open dictionary

Earlier this month, Bruce Friedrich posted the following on his Facebook:

“I’m comfortable with vegan referring exclusively to diet. The most frequent use of the word is on foods and cookbooks, I’d guess, where it is only referring to the lack of animal ingredients in food. And for the vast majority of people who think they know what it means, ‘vegan’ is a diet term. People fighting to identify vegan according to its original meaning are not likely to win that battle, I’m pretty sure. It’s the nature of diction that word meanings change according to common use. Fighting it will be an exercise in frustration, I suspect.”

He then posed the question:

I know some people feel with what seems to be an almost religious zeal that “vegan” must adhere to the original (purely animal rights, no leather, wool, silk, etc.) meaning, but surely that train has long since left the station. Is this really a battle worth fighting? Don’t we have more important things to worry about? What do you think?

My journey to veganism started because of health concerns, and then logically progressed to consider the environment and the animals. Yes, that journey began with a focus on food, but it wasn’t long before I was considering things like circuses, pet stores, leather sneakers and wool sweaters. Almost four years since I stopped eating dairy-based cheese – the last bastion of my omnivorous life – I strongly believe that the definition of vegan is important. And yes, I think it’s a battle worth fighting.

When everyone is falling all over themselves to praise Bill Clinton’s veganism – even when a recent article calls him vegan and mentions his weekly animal-based food intake – I think it’s worth fighting.

When a former vegan declares herself “not a vegan anymore” because of cravings – and says you can care about animals and still eat them – I think it’s worth fighting.

A plant-based diet – hell, even a “vegan” diet – is great, but it does not equate to the practice of veganism. As for the “exercise in frustration” that we must experience to fight the misappropriation of the word, isn’t that a small price to pay for something that means so much to us and, more importantly, to the animals? I get frustrated over much less important things every hour of every day.

For one to call himself vegan and not truly understand the definition of the word is a disservice to the philosophy of veganism. I can call myself vegan because I don’t eat animals, but if I’m killing bugs, painting my face with L’Oreal cosmetics and wearing overpriced, sheepskin boots each winter, I am not vegan. I may be moving in that direction, but I’m not there yet.

Let’s be clear – veganism is “a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practical – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” It’s not a diet. It’s not a trend. And those who call themselves vegan should know that.

Life is complicated – full of obstacles and lessons to be learned. I am tired of being told that the majority wins and that some battles aren’t worth fighting. Following that logic, perhaps we should all just let popular opinion sway our every thought. Let’s plug back into the matrix and let someone else worry about things.

Photo credit: greeblie via Flickr