Your Thoughts Thursday: Veganism To You

April 8, 2010 by Keri

It often feels like the vegan community, or maybe just the online community, is one big “How vegan art thou?” competition.  Some people eat this, some people eat that. Some people dislike those people for eating that.  Some follow in diet only, forgoing checking their clothing or home goods labels completely.  Some maintain a vegan diet at home, but are happy to eat vegetarian when traveling or in the homes of others.   Some go to meetings, rallies, hand out literature door to door, and make it a point to educate everyone around them about the vegan lifestyle.  And admittedly some resort to vandalism and violence.  In The Kind Life, Alicia Silverstone mentions occasionally swiping a piece of sushi or cheese; Is that okay?  Is it the norm?  Obviously this diversity is the case in any group of people under any label, but my blog isn’t about those groups; it’s about veganism.  So my question is What does being vegan entail to you?

  • Do you ever sample nonvegan foods off of your friend’s plate?
  • Do you check your clothing labels, home cleaning products, candles?
  • Do you include honey? Why or why not?
  • If you aren’t vegan, what defines vegan in your mind?
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Comments

  1. Danielle (Coffee Run) says:

    I’m liking these “Your Thoughts Thursdays” 😀

    To me, being vegan means not consuming animals or their by-products. However, I am fine with eating honey. To me, it all comes back to the circle of life (haha..this is getting deep). In nature, it’s common for animals to eat other animal’s waste products (which is essentially what honey has). Sorry to gross anyone out. However, you never find one animal going up to another and sucking it’s breast milk. It’d be kinda…weird.

    I never sample my friend’s food because it just doesn’t appeal to me. I think if a vegetarian/vegan is tempted so much by dairy products and meat…then they need to re-evaluate WHY they’re living that lifestyle…ya know?

  2. Tim Gier says:

    Hi Keri:

    I was a vegetarian for 10 years before committing myself to a vegan lifestyle 2 months ago. For the entire time I was vegetarian, I was uncomfortable with myself for not “going all the way” because I recognized that I was living in contradiction to my principles.

    For me, being a vegan is part of a philosophy of non-violence and respect towards all living things. So I do not use any animal products of any kind, as far as I know, and as far as I am able. I accept that some of the things that I do may unwittingly result in the use, abuse or deaths of animals, but I strive to refrain as much as is possible from being a direct cause of such harms. For example, some animals die when fields are plowed to plant corn. I cannot help that and I am not a direct cause of it, although it still troubles me and I’d like to think that there’s a way around it.

    The most interesting thing to me was that finally giving up things like dairy & honey was actually very easy once I worked through the moral & ethical reasoning. I don’t miss any of it a bit.

    Great question. Keep up the good work you are doing here! Thank you.

  3. Eve says:

    You’re going to get a lot of replies to this topic, I bet! Personally I’m always a little disappointed to see any sort of animosity in the veg. blogging world (aren’t we all batting for the same team??), but there is often a little too much variation in what ‘vegan’ means, I think. I definitely think I’m vegan, though I’m not perfect – I would never purposefully eat something non vegan nor do I purchase nonvegan clothing or cosmetics, but I do wear nonvegan clothing that I purchased pre-vegan (not comfortably), and I don’t suffer through headaches (for example) in favour of opting out of nonvegan painkillers.

    If I could have it my way, people that ate non-vegan things by choice (even occasionally) or chose to only address their diet wouldn’t call themselves vegan, since I really think veganism entails a mindset of doing as little harm as possible – and that includes lifestyle choices beyond diet. However, I also think that I like things to be very black/white – obviously, every little bit helps, and anyone making real effort to lead a more compassionate life gets brownie points from me! 🙂

  4. Noelle says:

    Interesting questions. When I decided to become a vegan it was more about concentrating on a plant-based diets in order to bring more discipline and order in my eating lifestyle. I am not really an activist but then it was also for weight loss. I was a vegetarian for a year 5 years ago and then slowly incorporated regular foods and it seemed to change how I thought of food. Either way it is not a competiition fo rme but how I look at food.

  5. Amy says:

    I eat almost all vegan at home, but outside my home I’m a little more lax. I don’t call myself a vegan because it’s not fair to other vegans when I am not on a completely plant-based diet. I do eat eggs and fish from time to time and I’m sure I get dairy here and there only from not vetting out the ingredients of certain things I get at restaurants.

