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Here’s another one of those things I come across now and then:
Being vegan is like being pregnant. you are it, or you are not.
Makes sense, when you don’t think about it for too long. As soon as you do (think about it, that is), this stops making sense, in more ways than one.
There are two issues with this kind of black and white interpretation of veganism. One is strategic, the other is conceptual.
First, presenting being vegan as something that are or you aren’t, without anything in between, is not strategic. I have written about this before: don’t present being vegan as something binary, because that way we will exclude everyone who wants to join us for part or even most of the way. Technically it is correct to classify someone who is a 99.5% vegan (let’s say they eat a piece of non-vegan pie once a year at their grandmother’s) as a non-vegan. But obviously this person is much closer to being vegan than to not being vegan (or being an omnivore or a vegetarian).
Secondly, there is a gray area, where it’s not clear whether the use or consumption of some products or ingredients actually excludes someone from being called a vegan. That’s right, what is vegan and what is not is not entirely clear cut, and it’s probably more of a scale than anything else.
Donald Watson, founder of the Vegan Society in the UK defined veganism as a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as possible and practical — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.
The “as far as is possible and practical” is an important qualification. It leaves some room for gray areas and subjectivity. Some vegans think that what is “possible and practical” is very clear. Avoiding that once-a-year piece of pie is definitely possible and practical: just tell Granny no, right?
But what is possible and practical for one person may not always be so for another. And we shouldn’t try to determine for others what is possible and practical for them. If you disagree and believe that what you experience as possible and practical, should be so for everyone, then let’s imagine a person who studied and actively applies the 320 pages of the book Veganissimo. What if they tell you they find avoiding all those hundreds of pages of problematic ingredients quite practical and possible?
So no, being vegan is not like being pregnant. Just like the rawfoodies tell each other they are 70 or 80% raw, the same is possible with being vegan.
Some will point out that veganism (unlike being raw) is about more than diet, which of course it is (though diet covers the biggest part of it). In the sense that veganism is not a diet but a philosophy, an ethos, a way of life, those people might object, it is an all or nothing thing. Either you respect the rights of animals, or you don’t, they may say.
But is it like that, really? Look at our attitude and behavior towards people. Probably none of us, always and everywhere, perfectly respects the rights of all people. Most of us are only kind and compassionate some (hopefully most) of the time. We often slip and fall.
Saying that being vegan or respecting the rights of animals in your consumption and behavior is a black and white thing is asking for a kind of perfection that is alien to us humans. We can only strive to be ever better. There is no there, there is no point of arrival. There is only all of us, moving in a certain direction, and hopefully taking as many other people with us along the way.
See also my response to reactions on this article: What are vegans so afraid of?
128 thoughts on “Why being vegan is NOT an all-or-nothing thing”
It is hard to imagine that anyone can honestly say they absolutely could NOT do any better for animals.
YES. Thanks Tobias for continuing to be a voice of reason in our movement.
I agree that “as far as is possible and practical” allows a continuum of degrees of enactment. However, for me, the intention has to be absolute. When I read Jack Norris of Vegan Outreach state if people find it hard to eat plant based, “go vegan except for cheese” – it dilutes the notion of vegan, when another suitable term – vegetarian – exists. And it does not show that the intention is absolute. “Possible and practical” does not include a list of subjective likes and dislikes. If I were an Inuit on an ice float I’d surely have to eat a seal. If I had a clinically proven inability to absorb non-animal proteins, then “possible” would apply. So by all means, be kind to people transition to vegan, but surely, that’s what they are transitioning. And even then, direction and intention matter. I am vegan, my dog eats plant based. There are differences in definitions.
Love your comment. I completely agree! The intention shall be absolute… <3
Jack Norris is often deliberately misquoted. I think he actually said “go vegan except for cheese – vegan cheese”.
With regard to the Inuit – what would be a strategy to help them become vegan? Truck in every single thing they eat, or “relocate” them to the city?
it would make sense for jack/vegan outreach to say “go vegan except for cheese”, which could be a very strategic thing to say, rather than give people the “it’s all or nothing” creed
Love the article and this comment. It’s interesting that the cheese quote is universally misquoted. Some vegan groups deliberately create infighting amongst other groups.
you mean misquoted in the sense that the “vegan cheese” is left out? Like i wrote in the comments here, it would be in line with vegan outreach’s pragmatism to just allow people to go vegan except for the cheese.
Here’s a similar piece i wrote about that:
How can the essence of ‘as far as practically possible escape you? They ARE vegan by definition as long as they do their utmost to cause the least harm. There isn’t something like 80% vegan. A vegan can however do his utmost and reach 80% of what he longed for. These positions are worlds apart. Trying to sweep one under the other only harms the vegan movement.
So you say a person who does not eat any animal products, but cheese should call themselves vegetarian. At least I have been vegetarian for 10 years before being vegan now for 12 years and I know that there is a huge difference in how life looks like. I think every vegan person can be soooo proud for following their feelings and actually acting on them. Also if you can’t leave cheese of your plate! It is not easy to make the vegan choice all the time, and we should honor everyone who is doing it as best as they can, by calling them vegan – if they want to!
Yes. Absolutely. If you knowingly and willingly use or invest something that is made with animal products in any way, your intention is not absolute and therefore you are not vegan. Use another word. Well put.
Not sure I get the point of the article. Maybe it points to an ambiguity regarding the definition of what it means to be “vegan”. If you are saying its impossible to exclude all forms of animal exploitation from our lives – I agree. That applies to so many things in this world of consumerism. But as Andrew says, its the intention that we are talking about here. Weigh the impacts of hurting Granny’s feelings versus killing an animal – your choice.
Pslebow, not “killing an animal” but eating a dish that contains animal products. There is a difference. No animal more or less will be killed depending on your actions, so it remains symbolic, and in that sense can be weighed against granny’s feelings.
Tobias, can you please explain how exactly you arrived at the conclusion that “no animal more or less will be killed depending on your actions” (from the context of this conversation I’m reading that “actions” means “choosing to eat and use animal products”)? I don’t see how you can think this is in any way compatible with veganism. Are you saying that eating and using animal products is consistent with veganism because those particular animals are already dead?
