Wednesday, October 9, 2013

You aren't vegan because I said so, damn it! More adventures in self-absorption and losing our priorities...

In recent years, I’ve learned that I am not vegan.

This took me by surprise the first time I was alerted to my wayward habits but I’ve since grown accustomed to it. First, I learned that I was no longer vegan when was expecting my son. In the years that have followed, I’ve been informed that I’m also not vegan because I shop at a certain grocery store chain, because I am not a fruitarian, and because I vote. I am not the only “not really vegan vegan.” There are apparently a lot of misguided people who unknowingly but flagrantly violate the vegan code of conduct all the time. Thank goodness there is a veritable army of people with far more consistent conduct ready and waiting to call us on every single perceived violation. This time it’s not the omnivores poised at the ready to yell “gotcha” at us, though. More and more these days, the angry crowd of critics may consist of our fellow vegans.

One recent example still has me shaking my head: my husband and I were reprimanded for including soy and wheat as examples of animal-free protein. They weren’t unhinged Weston Price Foundation followers leading the charge this time: the ones attacking us were other vegans. In the dust-up over soy and wheat that ensued, I was accused of trying to get the world hooked on Twinkies (?) and also having an agenda to get everyone I’m in contact with dependent on harmful medications (?!). Ignoring the fact that we weren’t recommending any foods but were simply stating that these are examples of plant foods that contain protein, I was derided for even acknowledging that they exist. Why? Well, according to these self-appointed guardians of All Things Correct, soy and wheat are bad for us and thus if you are suggesting them as protein options, you are giving your tacit approval of cruelty to animals - human animals - and that is terrifyingly Not Vegan. Underneath it all, the reasoning is something like the following: I don’t like X so I will stretch and warp the meaning of the word vegan to have my thoughts about X fit into the interpretation I prefer. Over the years, I have also heard it claimed that caffeine isn’t vegan, grains aren’t vegan, olive oil isn’t vegan, salt isn’t vegan, and so on. I have long been aware of a certain subset of herbivores who might only be content if we live in a separatist society and eat only the select seasonal plums that were blessed by mountain-top dwelling vegan monks; there will always be the people who want to add more rules and make veganism more restrictive, cliquish and exclusive. This is nothing new. What is new is that social media has exacerbated what was already problematic with the instant commentary and information overload.

As you can see, attaching our own attitudes about things unrelated to veganism is a slippery slope and takes us very far afield from its core foundation, which is rooted in beliefs about justice, equality and compassion, plunging us into a realm of personal opinion and arbitrariness, a place where our principles become more and more blunted to the point of meaningless. This deeply undermines veganism and reframes what was potent and persuasive as belonging in a murky place of subjective preferences. As vegans, we are asking people to reevaluate their place in the world; we are asking people to see other beings as worthy of equal consideration. This is pretty serious, challenging stuff for the average person to process, let alone integrate: is it a smart strategy to attach an amendment to this, also naming gluten, soy, sugar, dirty snow, the smell of gingko trees and whatever else displeases us to be included as Not Vegan? We are going to ask the public, many of whom already think that we are impossible-to-please and confusing, to not only consider giving up meat, dairy, eggs and honey but also include our various personal preferences under the umbrella of veganism? We are going to take something that is rooted in the ethics of non-violence and attach an anti-gluten component to it? Really???

If veganism is that subjective and personal, here is my list of what isn’t vegan. If you don’t like this list, well, screw you. You were never really vegan. Carnist.

* Shopping carts with wobbly wheels aren’t vegan.
* Bringing 12 items into the ten items or fewer line isn’t vegan.
* The tree with the root that is screwing up the foundation of my house isn’t vegan.
* The squirrel who dug up my tulip bulbs isn’t vegan.
* Iced tea without enough ice isn’t vegan.
* Mondays aren’t vegan.
* My DVR isn’t vegan when it screws up what I tried to record.
* Stores that only give you in-store credit on returned items aren’t vegan.
* That horrible car alarm isn’t vegan.
* The vegan pie crust that keeps sticking to my rolling pin isn’t vegan.
* All the music I hate isn’t vegan.
* My lost keys aren’t vegan.
* I hate tomatoes so they aren’t vegan.
* My husband’s snoring isn’t vegan.
* My broken fingernail isn’t vegan.
* The lemon that squirted in my eye isn’t vegan.
* The guy who cut me off most definitely isn’t vegan.
* Cold, rainy weather isn’t vegan.
* Headaches aren’t vegan.
* The curb that almost tripped me isn’t vegan.
* My alarm not going off isn’t vegan.
* This crowded train with no seats and the broken heater isn’t vegan.

As we can see, the things that irk and even offend us may indeed be irksome and offensive things (and maybe just to us) but that doesn’t make them not vegan.

By all means, people are welcome to have their own convictions on how to live; I certainly do. We must consistently draw the line, though, at conflating our own preferences about this or that with veganism. The more we try to conflate these two often disparate things, the more confusing, remote and inaccessible veganism becomes to the very people we most need to reach. So the next time another vegan criticizes you for anything not directly related to your veganism, I think it is fair to remind that person that you aren’t pretending to live according to his or her rulebook. You are vegan because it’s the right thing to do, because you love the way you feel, because it’s a powerful, thoughtful and meaningful way to make a difference in the world. This other stuff they are attaching to veganism doesn’t belong there. 


