Recently, I posted an article titled When is a Vegan not a Vegan?, and it’s stirred up some folks. I think that’s awesome, by the way, and I enjoyed talking to so many people about the issue. As with anything that’s related to veganism, this topic brought a lot of anger to folks- mostly vegans. It seems that a few of you got the idea that I didn’t realize we are all human beings and capable of mistakes. I assure you, I am aware that you can unintentionally muck up at veganism- it still happens to me on occasion.

I guess what I’m saying is, some of you really seem to have gotten the wrong idea on the post completely.  In particular, I want to speak to one comment left on the article. It was from Annie Hartnett, the original article’s author.

(I want to tell you how seriously awesome it is that Annie took the time to read and comment and how I’m super excited about it, but it makes me seem insincere- but I’m not.  I am seriously excited)

Here’s her comment:

At the risk of revealing that I occasionally Google myself, I thought I’d respond to your post. I agree with you that it is not ethical to slip-up on veganism, but it does happen, either by accident or by a lapse in judgment. I think that is important to acknowledge, especially to beginner vegans.

I’m definitely not a vegan only when it is convenient. Nothing about my diet is convenient, I’m vegan with a gluten allergy! My first year of veganism, I cheated once every few months because I selfishly missed eating cheese. Surely you remember the dark days before Daiya, when all soy cheese had casein in it. Thankfully alternatives have gotten better.

The most recent cheating occurred because I had just been diagnosed with my allergy. I was so caught up in determining whether the fried eggplant has gluten in it, I didn’t notice that the salad included cheese. Since it was my mistake (and not the restaurant’s), I had the option of ordering again, paying for both salads, or eating the one with cheese in it. As I knew the salad I already ordered legally has to be thrown away, I ate it. This is an example of a truly careless mistake.

I understand your critique of my post. I agree that it is dangerous to make it sound like veganism is an exceedingly difficult diet to follow. It really isn’t, even with a food allergy. But I also think it is dangerous to ask “When is a vegan not a vegan?” and then suggest that “flexitarian” might be a better fit. We’re a small team, don’t kick people out! I’ve been a vegetarian since I was seven years old, I’ve never eaten a hamburger. I’ve been a vegan for over five years. And as soon as people make a commitment to stop eating animals, I say welcome to the club, I’m glad you’re here, and I hope you’ll stay.

I don’t doubt for one instance that Annie is a vegan, and I can agree with some of the things that she talks about.  I can appreciate her story, and her mistakes- it happens. But my point isn’t about mistakes. I’m not kicking someone out of the vegan club by questioning their thoughts.  I took Annie’s original thought, “And I don’t miss the way I ate before veganism, but I cheat when I’m careless or lazy,” to mean careless and lazy.  Not, mistakes made.  And it made me genuinely curious about where folks, particularly vegans, draw the line.

Veganism is still a new concept to people, some may not even know what a vegan is. It’s an understatement to say that there is still more work to do regarding veganism as being normal. We know that. But the vegan folks themselves are compounding the problem by sending mixed messages about what veganism really is. There are so many different variations of what vegan means to some people, some claim they are vegan until 6pm, some eat honey or bee products, some say it’s okay to eat animals if you are going to hurt someone’s feelings, the list goes on and on.  And that’s a problem.

When you are talking about a problem that is so huge, so encompassing, so emotional for people- you’re talking about the core of who a person is. Veganism will almost force you to look inside and decide what kind of person you want to be. Do you want to participate in the deaths of millions billions of lives every year, or do you want to reject the violence and live with compassion? That is veganism, at it’s core.

And to clarify: I’m not disagreeing that people who reduce their consumption of animal products aren’t helping some animals.  I’m not even denying that I’d prefer a world of vegetarians to a world of omnivores (even though it’s the same thing).  I’m also not putting people down who choose to be vegan for reasons other than the animals, or ones who try to be vegan but who make a lot of mistakes.  That hater-type of behavior doesn’t help anyone, let alone the non-humans.

What I am questioning is, why should vegans settle for a watered-down version of what being vegan means? Is it difficult to be a vegan? Sometimes, but it wouldn’t be if there were more vegans. It is a fact that companies will sell whatever the consumer wants. Vegans shouldn’t settle. It’s not about bullying people, making people feel bad for their choices, or kicking people out of a club. It’s about saying, this is what veganism is and what it means- and remain consistent about it. How is anyone (in any situation) going to be taken seriously about their beliefs if they don’t live true to their beliefs? Why would a non-vegan take a vegan seriously if the vegan would eat non-vegan food when they went out to eat simply because “it was easier.”  It is the same thing if you continue to consume animals in any other way (clothing, furniture, etc.)  If you set aside your own beliefs, other people will too. It’s not a bad thing (or radical, extreme, etc) to be consistent, you simply must be prepared.

Prepared to bring your own food to social situations, prepared to answer the same question over and over again, and be prepared to have people tease you with stupid stuff like “you just need a steak.”  Those things are going to happen. But if you are consistent with your beliefs (I like to call that unapologetic),  then over time people will learn to respect them. But you aren’t going to change anyone’s mind about anything without a consistent message. It is not okay to use non-humans in any manner that humans see fit. It is not okay. If you say that, then that has to apply to all animals (and yes, insects are animals too) in all situations.

Too often people are afraid to stick to their beliefs for fear of pissing people off.  That, because we are the minority, we should to be open-armed to whatever little that someone wants to give.  Vegans are expected to get excited when people can forgo meat until 6pm in the day, congratulate someone for eating a meat free meal once a week, and remain quiet about their beliefs because “people might get turned off to veganism.”  Why?  I am not encouraging folks to be disrespectful to other folks, that is not what I’m saying.  Let’s be clear on that. Be consistent, that goes for consistently respectful as well.  But it’s okay to question, to speak your mind- to remain true to your beliefs.  Not only is it okay, it’s vital.

I am vegan, I understand when you tell me that it’s hard. That, some days it doesn’t seem worth the trouble. But I made a commitment to live my life treading as lightly as I can. I know I’m not going to be perfect, I will make mistakes. I can accept that. But I don’t make excuses about living for my standards.  Yes, veganism can be a challenge, but it can be a joy too. Suddenly you become more in tune with your foods, with the way that we are all entwined. Once you learn the ropes, veganism isn’t all that hard. And even if it was, don’t we owe it to ourselves to take better care of us, the non-humans, and the planet? Are we that selfish of a species that we cannot look beyond what affects our own personal space? And if that’s true, what does that say about humans?

Obviously this is all coming from the ethical side to veganism.  But even if you are not an ethical vegan, you will benefit from a more vegan-friendly world.

It’s time for vegans to unify and send a consistent message.  We need to be unapologetic (not rude, not mean, not violently forceful, not in-your-face, not putting people down) for our beliefs.  We need to remain consistent and respectful.  Only then real change can come.

I am vegan and I believe it is not okay to use non-humans.


DiMaggio the goat lives at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York