I really hope that I just misunderstood what you meant here. Thanks in advance!
hi david, veganism is of course about a boycot, where we hope that one day so many people join the boycott that no animals will be raised and killed anymore for our purposes. It’s not good enough to say something like: i don’t make a difference, or the animal is dead already. EXCEPT, i think, when there may be issues that trump that. For me, there is a difference between killing a cow and eating the meat of a cow that is already dead. this is not a difference that is usually relevant, except when there are things more important. i’m not saying it’s the gandmother’s feelings or whatever, but i have written before about eating a steak for 100.000$ (which you can give to an animal rights group). It is a FACT that no animal more or less will be killed through any individual action (in the usual circumstances where the meat is bought in the supermarket).
other than that, of course i didn’t want to say that it’s ok to eat meat because the animals are already dead. I’ll write this out a bit better sometime in a post…
“It is a FACT that no animal more or less will be killed through any individual action (in the usual circumstances where the meat is bought in the supermarket).”
Can you provide any support for this claim? If I understand you correctly (I might not), you’re saying that it is a demonstrable truth that there is no causal connection or even correlation at all between what a person buys at a supermarket, and what goods the supermarket obtains for sale. In other words, there’s no relationship whatsoever between people purchasing meat and animals being killed, and that they are complete unrelated events. Is this an accurate representation of your position? If not, what have I got wrong?
david, it’s not that there is no relationship, obviously. that’s why we are vegan, because there is. but i don’t know why it’s so controversial to state that if i go the supermarket and i buy a chicken or not, that this very act doesn’t make a difference in terms of the numbers of chickens killed.
“but i don’t know why it’s so controversial to state that if i go the supermarket and i buy a chicken or not, that this very act doesn’t make a difference in terms of the numbers of chickens killed.”
I’m sorry, but I still don’t understand. How can they both be true? In my view, you’re saying that:
(1) There is a relationship between buying animal products and animals being exploited and killed.
(2) Buying animal products does not have effect on animals being killed.
How can these both be true?
Let me try to give another silly example for illustration. Let’s say, hypothetically, that I am ethically opposed to the use of pencils. I have an ethical and political outlook that completely rejects the production and use of pencils, and I only use pens instead. By applying your arguments, as I understand them, I conclude that the act of me buying pencils at the store has no effect at all on the production and use of pencils, and therefore buying pencils is consistent with an ethical philosophy that by definition rejects the production and use of pencils.
Again, of course, this is a silly example. But I hope that it helps illustrate why I find your arguments confusing. Do you see what I mean? If I’ve gotten something wrong here, can you explain to me what that is?
i don’t see how i can make it more clear than it is david. if many people stop buying pencils, this will have an effect on demand and thus on production, after a couple of days, weeks or months. but the mere fact that just you buys e.g. one pencil less will not effect demand or supply, no. at least not immediately. The pencil will have been produced, whether you buy it or not. So your not buying the pencil in itself is a symbol action. And symbolic actions can be weighed against other things (like, in this case, suppose it was a matter of life and death that you wrote something down and all you could buy was a pencil, which you normally boycot, then i’m assuming you will buy it)
Well, first of all: the of the magnitude of effects of consumer actions on production volume is an empirical question, not a philosophical one, and definitely not a truism that can be taken for granted as an axiom. I’ve asked you to provide evidence for your claim that there is no effect between them twice now, by my count, but unless I’m missing something, I don’t think you’ve done this.
Here’s what I mean specifically:
In my first comment, I said this: ‘Tobias, can you please explain how exactly you arrived at the conclusion that “no animal more or less will be killed depending on your actions” (from the context of this conversation I’m reading that “actions” means “choosing to eat and use animal products”)?’
Your response: ‘It is a FACT that no animal more or less will be killed through any individual action (in the usual circumstances where the meat is bought in the supermarket).’
My response: ‘Can you provide any support for this claim?’
Your response: ‘it’s not that there is no relationship, obviously. that’s why we are vegan, because there is. but i don’t know why it’s so controversial to state that if i go the supermarket and i buy a chicken or not, that this very act doesn’t make a difference in terms of the numbers of chickens killed.’
Like I said, this is an *empirical* claim that you’re making. It doesn’t change the number of animals that have already been killed. This is obvious, and I don’t think it’s what you’re talking about. But it’s very irresponsible to repeatedly claim, without providing evidence of any kind, that consumer behavior has no effect on current or future production.
At this point, I think this will be my last comment, since it seems like we’ve gotten to a point where we aren’t making any progress (unless you actually do provide evidence for your claims that warrants further discussion, or bring up something new). And I think our respective points of view on this issue will be well represented to anyone reading our conversation, and at this point I don’t think that continuing it will improve this any further.
But just to make it completely, 100% clear: you’re saying that I can deliberately buy pencils (read: buy and use animal products) and while doing this, correctly and honestly make the claim that my buying and using pencils is consistent with my ethical position of rejecting the production and use of pencils (read: veganism).
In any case, I appreciate your continued responses in the comments! Thanks for that.
let me try it this way: when i don’t buy a chicken, i have a tiny impact on demand, but the relationship between supply and demand is not THAT precise that my not purchasing that chicken will automatically have an impact on SUPPLY.
We can imagine an island, where one hundred people live, and each of them each one chicken in two months, let’s say. So the production side makes sure that there are exacly 100 new chicken corpses distributed every two months. Now if one person stops eating chicken altogether, production will know they should only produce 99 chickens every two months. here the relationship is very precise, and here we can say that the person’s boycot has an effect. but not the very first time: that first chicken that he didn’t buy was dead already.
It’s controversial because it does not take into account supply and demand. Eventually with people not buying animal products supply will react to demand, there will be a tipping point and animals lives will be saved. The question is when is that tipping point and how elastic is the system. For each occasion when one buys animal flesh, there will be a probability associated with that, where it’s like 1 in 10000 that not buying that chicken will save 10s of thousands of animals lives. But such a tipping point only can about because of all the other times that everyone chose not to buy it too. Therefore each act makes a difference, it reduces animal use.
yes, i think i more or less agree with this.
In any case, it is important that we all do what we do. But it’s even more important that we get as many people to come along with us as possible. because it’s only with a certain number that we can really make a difference.
I think we need some precise definition of the market within which this supply and demand is going on. Let’s say the US market for pork. For a dip in demand to affect supply would require a hell of a lot of people to be boycotting pork. The suppliers would use various means to stabilise the market, as some of their investment is not easily shifted. One of the things they would do is make pork cheaper (probably at the expense of the animals) so as to maintain the market as it is, and indeed encourage more sales, in that people still buying pork might well buy more pork if it were cheaper. Another thing they would do is just export more. Or, just up investment and invest in pigs/pork in China. In short, the suppliers have various means to keep in business.
