does restrict many nutritious foods for reasons that aren't quite supported by science.” So, what exactly is this new hybrid food trend?
Is the hybrid diet true to its origins?
For a start, it seems that it has been around for a while. In 2014, blogger and Director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Centre for Functional Medicine, Mark Hyman (famous for his book “Eat fat, get thin”) wrote about the combination of fatty foods from nuts and fish alongside the traditional vegan diet of plants, plants, and more plants. And, therein it all gets a bit confusing. Veganism is based on not consuming sentient beings – and fish, are sentient beings (sentience being defined as the ability to experience sensations). Does this then mean that the hybrid diet does not represent a pure form of both parent diets?
Still an animal, regardless of where the cow grazes
Hyman suggests that your pegan diet should be 70-80% plants – including nuts, seeds and oils. That leaves some scope to fill the remaining 20-30%. Hyman’s suggestion: sustainably produced and grass fed meat along with oily fish (such as salmon). Whether the meat originates from grass-fed or barn-raised animals is irrelevant in terms of being true to vegan principles. The animal’s diet does not make it more or less of an animal.
Hype and branding
It’s easy to be cynical of the mash up diet – particularly when some diets such as veganism and vegetarianism are often entrenched in values and social beliefs. To put those values aside in the attempt to create a new ‘best-selling’ diet seems disingenuous at best. The pegan diet does have a lot of redeeming features and it supports work of authors such as Michael Pollen and his assertion that we should “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants"" or as Penny M. Kris-Etherton succinctly points out: “This combination plan has some of the characteristics that should be part of any healthful dietary pattern”. In other words, is this just hype and branding of a healthy eating regime? It does seem that Hyman’s assertions are not universally accepted, with some concerned about his suggestion of limiting the consumption of grains and pulses or avoiding dairy, for example.
Does labelling help?
It seems that we put a label on our dietary preferences in an effort to make it easier to cater for us, and there are numerous ‘mainstream’ diets in existence (take a look at our website and see if you can find your profile / preference) and, there will always be versions and sub-versions of these. Being able to categorise ourselves is helpful in planning food, guiding catering and for keeping people safe (when dietary requirements are determined based on allergies, values or religion). However, we need to keep in mind that within these broad characterisations, we will always have our own food preferences (apparently not all people like egg-plant or coriander).
One of the places where applying a label to our dietary preferences can bite us is when flying. Confined to a cramped living space for 17 hours, with a now motley magazine to read and a dietary selection that does not look anywhere as delicious as your fellow travellers, is certainly disheartening. Dietary categories have exploded in recent years and the ways with which institutions have tried to keep up is valiant, but to what extent is the quirks of our diets the responsibility of other people?
Clearly, there is no debate when the presence of a food can cause harm to a person, that is a given. It is also a given that having so much choice about what we find acceptable is a privilege only afforded to those who have food security (that is, those who have the access to nutritious food and have the ability to acquire it). The contrary position is that we have a personal responsibility for the choices we make for what we put in our ‘cake-hole’, ‘pie-hole’ or mouth, and for the times when we have less autonomy (for example when sitting in a metal tube, whistling through the skies at 36,000 feet) we need to be able to have surety that the caterer has 1) adhered to any safety based dietary requirements and 2) know that the caloric requirements associated with magazine flicking are not so excessive that going without a few calories in flight won’t be a deal breaker.