  1. ooo My! I also the people who are always feed me "this is not vegan at all" shit. thanks

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  3. I think that in a world where everything is connected, we should really look a little further than the sacred word "VEGAN". Why are we vegan? Because we want to live in a world that is "just, equal and compassionate" (in your words).
    After a while of being vegan, looking into how it is produced I found out that soy isn't ethical and this, to me, is more important than it carrying or not the label "vegan". Soy is one of the crops most responsible for deforestation in the world, with consequent loss of species (animals and plants). It is responsible for the loss of ancestral lands to many people, is strictly linked to the meat industry (all feeds are made with soy), not to mention the GMO bit and the massive use of pesticides.
    The same happens with several other products, like palm oil for instance, responsible for loss of a specific habitat and for bringing the orang-utan near extinction. Things are not as straightforward as we sometimes would like them to be, simply because life is complex.
    Am I against soy? No. I think it is a very good "transition" food. And of course I prefer if someone eats soy than meat. But let's not sweep under the mat the reality of soy. Let's not stop our evolution not only as vegans, but as human beings. There is much more to life than being "just" vegan. Veganism is a huge step, YES!!! But why stop there if we want a better world? For what I can make out from your writing, you have been vegan for a while, so for you it is not a matter of making the huge change of giving up animal products. Of course one cannot change his or her own life so much and all at once. But changes CAN come gradually, why dig our heels and refuse to grow more, when we have already grown so much?
    The world is as ethical as we make it, as "just, equal and compassionate" as we decide it to be, and our actions should not stop at not eating nor using animals. Coke does not contain any animal ingredient, but let's be real, nobody can honestly say that the way of doing business of that multinational is ethical. They kill people in Colombia, but if we only read the ingredient list their product could be labelled "vegan". To me this is definitely not enough.
    Let's re-evaluate our place in the world. But really.

  4. In response to Of Life And Else - One thing to keep in mind about soy: the vast majority of soy is fed to animals that are in turn fed to people. Almost all of the rest is either used as some sort of ingredient in processed (mostly nonvegan) food - either oil (particularly for frying chicken, french fries and such) or for a wide variety of soy isolates and other crud that goes by a number of different polysyllabic names, or else is mixed with meats to add flavor and moisture. Even a full chicken in a supermarket can contain as much as 15% soy (which is injected into the meat along with MSG and spices) and still be called All-Natural. In many fast food dishes (Chicken McNuggets for example), the soy content is even higher. This is one reason Monsanto was able to sneak RoundUp Ready soy into the marketplace – because most people don't care because they think they don't eat it.

    The amount of soy consumed by vegans is just a tiny fraction of 1% of the total soy consumed in the world, and a pretty high percentage of that is non-GMO and organic. If everyone in the world somehow started living a vegan lifestyle, world soy production would plummet and GMO soy (and GMO corn) would disappear.

    Soy production is pretty awful for water, for soil and for throwing the balance of power in the direction of greedy multinational agribusiness companies. But the best solution for the problem - by far - is for people to stop eating animals rather than harping on the tiny amount of soy eaten by vegans.

  5. I like tempeh. There, I said it. Guess I'm not vegan. Oh well.

  6. Hi John. I totally agree with you, the soy that should disappear from this world is the GMO kind and the kind grown intensively (as should all crops grown intensively, we should start going back to a human-sized world and agriculture). As said, I am not against soy. Soy has been part of crop rotation in Asia for thousands of years, it is a plant, natural as any other plant (if not genetically modified).
    Said this, the fact that only 1% of the soy grown in the world is consumed by vegans, is because we are only 1% of the population. And that vegans only eat non-GMO organic soy... this is unfortunately not what I see...
    And once again, my writing is not about soy. It's about the thousands products that, if we consider veganism being "only" not eating nor using animals, are still not ethical. It is about taking the information we receive and process it in the exact same way as we took and processed the information we received when we decided to go vegan. Years ago someone told me that it was not necessary to eat animals to live, on the contrary. It was a new thing for me, I thought about it, I researched it, and I found out that yes, it was true! This is the point I would like to make. I don't go around telling anybody how they should or shouldn't eat or live, if someone wants to eat soy, well, it's their decision and I accept it. Although it does not mean that soy as well as so many products that we use as vegans, are not so cruelty free as we would like to think.
    All vegan comes from the plant world, but not everything plant-based is vegan, or at least not all is ethical if we decide to stick with a label.
    I just think it would help us grow if we start looking into that...

  7. Darling,

    Welcome to our FAV Narcissistic Game - HOW VEGAN ARE YOU? [Cue tacky theme song with lots of horns, applause sign]

    Because I have used local honey from an orchard which bends over backwards to keep bees alive and happy, I am not vegan. Because I drink beer, albeit ones not using any animal products, I am not vegan. Because I drink martinis, I am not a vegan.