The whole demand affects supply model harks back to the days when markets were still real markets, face to face transactions between a buyer and a seller. That went out of the door by the end of the nineteenth century. Demand is only one element in the calculation of profit, and capitalism is geared to profit.
“As early as 1906 people were already questioning the supremacy of the Supply-demand maxim. A Daniel De Leon wrote an editorial in the July 10, 1906 Daily People where he critiqued the notion that supply follows demand. He pointed out that in certain circumstances not meeting demand would also result in higher profits. Which leads to his statement:
“Under capitalism, Supply follows or lags behind Demand according as Profits may be swelled by an increase or a relative decrease of Supply,” or in shorter form “Not Demand, but Profits controls Supply.”
It is a simple and logical proposition–profit determines supply. Estimated demand is only one of the factors that goes into determining expected profits, and hence supply.”
No i am sorry but if you knowingly eat none vegan food then you are not a vegan, the animal still died, eating it with granny is still making the demand for its death, as granny will still keep making it for you, ,you could make her a vegan pie instead.
If Granny is crucial to someone making ends meet and keeping their head above water, then her feelings probably win.
It is particularly harmful to attack new vegans for making mistakes (something I see with unfortunate regularity online). A perfect example would be calling out someone for unwittingly eating cheerios (which contain vitamin D3, which is animal derived). Does eating cheerios make you NOT vegan? Personally, I don’t think so. I don’t buy anything I know contains animal products, but attacking someone for eating cheerios seems more about quasi-religious fundamentalist veganism than animal rights.
I’m a firm believer in Maya Angelou’s famous dictum “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” The point is to learn, not to be perfect.
So yeah, being vegan is not like being pregnant. For one thing, you can’t get pregnant without knowing you did something TO get pregnant, and it’s pretty darn easy to accidentally consume animal products. I avoid anything with animal ingredients, but I have made mistakes, for sure. I used chapstick I got from the dentist before I found out it had beeswax in it. Does that make me not vegan?
I think the point is, the line isn’t as clear as some people think, and I don’t even think the line is particularly helpful at this point. If the world becomes a far better, more humane place, we might be able to exclude people from our little club for having a slice of pie once a year. But at the moment, doing so hurts seriously hurts this cause.
Do you remember when vegan YouTubers lost their marbles because Jared Leto confessed to eating a cupcake at a birthday party and not asking if it was vegan? Are we going to brand him “non-vegan?” How exactly does it help the vegan cause to attack one of the few celebrities who has been vegan for decades? It might people feel righteous, but it’s certainly not an effective strategy (unless your goal is attention grabbing antics, as opposed to genuine activism).
Anyway, great article, Tobias.
Think you have missed the point here Margaret.
I am Tobias’ dreaded Vegan Police and I have never “attacked” someone for making an honest mistake.
If someone were to, let’s say knowingly consume a bottle of wine that used fish during the manufacturing process, then I would have something to say about it.
This is what gets people upset. Someone who knowingly consumes something that comes from an animal, while claiming to be vegan.
I’m glad that honest mistakes are allowed, Cameron. Still, what about the issue of vegans who do eat, say, a cupcake when they know pretty well that it’s not vegan (as in the Jared Leto example).
Would you consider Leto a vegan? I honestly feel like it’s not helpful to attack vegans who consume animal products. I might personally agree that they aren’t vegan, but shouldn’t it really be up to their own conscience at this point? I’m just not sure how useful it is to publicly attack people who have said that they’re vegan, but are a bit cavalier about it.
I don’t know anything about the Jared Leto example, so I am not in a position to comment on it.
That being said, when I first went vegan over 20 years ago, if I went to a family outing, I always made sure that I let the host know that I was vegan. If they didn’t already know.
I also offered to bring my own food, if it was easier for them.
This is what it comes down to. Communication.
If you were lactose intolerant or coeliac, would you still eat something that had a little dairy or gluten in it?
You wouldn’t because to do so could potentially cost you your life.
Why should being vegan be any different?
I agree, but I think that the celiac example is perfect in terms of people who say they are vegan but aren’t really.
I know true celiacs -who are sick for days if exposed to gluten – get annoyed by people who say they are celiac, but are doing it more as a fad (I’ve even seen this with dairy avoidance). Obviously, I might agree that the person who has a slice of glutenous cake at a birthday party and then demands gluten-free food is not a true celiac.
However, these fake celiacs have led to market demand for gluten-free food, and celiacs are glad for it. Similarly, as a vegan, I’m grateful to fake (perhaps part-time is a better word for it?) vegans for making vegan products a lot more popular than if only true vegans were eating them!
Comparing vegans and people like coeliacs – no vegan is going to suffer if they eat a non-vegan cupcake. And no animal is either. The idea that the choices of an individual make a tad’s worth of difference within global capitalism is absurd.
ModVegan, obviously I’m not Cameron and I don’t mean to butt in, but if you don’t mind me asking, what exactly do you mean when you say “attack”? At the time I’m writing this comment, the word “attack” appears six times on the page: five times in your comments, and once in Cameron’s (where he put it in quotation marks in a response to you). Cameron said that if someone claimed to be vegan and deliberately eats or uses animals (that’s my paraphrase), he would “have something to say about it.” I took this to mean something along the lines of “point out the hypocrisy of this action.” I think this is a reasonable interpretation (you may disagree, I dunno).
In my view, pointing out the dishonesty of someone eating or otherwise using animals while claiming veganism is not “attacking” them at all. This certainly isn’t specific to veganism either; in the same way, if someone I knew claimed to be a pacifist and I observed them being violent, pointing out that this is inconsistent with pacifism does not constitute an “attack” on them by any means.
David, let’s not kid ourselves here. What Cameron has been doing with me is much lower than “pointing out dishonesty” (even with the term dishonesty i have a problem) and has actually been attacking yes.
And all this selfrighteous “pointing out”, as if all the callers are without win… Omg, don’t get me started. It all sounds so noble but it’s just ineffective, purist selfrighteousness, much more about oneself than about any real life impact on animals.
Had to get that of my chest.
Can you point me to an example of an attack from Cameron? One of his comments here is a little sarcastic (the “70%” one is the one I have in mind), but I don’t think I would consider it an attack at all. I haven’t read any of your posts besides this one, so there might be a long history here between you two that I don’t know about.