    That is was works for me and my diet right now. I think that even cutting back on animal products makes a huge difference, so I’ve been trying to encourage my friends and family to “cut back”. It sounds a lot easier than “give up”.

    I am however becoming very strict about not buying leather shoes or furniture. I recently have been searching for vegan hiking/water shoes for an upcoming trip and was super happy to finally find some online. They are on their way to my house now so fingers crossed that they fit!

  6. fooldiggity says:

    Being vegan to me means living in accordance with what’s best for both me and the planet that nurtures me. Sometimes people are quick to attack a nonviolent vegan philosophy with the “well a lion would kill you in a minute!” But nothing on this planet has the cognitive abilities to recognize the concept of morality besides us — and that carries a heavy responsibility — to do what is right out of principle.

    Being vegan to me means doing what is right — only taking what we need and not hurting out of greed.

  7. Al says:

    To me, being vegan means not contributing to the system that perpetuates animal ownership. It’s an ethical commitment to eschew all products that are the result of animal exploitation.

    Of course, we live in a society where this is nearly if not completely impossible. Animal use is currently woven into the social fabric to a point where it’s impossible to be a member of society without being complicit in some animal use. But we do the best we can whenever we can.

    This doesn’t mean lying to ourselves and saying we can’t find bread without honey so I guess we’ll eat honey. If you can’t find something that’s not vegan you just don’t eat it (or wear it, or wash your face with it). Or you could make it yourself.

    The minimum that is required of us if we are to take animal interests seriously is to reject their use and therefore reject, whenever it is possible (even when it causes us inconvenience or social awkwardness), all products that are the result of animal use.

    My view of what veganism entails is informed by Gary Francione’s abolitionist approach, which I feel is the one that makes the most sense, is the most consistent and has the most potential for spawning an honest-to-goodness vegan revolution.

  8. Al says:

    Sorry, I commented before reading your comment, Danielle. I in no way intended to step on your honey statement and my comment about honey in bread wasn’t related to your comment (just want to clear that up).

    But since I’m commenting again…

    I considered myself vegan for about 3 years before I decided to stop eating honey altogether (I didn’t go out of my way to eat it, but I would if it was in something). Anyway, this site is what caused me to reevaluate (or just plain evaluate, I guess) my honey consumption: http://www.vegetus.org/honey/honey.htm

    Turns out the problems with honey are not too different from the problems with milk and eggs. And I’m not trying to start an argument or anything. I think that being vegan also entails educating others about what veganism means and about different forms of animal exploitation and use. Sometimes this involves educating those who already consider themselves vegan. I’ve considered myself vegan for over 7 years and I’m still learning and challenging myself.

  9. I’m a vegan for the animals, the environment and my health. Veganism is my statement against world hunger, slavery and devestation… and I think it’s a strong one.

  10. and I never made an exception – ever.

  11. Kip says:

    Good question! I’m always fascinated by peoples’ responses, and I think we’ve all got so many grey areas. I tend to think of veganism as an aspirational goal that we can all reach toward, but it’s a neverending education. To me being vegan means doing the best I can to not participate in something which will cause harm to another creature, humans included. I do go out of my way to avoid such products, but if I accidentally consume something then it’s not the end of the world. This isn’t about body purity, but basic rights of living creatures. We all make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try our hardest!

  12. Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) says:

    Fabulous question!!!
    This: is one big “How vegan art thou?” competition.

    OMG so true. In fact, I HATE that my blog is even known as a vegan blog b/c there are tooo many strong (snarky) opinions that have been uttered before if i accidentally post a granola bar with a trace of whey in it. I mean, I don’t see it out! I try to avoid it. That said, I am human. I am busy, I do the best I can. And I never cheat, knowingly. If I am made aware something’s not vegan, I dont eat it again. And really processed foods make up so little! of my life, that the amt of “mistakes” is way less than 1% of my total intake.

    I would never! eat meat or fish or chicken off a non vegan’s plate. Ever. The taste, smell, everything…not for me.

  13. Kyle says:

    To me being vegan means trying my hardest to abstain from animal products. That being said, it’s possible for me to accidentally eat some cheese or dairy and not worry about it, but I’d never eat meat again. For me the “piece of cheese” that I’d sneak would be fine – the sushi? No way.
    I’m basically vegan for health reasons, and the animal rights aspect of my veganism came in later.

    I think everyone has slip ups, so I wouldn’t say that you’re not a vegan if you eat meat one day, just like I wouldn’t say that you’re not a runner because you missed a run one day – there’s a grey area. You are your habitual actions, not the rare diversions.