    This summer I became the Staff Dietitian at a kids camp after the staff had been together for 2 weeks. At my first meeting, my underling dietitians were chatting about things that bugged them while we all gathered. They gave many snarky remarks about vegans. This is how I started the meeting:

    "Hi Everyone, I think I have most everyone's name, but I will need your help. Also, I am a vegan."

    Everyone looked at the floor and didn't know what to do.

    "I'm a vegan because I need to be compassionate, open, and show kindness."

    The "Veganer-Than-Thou" types have too much time on their hands and should put their kale where the mouth is and work with foster care kids. This would shape the future more than all the politically correct purchases.

  8. Thank you, Kristina! Love Spabettie so much!

  9. I'm sorry we have to deal with this, gizem.

  10. Thank you, Of Life and Else. I think John said much of what I would have said, and I appreciate your response as well. I definitely don't consider veganism "only" what I eat and I'm sorry if you walked away with that impression. What I am talking about here is the prevalence of people policing one another and deciding, based on their preferences that are truly unrelated to veganism, what is and what is not vegan.

  11. I *love* tempeh, Page, and I guess I'm not either. :/

  12. Thank you, LaDiva Dietician. I love your story! I wish I could have more opportunities to out myself. ;)

  13. OMG, I love you for writing this article. I get this crap on a daily basis. Most of it coming from the 80 10 10 camp. Mind you I was vegan when some of them were still in diapers but they still have the nerve to inform me that my diet isn't vegan enough. Aye yi yi. Give me the good ole days when the only soy milk you could find was the gallon sized jugs of bean water in Asian markets. We didn't have to deal with so many different fad diets back then.

  14. Ay yi yi, Marcos. It is such a drag. I'm sorry.

  15. Beautiful. Witty. And oh so needed. Thank you.

  16. Thank you so very much for this article and your insight! I get this a great deal and am a "new" vegan (10 months - 25 years previously vegetarian). It is obnoxious,intrusive and a huge turn off to others. Do you people with your "good intentions" know that this simply angers, irritates, infuriates, and disgusts others who are committed to a vegan lifestyle? Most vegans are intelligent, educated individuals. This being the case, does anyone really believe that attempting to force your opinion on another person or somehow challenge or shame them into consuming only certain "types" of vegan foods will be in your favor? Not likely, vegan watchdogs out there! Please respect others as you would want them to respect you. It is of no surprise to me that people think of us in such a negative manner. I respect the author's comments very much and agree with them! If we decide to "go further" due to soy and GMO etc., that is a personal choice - but soy is vegan!!!

  17. Meg - a vegan that doesn't eat palm products but does eat soyOctober 15, 2013 at 8:49 AM

    Very interesting stuff. There is one aspect that hasn't been touched on. Definition.

    I have not personally had this directed at me but it makes no logical sense as you can't change the definition of a word to suit you.

    From what I can see in the dictionary, vegan means eating no food and using no products that come from animals. Period.

    All the other stuff is other stuff.

    The fact that I don't believe in circuses, keeping exotic birds or eating palm products, among many other things, does not make me more or less vegan, it means I also hold those beliefs dear.

    I can understand why someone would wonder why a vegan would eat palm products and that might be a good conversation to respectively have - but that doesn't change the definition of vegan.

    And being a holier than thou militant aint helpin' the cause.

  18. I want to read this blog post again and again. It is so true.

    Our family lives as 'vegan' as we can. We shop at 'wherever is cheapest,' we don't necessarily check every detail regarding the processing of our apple cider vinegar, and we still own leather shoes from our pre-vegan days.

    If anyone tries to tell me I am not vegan because of any of this, they can keep it. If I live a lifestyle that is 90% vegan and 100% compassionate (this includes accepting the choices of others and encouraging them to live the best life that they can live), then I am still better off than anyone who tries to call me a carnist for having a budget.

  19. Sorry, but if you consume honey, no matter how "ethical", you are certainly NOT vegan. Vegans reject animal exploitation. Honey is an unnecessary exploitation of bees, simply because you like how honey tastes or you perceive it as healthy. Neither of those justifies your consumption of honey, or the exploitation of the bees for their honey. It's not about perfection or purity, but for god's sake, if you do something as inane and obviously not vegan as consume honey, then you ARE NOT VEGAN. It's not about "labels", but the word DOES have a meaning. And if you consume honey, or pariticipate otherwise in needlessly exploiting animals, you AREN'T vegan. Just get over that, please. It's not vegans being elitists--it's you refusing to fully embrace the basic foundational principle of veganism.

  20. To all you want about budget, but what is cheaper than beans and lentils, veggies and fruits? The cheapest diet is a vegan diet....not sure what's hard to understand about that. Most grocery stores sell those things, so I don't get your point.

  21. Meg--NO, veganism is not, by definition, just about food. By definition, veganism is about rejecting the idea that animals are property or resources (Wikipedia defines it nicely). So, yes, if you eat plants but attend rodeos and circuses, you are, by definition, NOT VEGAN. You can't just change the definition of a word to suit you. Being vegan MEANS not exploiting animals.


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