I don’t know what the sentence with “…as if all the callers are without win…” could mean, so I don’t think I can really comment on that part.
But regarding what you say about “ineffective, purist selfrighteousness [sic],” I think there’s a very strong argument that staying silent when self-proclaimed vegans deliberately and publicly eat and use (or ensorse the eating and/or use of) animal products DOES indeed do harm. It perpetuates an image of veganism that says “vegans eat and use animal products.” Do you disagree that this is harmful? Or am I misreading?
I certainly agree with you very much that we need to be thoughtful and pragmatic about the harm to animals that our actions cause. But where we part company, I think, is the idea that choosing to participate in, or be complicit in, the commodification of animals can be consistent with veganism. If there’s one thing veganism isn’t, it’s that.
History indeed, David 🙂 wasnt talking about here in particular
WIN would have been SIN
If you’re interested in my view on purity and effectiveness, you could watch the second video on the video page on this site 🙂
Basically, yes, let’s be clear about what is vegan and what’s not, but let’s not obsess over the final percentage at the cost of effectiveness.
How have I attacked you?
I have suggested that you no longer call yourself a vegan because you think wine is a grey area, lasagne with egg or dairy is something you are happy to consume, and your gotchas are not relevant to modern society.
Whereas yourself on the other hand have had no second thoughts about calling me dogmatic, purist or even the Vegan Police. When I pointed out to you that these were not insults and that you weren’t able to bully me into silence, you blocked me on facebook and prevented me from commenting on your page.
How about this comment for example:
Let us not forget this podcast with Roger Yates.
as i’ve said before, cameron, you’re not worth my time. you’re a mean and unfair debater, which is why i have blocked you from my fb page, as do with all people like that. Relying as you do here on things related to roger yates to make your case is quite enough to show that. i don’t do the effort of screenshotting you.
Future comments of yours will not be approved. If you ever want to write something reasonable and show that you are open to an honest discussion, you can email me.
Hi David, It would depend on what you meant by ‘pointing out’. If say, you saw a vegan friend eating Cheerios, I see no problem with pointing out that they aren’t vegan (though I would begin from a presumption of innocence, rather than guilt).
The reason I use the term “attack” is because when I see someone’s character (figuratively) assassinated because of perceived flaws it can be tantamount to an attack- there are numerous examples of this on YouTube, and also on blogs like OhSheGlows. I thought it was sad that the author of OhSheGlows resorted to calling herself plant based after commenters questioned her commitment to Veganism (her child apparently isn’t being raised entirely vegan).
Oh god. Imagine the things i would write here if i DID know about all this horrible vegan behaviour towards people like jared leto and ms oh she glows… 🙂
Haha, it just saddens me that some of the people who actually have the chance to be a real effective voice in this movement are shamed into silent by puritans (oh dear, did I just say that?) [braces self].
That anyone could possibly, in good vegan conscience, attack Angela Liddon is just incomprehensible to me. She does so much good for the vegan movement, and helps to make vegan cooking accessible (without compromise!) and fun. So sad to hear of this. A prime example, however, of how badly awry the vegan movement sometimes goes.
I know! In her piece explaining why she was no longer going to call herself vegan (you can read it here if you really believe vegans never “attack” each other: http://ohsheglows.com/2015/03/30/food-for-thought/), she wrote “I’ll be honest in telling you that experiencing hate on a public forum from your own community wears you down over time.”
Anyone who follows her will know she is not using “hate” lightly.
It’s a pretty sad commentary on the “vegan” community, imho. How much can you really care about this movement if you are willing to tear down such helpful people just to make a point? Anyway, I just try to keep reminding myself that most of us are on the same page 🙂
Fantastic article there Tobias, you are really excelling at being strategic in not actually promoting veganism.
One thing I would like to know is, at what point is someone no longer vegan?
Is it 70%, 80% 90%
If it is 70%, then Francione is right, The World Is Vegan.
We only spend on average 3 hrs a day consuming animal products, leaving 21 where we are.
Therefore everyone is over 80% vegan.
your question “One thing I would like to know is, at what point is someone no longer vegan?” only makes sense if you see vegan as something binary. the article suggested we don’t do that. Taking this view, all i can say is that a 70% vegan is not a 100% vegan. But i think the sliding scale may take away some of the us vs them dichotomy, which can only be beneficial to get more people on board.
Let’s examine the consequences of eating or not eating Granny’s pie.
Not eating it: Granny may have hurt feelings, but if she knows you’re a vegan and still tries to give you food made with dead animals, she is probably either oblivious or vindictive. If oblivious, she is likely to rapidly forget that you didn’t eat the pie, and if vindictive – well then, she deserves it.
Eating the pie: More animals die because more animal product is eaten and required for the future, and now Granny doesn’t take your veganism seriously because you make exceptions for special occasions, and she is likely to make you the same pie again in the future because “you liked it so much this time,” therefore killing more animals.
Upshot: a piece of pie is not worth compromising your ideals.
Your typical granny is going to continue to make the pie regardless of what one of her grand-children does as such there is no consequence. Approximately 20~30% food in the US ends up in the trash, as such, if one is going to give an argument from demand then one should be perfectly okay eating animal products that would otherwise end up in the trash…..much like left-overs from a holiday.
If you don’t eat the pie, the animals will probably get exported to China.
for me it is never about saving granny from hurt feelings, although i would not blame a person who wants to do so. For me it is about effectiveness: if some people feel they want to make an exception there, but are bullied into not doing so by the orthodoxy of others, then that may not be very sustainble for this person. Secondly, it may also not be attractive to the grandmother (or anyone else), who may be turned off by what they see as a rigid attitude (sure, we think it’s just “nobly consistent, but there’s a big chance that it’s interpreted differently)
This is great! I stopped referring to myself as vegan sometime ago as I thought in order to call myself that, I needed to be 100% vegan, when in reality it’s more like 95%. Now I just say I follow a plant-based diet. Or I’ll say I’m mostly vegan, or 95% vegan.
I have a friend who is afraid of the vegan label because she doesn’t want to be considered a fraud for not asking waiters about every last ingredient in her food at business lunches, etc.
I wish she would say she’s vegan because she’s an amazing example of compassion, and I think she avoids animal ingredients as much as practicable. It saddens me that she would feel uncomfortable stating she’s a vegan on a form, simply because her lipstick might contain carmine.