  14. Hey Keri! Great question. I decided to go vegan for my health, for the environment, and for the animals. I don’t think that perfectionism exists and I think that every little bit helps when it comes to people making decisions about diet. If a person does swipe a piece of cheese but eats completely vegan otherwise, who am I to judge? I have eaten a piece of cheese or two since becoming vegan, but afterwards just realized how I don’t need it.

    Sometimes if I eat out with other people I’ll order the entree and specifically order vegan, without cheese, etc, but I won’t go so far as to constantly ask “is this bread vegan? is there a trace of butter? etc” If people I’m with see and understand how truly EASY it is to be vegan, how non-threatening it can be, I’m glad to plant a seed and possibly inspire them too.

    I’m all about making this peaceful and non-intimidating. And sexy! 😉

  15. Keri says:

    Thank you so much everyone, once again, for your awesome comments and discussion. Thursdays are becoming my favorite days because I love reading them. I always try to keep my personal thoughts out of it until Thursday night or Friday morning, when I respond to my own questions. Honestly, when I read The Kind Life, the statements I mentioned above were a point of confusion for me. I understand accidentally missing an obscure milk ingredient on a label, but occasionally eating a hunk of dead fish doesn’t make sense to me and that’s perhaps why it stood out so much in my mind from the rest of the text. I love my lifestyle and don’t feel like I have those temptations, but if I did, as Danielle said, I’d probably need to reevaluate my intentions. On the other hand, I don’t judge people that have made different educated decisions in their lives than those I have made. I strive to live a peaceful, happy, loving existence and set a good example for my beliefs. Do I get it right all of the time? Of course not. My mind wants go on the defense when someone mocks my vegan choices or to judge when someone makes uneducated choices based on “the norm”, but I do my best to resolve that within myself and share my beliefs with grace.
    As for the great honey debate, when I first became vegan I was confused about honey because it seemed like many did and many didn’t. Just for full disclosure, I personally do not use honey, beeswax, or other such byproducts largely due to the article Al linked above, which I came across when I was first vegan (Thanks, Al).
    Thank you again everyone for all of the thoughtful comments!

  16. Great question! I consider myself 100% vegetarian and 99% vegan. I don’t really label myself as a vegan because of this small margin of error. I am not the “hardcore” vegan as some and I have no desire or energy to debate with others about my personal choices. I started this lifestyle for my own personal health concerns. Then I started reading Eating Animals and now I “practice” for the animals.

  17. Yeah Keri, I was definitely surprised in Alicia’s book when she mentioned eating a bite of fish. I would absolutely never eat animals, but like I said before, I have slipped and had a bite of cheese or a piece of milk chocolate – things that were really hard for me to give up. I guess that’s just her thing, it was really really hard for her to give it up and so when she craves it, she just has a bite? I think we as people are constantly evolving, so maybe this is just a part of the earlier years too. We have our whole lives to eat this way and make decisions, so as we continue to explore veganism we continue to phase out or desire for those foods that we really loved before but we don’t want to eat for ethical reasons.

  18. nina says:

    I am so glad to have found this even though I had to “dig” through the site for it since I think you posted it a while back!
    I was recently reading some articles in The Oregonian on a writer who went vegan for 30 days and then decided to stick with it. His articles were really enjoyable and not at all hostile or preachy…..but the comments were just so sad! You had omnivores making absurd statements about vegans and then you had vegans making really extreme points and telling the author that he was not really a vegan because he ate food at a restaurant that had possibly been cut by a knife that once cut cheese. It made me so sad. I feel like this “drawing dividing lines” business is what really turns people off of veganism.
    Alicia’s book turned me into a vegan. One of those reasons I think was because she took a really laid back approach to it (she has a whole chapter on just “flirting” with veganism), she encourages people to make an impact by not eating meat one day a week or never eating meat again…..I think her accepting stance really made me feel comfortable giving up meat and dairy because I knew it wasnt an end-all-be-all….and I havent eaten meat in five months…it was easier than I thought! Now that I am meat free and seeing things more clearly, I definitely am becomming more vigilant as a vegan and horrified by what is happening…but it was a transition. I guess what im saying is that if I had read a book that was extremely strict I might have been too intimidated or turned off and overwhelmed by the suffering in the world and may have just “stuck my head in the sand”. The term vegan is just an identifier….I think it really states intention more than anything. 🙂

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