I really think there’s a point where this gets impossible. If I eat a grilled mushroom at a restaurant, chances are its been “tainted” with animal products…and no, I don’t worry about that (it is gross, but that’s another issue). The idea that there is an imaginary line in the sand is ridiculous. I think it should be about our intentions and the rest is up to conscience. There’s a reason only about 1% of people are vegan.
Now I understand why the church came up with indulgences and confession. No one is perfect, and if perfect adherence is the standard, Veganism will remain marginalized. Again, I hate to use religion as an example (I in no way view Veganism as a religion), but how many successful religions demand 100% compliance with all aspects of their beliefs? Even countries with Sharia law sell makeup containing carmine – and I’d hate to think vegans are more rigid than that.
100 percent agreed.
And excellent example : how sad if really nice compassionate people are afraid to call themselves vegan while obnoxious fundamentalists can think they are the only ones who can. Bad for the image of the vegan movement, obviously. But hey, at least the public won’t be confused about what vegan is, right?!
Exactly! Focusing on the precise theology of Veganism (and “pointing out” apostates) before even 1% of the population identifies as vegan seems like jumping the gun, as it were.
The reference to countries with Sharia law makes absolutely no sense in this context.
I am very pleased that, since you do not wish to be vegan, you stopped calling yourself vegan. Maybe you will want to actually become vegan when you are ready. In the meantime, please don’t use terms like “mostly vegan” or “95% vegan” as they are meaningless.
In the example of the person who deliberately eats non-vegan pie once a year, my question is why that person would want to describe themselves as vegan in the first place. Are they covering up for the fact they are ashamed of having eaten the pie and want to pretend they didn’t eat it? Because there is nothing to stop them actually deciding to become vegan, as long as they don’t eat the pie next time.
Fun fact: most grandmothers are capable of understanding the meaning of “vegan”, even if they don’t understand why their grandchild is vegan. And they’re not usually too bad at catering for vegans, especially now many firms label things more accurately than they used to.
the grandmother is just an example, standing for a time when a person chooses to make an exception (which i’m not encouraging, but not calling out either).
and to lucie: don’t let all these people tell you how you should call yourself, or what does or doesn’t exist.
I am entitled to tell a non-vegan to stop describing herself as a vegan. Words have meanings. If she described herself as an Oscar-winning actress, the people in charge of the Academy Awards could legitimately ask her to stop doing that.
sure, you’re entitled to tell her. i’m just suggesting her she doesn’t listen to you 🙂
And I suggest that you start being honest with yourself: you’re not promoting veganism.
i don’t care what you think vanilla rose, or what you think i do. if veganism is what you and some others do or are, then i’m not promoting that no, because at times it seems that veganism is a horribly intolerant and close minded ideology. What i promote is that we move towards a more compassionate world, lifestyle, diet, as soon as possible.
Unfortunately for you, Tobias, veganism already has a very clear definition. Look, I understand people who aren’t ready to become vegan. I spent years in that state. But I didn’t have the cheek to tell other people that I was vegan when I wasn’t.
unfortunately for you, the bible already has said that we can eat animals. etc. can we please stop the mindless dogma and think for ourselves?
You’re not exactly helping your cause by the way. It’s utterances like these that i see as the problem, and i will continue to write about it. If you think that I, a vegan for 18 years and a fulltime activist without pay, am not vegan because i indiscriminately drink wine, or because i suggest we sometimes sacrifice the details for the sake of reach more people, well…
I don’t need to say more (to thinking people, at least).
I’ve been vegan for 24 years and counting. I’m not sure you’ve been vegan at all. If I don’t know if alcohol I have been offered is vegan, I simply don’t drink it. That’s very, very easy. Some people here should just accept the fact that they are not ready to become an actual vegan yet.
lol, you really make it worse with everything you write, and you just confirm everything i write. It’s just like a textbook example of the holier-than-thou attitude. thanks.
I want the person who has been a vegan for 100 years and is seventh level vegan – they don’t eat anything that casts a shadow – to speak now.
I’s got the popcorn ready…
We can’t be effective activists if we don’t form alliances. It’s impossible to be effective without them.
I want a world where animals are not used for food, clothing, or entertainment and are free to live their lives in peace. I think everyone here wants the same thing.
How effective is it to ask people to go vegan, if we are going to turn around and become the “vegan police”, berating them for every perceived transgression of model veganism?
I humbly suggest that as vegans, we concern ourselves with our own eating habits, provide information to each other, and focus on effective and strategic action to change the world. To call oneself a vegan is to state one’s intention to end the suffering and abuse of animals.
Policing the term might make you feel better, but it does nothing for the cause.
“as far as possible and practical” is a vague claim that is only evoked when people point out one of the many animal derived products found in consumer products that vegans happen to use without any thought. When it comes to products that are deemed non-vegan by the vegan grand wizards, the principle is simply forgotten.
The problem is, you can do everything “correctly” and there will always be someone who sets the bar higher. I’ve been told I’m not vegan because I have an omni partner. I see people attacking other vegans for consuming palm oil and telling them they should switch to coconut oil, but there are tons of problems with coconut oil too (in particular the use of monkeys to harvest coconuts). Recently a friend of mine who blogged about some new vegan products was lectured to that because the products were made in the same factory as products containing egg and dairy, that they should not be eaten by vegans. So now eating a product that was in the same room as an egg is not vegan. It just never ends, and this kind of nitpicking scares off potential vegans who look at the ever tightening circle of restrictions and decide it’s too hard so why bother.
Probably this is also partially responsible for a lot of recidivism
Sporkbill, the more I think about this, the more convinced I am that we need to pretty much ignore the voices of puritanism. They may be loud, but I believe they are in the distinct minority. If this movement is going to succeed, as Tobias reminds us, it won’t be because of extremists who try to take down other vegans because they haven’t excluded family members who aren’t vegan. I refuse to let veganism be hijacked by absolutists.
If anything, I think we should actually regard them in the same manner we do trolling attention grabbing carnists who use worn-out arguments like “no-one can be vegan because farming kills bugs.” Or “plants have feelings.”
I’m trying to take this all in, but is there much of a difference between someone who tries to discredit veganism because we’re heartless plant killers, and a vegan who tries to tell other vegans they aren’t “vegan enough” because they knowingly drank a glass of wine filtered through isinglass? Or ate potato chips from a factory that uses milk?
They might mean well, but if you look at the consequences, they are far more insidious enemies of veganism than the bacon loving crowd. I don’t think the “plants have feelings” argument has ever driven a vegan to despair, but I have personally witnessed extreme vegans bully others into feeling that they can never attain the proper level of purity.
I don’t want to see the vegan community any more splintered than it already is, but navel-gazing perfectionists aren’t going to save the world. If Martin Luther King had focused on targeting his supporters for buying Aunt Jemima syrup, would the civil rights movement have had the same success? What if he’d focused his efforts on telling white freedom riders that they weren’t pure enough, or appropriating black culture, ec., I don’t think he would have gotten very far. Today we can afford to worry about those things, but at the beginning of a movement, I don’t really think it’s helpful.
very good thoughts, modvegan!
(just as an aside, i think the plants have feelings and the veg farming kills bugs arguments can also be used in honest ways, without being gotchas)
Tobias – I’m trying to tease apart the consistency behind this comment:
“Avoiding that once-a-year piece of pie is definitely possible and practical: just tell Granny no, right? But what is possible and practical for one person may not always be so for another. And we shouldn’t try to determine for others what is possible and practical for them.”
What I’m trying to tease apart is how that is different than a meat eater who is inconvenienced by a vegan. The meat eater shouldn’t determine what is possible and practical for the vegan, right? Considering that the meat eater is inconveniencing an animal significantly, and the vegan inconveniences the meat eater minorly. So don’t we just have a bias toward inconveniences that are in our face? And in the case that you wrote about, a person accepting Grandma’s pie is just choosing to inconvenience the animals over Grandma? In terms of what is practical, shouldn’t we side with the animal over Grandma’s pie?
That said, I fundamentally agree with your post. Many people jump into new diets with vigor, only to find it too stressful and too great of a lifestyle change. If people can ease into something in order to ensure a greater chance of success, that’s wonderful. Heck, it’s the path I took to veganism.
thanks for your input max. first of all, i don’t think the granny thing was the strongest example, and personally i don’t understand why people would make that kind of exception, but i’m perfectly fine if they do and what i wanna say is that i see no reason to call them out etc.
re. your inbalance in the inconveniences… you may have a point, but to me, the point is effectiveness. The meat eater is not trying to convince us of anything. We are trying to warm other people up to veganism, and that is a reason to be pragmatic. In so far as a sense of belonging to a group is important, it is also pragmatic not to call out others for not being vegan. in the sense that not experience too much strictness and inconvenience may be important to stay on the wagon, that is pragmatic too.
Dang…always so well worded and articulate. You are one of the premier voices of the movement, Tobias!
thank you very much 🙂
There is BEING VEGAN (a real, genuine, ethical vegan) — and then there is having a dalliance with a plant-based diet. These are two different things. I’m all for encouraging everyone to be vegan, to be helpful & share food ideas and to NOT be an ass about any of it … but ‘vegan’ DOES mean something. You’re vegan or you’re not. You care enough about animals to not harm them or you don’t. You may stumble. You can forgive yourself. But seriously, how is being okay with a little cheese or having the corpse you’re “craving” any different from being okay with stealing bottles from babies or believing it’s okay to assault people but only on the weekends? We VEGANS should set an ethical standard to aspire to and achieve — and help those struggling into the fold by explaining & demonstrating what exactly it means to be AN ETHICAL VEGAN.
Exactly! A person can be 80% raw food, but can never be 80% vegan!
Who is 100% vegan? Everyone is doing the as far as possible and practicable bit – all the argument is about whether X allows Y’s as far as possible and practicable to be legitimate. Some may say it’s just a pissing contest. Being vegan is an exercise in drawing an arbitrary line.
The issue here, I think, is that all the justifications for veganism are post-hoc…..and veganism really just amounts to the following of a particular consumer oriented doctrine. That is to say, someone is vegan if they avoid products deemed non-vegan by vegan authorities. An argument occurs when someone tries to take one of the justifications seriously rather than as an post-hoc excuse for an established doctrine.
OK, is that why palm oil and eating organic doesn’t get you thrown out of the vegan club? And, on the other hand, because Donald Watson and co. decreed “animals”, eating bi-valves because they very unlikely to be sentient is seen as complete vegan heresy?
Are you saying that basically veganism is nothing but consumption practices laid down by the vegan authorities, and that all the “justifications”, like animal rights, have been tied on later? If you are saying something like that, I totally agree.
Yes, that is more or less what I’m saying and pointing out that its the source of a lot of “arguments” in the vegan movement. At times vegans do try to take the principles seriously……but then they are hit with a wall of dogma. Namely the original doctrine as created by Donald Watson and maintained today by the Vegan Society and other vegan groups.
Some vegans seem to believe they can reform veganism and root it in some moral principle, but I think this strategy completely ignores the origin and social/economic function of veganism.
When you say “social/economic function”, I take it you mean, or include, consumption practices that are consumerist and quasi-religious.
I completely see the justifications or principles as stuff people have tried to bolt onto veganism when the only thing veganism has ever *consistently* meant is consumption behaviours, predominantly diet. The inevitable tension between the dogma and bolted on principles is very interesting.
toad, re “That is to say, someone is vegan if they avoid products deemed non-vegan by vegan authorities.”: i think that is true to some extent, and it is kind of what i write about. There are food and other products that are vegan (i.e. not of animal origin or involving animals) yet cause suffering. Conversely, there are products that are of animal origin and that are or could potentially be produced without suffering or (blatant) unfairness to animals.
However, i think in general, most non vegan products cause suffering. In that sense, animal is bad, plant based is better is a good heuristic.
To know whether its a good heuristic one would have to actually come to grips with the amount of animals that are harmed in the production of plant foods, including their cultivation, storage and processing. But nobody really cares about doing that………because veganism was never about reducing suffering.
But the assumption being made here is that your individual consumption practices have an impact on the underlying economy for animal and plant-derived foods…..and that isn’t the case. So what exactly makes this a good-heuristic for reducing suffering if there is no direct connection between what you purchase and what happens in the economy?
I loved my grandmother more than pretty much anyone in the world. She was a huge source of support for me during a difficult childhood and she gave unconditional love and understanding until the day she died. That said, my grandmother was not a vegan or a vegetarian. At 28, I went vegan and was lucky enough to still have my grandmother in my life. She scarcely could understand why I went vegetarian 12 years before; vegan pretty much went over her head altogether. My grandmother was an amazing cook and eating together was something that we bonded over. When I went vegan, though, I was no longer able to eat the baked goods she made. There was a moment when it dawned on her that this was a new level that made vegetarian seem easy to accept and that we’d no longer enjoy her cookies together. At that moment when it would have been very easy for me to step away from my veganism for that one exception — something that is in fact very rare but it would be my single exception — but that would have meant compromising my values and something she had a strong role in helping to nurture. It was awkward at first but we both got over it and were still able to bond, just not over non-vegan food.
Why do the animals and our convictions always need to be tossed under the bus in these thought experiments? Why can’t I be an unwavering vegan who is still reasonable, adaptive and kind? Must these things cancel each other out? I don’t believe so. I also don’t feel that accepting non-vegan pie violates the “as far as is possible and practical” definition of veganism. The pie isn’t life or death nor is it a micro-ingredient with grey areas. Does this mean that I want to spend my time condemning vegans who eat one item with animal products a year? Absolutely not. Does this mean that I think we should be pouring over lists of what we can and cannot eat? No. But eating animals — and making excuses about it — is generally a slippery slope and I see people consistently underestimate how much they eat and overestimate how “humane” those things are. Why can’t we encourage people to move closer to vegan without trying to reinterpret what veganism means?
This granny’s pie thing – the attitude is very Western and privileged. In other societies (and for some groups within Western societies) miaintaining good relations with significant persons is vital – including vital to eating. Think of it as not being a choice between granny’s feelings and your principles, but between your support system and stranger-animals.
I read recently that there have been incidences of people returning items to food banks because those items needed cooking and they couldn’t afford to turn on the electricity. So let’s say Granny can afford to turn on the electricity and cook for you – and you’re still going to turn down her non-vegan pie? Well martyrdom is an option I suppose.
Here are some recent words from a US vegan activist – “Many of the people in the marginalized communities where I work in Baltimore are struggling just to make it to the next day. They give exactly zero shits about the plight of chickens and pigs, and I have no expectation whatsoever that they should. People who carry around the constant crushing weight of oppression shouldn’t be expected to do anything but maybe try to make it to the next day with their sanity intact. Anyone who expects any more than that is coming from a place of pure, unfiltered privilege…”
I think this is all rooted in how vegans, in particular the leaders, have deiced to frame the issues. All the vegan groups I’m aware of promote the idea of vegan foods being “cruelty-free” which would imply, of course, that a non-vegan food is cruel. Of course….this is just empty rhetoric to begin with as there really aren’t any “cruelty-free” products in modern society…..but it also leads to the sort of rigidity that would have one refuse grannies pie despite it making no difference in the world.
In any case, the discussion on strictness is amusing…..its like Goldilocks…apparently there is just some particular right level of rigidity and when you go beyond that you’re being a purity and if you don’t do enough you’re just not vegan.
What about Jonathan Swift and the Big-Endians and the Little-Endians in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’?
As you say, there is no “cruelty-free”, there is no avoidance of exploitation. If it isn’t wildlife getting it in the neck, it’s indentured slavery, etc, etc. Trade up and focus on the systems – and realise that your choices as an individual don’t make a f**k’s worth of difference.
Yes, I agree, focus on the systems…..but where does that leave the individual? The idea that the individual should focus on the systems while doing nothing in their person life, even if just symbolic, seems a bit strange to me. I like to make an analogy to environmentalism which has the same issues, namely, the issues are systematic in nature. But environmental groups rarely call for boycotts….instead just doing what you easily can while we work on changing the systems and change incentives.
But people are fooling themselves if they think a consumer oriented movement is going to work, for example, despite major and visible issues with smog, etc in the Los Angeles area people were largely disinterested in fuel efficient vehicles in the 90’s……where as today fuel efficient vehicles are the norm. What changed? Fuel prices…….people followed their wallets which lead to different attitudes towards cars.
If the above is the correct model for social change….then pretty much every vegan group is doing it wrong and its not clear what, if anything, they are basing their models on. My suggestion would be that they are following their financial interest, for example, Tobias highlighted a study funded by Mercy for Animals that not only didn’t confirm the success of their strategy…..but showed it had a negative impact. How did they use this study, which they funded, to inform their action? By making excuses…..and ignoring it.
Very interesting post, Mr Toad – and I wish every vegan here would read it and think, but I have no hope.
You ask what the individual can do if the problem is systemic – one answer is political action (in terms of collective political action). There are no individualist answers, only political answers. The whole focus on individuals making a difference by being vegan or recycling their garbage is so much candyfloss. However, I do not believe veganism can function as a political force because it does not relate to any interest group, it is merely a moral stance of certain individuals.
You might find this interesting
I agree with this, to a degree, but I don’t think individual actions are entirely useless in the case of diet. Dietary behaviors are inherently cultural and as such political solutions, in themselves, may not be enough and I think need to be combined with cultural action. On the other hand recycling is a matter of your daily habits, its not deeply rooted in any cultural attitudes or beliefs. Vegeanism is a very poor vehicle to promote cultural change since it insists on very radical, and in some cases nonsensical, changes in people’s dietary behaviors. But in a democratic state political solutions can move much past the current cultural beliefs and attitudes therefore change has to occur in a piece-meal function where political change will promote cultural change and then cultural change will allow for further political change and so on. I think this is precisely what occurred with human rights, each political change resulted in a cultural change over time and this allowed for further political changes. Since culture is pretty sticky, I think the process is generational in time. That is, you can only get the current generation of adults to change so much and further changes will have to come from the next generation.
I’m not sure if we are on the same page here or not, while I think consumer oriented movement that calls for radical change (i.e., veganism) is fundamentally unhelpful I don’t think all individual action is useless. An individuals action can impact culture….or least the the beliefs/attitudes of those one is connected to. Also I think one of the biggest obstacles to getting people to eat less meat, etc is the lack of a good plant-based food culture and that can’t be developed politically. Though, unfortunately, the primary force here seems to be vegan food businesses creating mock animal foods which doesn’t meaningfully change the food culture….almost the opposite since it upholds the importance of the underlying animal food which prevents a shift in how people think about food.
Wouldn’t argue about political-cultural dynamic in democratic societies. Theoretically, it is possible to develop attitudes to animals that would impinge on the accepted view of animals as food. But, on a macro level, new attitudes tend to come with historical developments – in Europe new views about humans and their “rights” came along with capitalism – first mercantilism and particularly industrial capitalism. The drive to extend rights to animals is an extension of this. Either democratic-capitalism continues and becomes more accommodating to animal rights or history takes a different turn…
That’s why vegetarianism/veganism in Japan or Asia tends to look different than the US or England. Japanese Vegetarians, for instance, are more willing to compromise if it keeps up good relationships with significant people in their lives.
And Buddhist vegetarianism is rooted in similar ethics. Some Buddhist monks are not allowed to refuse any food they are given, including meat, even though they are forbidden to harm animals. It’s a very different mindset from the moral puritanism of many western Vegans. Buddhists, and other Asian-originated philosophical/religious systems, often put principles aside for the sake of harmony (even the Buddha died because he didn’t want to offend his host, so he ate bad food from a butcher and got food poisoning).
I have read all of this with much interest, Tobias, everyone. The conversation itself is important and it is important that these discussions are civil. Real people are behind the comments and THESE comments are much more real and thoughtful than the mean short slap down, comments that can happen on social media, with little thought for the effect on the person reading them to whom they are directed. All too often the pointing out of hypocrisy whatever the intention of the pointer-outerer is PERCEIVED as a slap down, because of the way it is delivered. I think being aware of the fact that the people we are all talking to are just people, maybe doing their best, maybe kidding themselves about some things, maybe struggling with a lot of other things than just what they eat and wear.
The grannie’s pie scenario is a very real thing. I wrote about it (although it was my Mum not my Granny) in a guest blog at The Animalist – thus
“I know that feeling of ‘failure’, all my best intentions gone to the pack when, despite weeks, month or even years of being 100% vegan, I find myself saying “Oh fuck it!” and eating peanut butter chocolate (with some milk in it) or throwing caramel sauce (made from condensed milk) on my soy vegan ice-cream. Or a situational moment, like being faced with the approbation of family at a fraught Christmas dinner and deciding to eat Mum’s trifle (a family tradition) because she made it and if I don’t I will hurt her feelings and draw the ridicule of people who already think me odd. Being haunted by cows and calves and hens as I chow down — thinking to myself, “I must do better”. Then, hiding from vegan groups feeling like an utter failure. This is 6 years in to being vegan.”
Because I struggle in the world with a whole lot of very real difficulties, a physical disability, mental health issues, a horrible childhood history. I am doing my best and very proud that a woman with the baggage I carry around HAS a values base that includes, “Do least harm” at all. So – when a vegan who has ‘clarity’ in their own mind about what the word and practice of vegan “is” in their own minds judges ME – and makes some slappy-comment (sloppy-comment) about ‘how hypocritical I am’ for having eaten INTENTIONALLY – the bit of chocolate, the wrestle with the caramel sauce thing, OR – the decision in the face of family derision to eat the trifle (eggs, milk custard and port wine jelly and cream) to save relationship and not make things even harder mentally, emotionally and in fraught relationships for myself – the upshot of slap for that is a compounding of failure, miserableness and a sense of being so wrong in even trying. The corresponding psychological effect for someone in my position trying very hard to do the very best I can is not something to wave about lightly as if there was a perfect world scenario and that EVERY person who is vegan is capable of 100% adherence to The Way. (The shades of cultism is also of real concern for people who are trying their very best to be the best they can be but who also need to avoid absolutism and black and white thinking).
I AM a vegan, I am also just a wobbly struggly being, and if you are in the enviable position of having no baggage, no health issues, and can be 100% ANYTHING then congratulations. But so many people and particularly the sensitive people who come to veganism through a deeper understanding (not a political stance per se) that harming animals is wrong and wanting to contribute to a world where eventually animals will not be food slaves – and they fail consistently at one thing or another – or are inconsistent in their approach because well, that is what struggly humans do – do you really want to be the person who holds up a mirror to reflect the hypocrisy, who insists that person is not part of this wonderful worldwide movement towards least harm for animals?
Is it so important that your definition, your practice and your group agreement is unassailable – or is it more important to create a community where everyone – struggly ones, clear ones, lucky ones, can come and just do their best, then do better to grow the movement, to lessen the harm.
I will always make a comment framed in the personal, that is what peer education IS. Someone says “I make a delicious morning snack with dried fruit peanut butter and honey” – I will respond “That looks fabulous, I am going to try that – and I will use maple syrup instead”. That is advocacy for the vegan-way. Rather than – “WHAT! HONEY??????? WTF? Honey is not vegan!!!!! go away until you can be as good as I am”
Anyways – those who have an inkling that attraction and promotion is a better way of advocacy than policing and rule-setting will get what I am saying, and maybe if someone who has a tendency towards the “WTF!!!!” type of knee jerk reaction so as to defend and corral and make vegan unattainable except for the Chosen Few might pause for thought and count to ten and ask – how can I advocate for the better way without hurting feelings and make the alternative attractive rather than just be the Caliphate – perhaps we could be creating a diverse and harmonious movement, which is a whole lot more effective than it currently is.
I worry that Tobias spends a lot of time in conflict with, and I think the conflict manufactures it self because of the delineations of what is Vegan, what is reductionism,. what is vegetarian – and these thought conversations are important, AND – I also think that inserting love, understanding and kindness into our advocacy helps too.
I get the urgency and imperative for Animals, every one who ever thought – I am going to change the way I eat and dress because i can’t stand (any more) that I am hurting, harming and killing animals in my decisions about food, clothing and way of life – anyone who has thought that and made the different choice to harm less, help more, encourage veganism IS part of this huge diverse tribe.
For every argument about words and definitions – rabbits who end up as pies would give Zero Fucks. For every Rabbit pie we decline to eat and provide the Lentil alternative , that is real love-in-action.
I don’t want to respond directly to Bijou because I feel that would disrespectful – being an “ex-vegan”.
However, I would like to say that I have a concern about people with mental health or psychological issues struggling with veganism. It is not uncommon for people with mental health problems to have difficulties with self-care. So, I can’t help thinking that mental health problems + poor self-care + the demands of veganism/vegan diet DOES NOT = recipe for success.
Here is something in this vein (blog entry PLUS first comment)
Leonne thanks for the respect. I am still wanting to be as ‘vegan as I can’ , I don’t have an eating disorder and really – I would prefer to live out my values imperfectly and ask to be allowed to do that and ask the concession from the community than fight with vegans who would throw me away because my trying is not good enough. I do it for animals. My intention is 100% if my ability to reach that is not. I like the Ex-Vegan post you supplied though thanks. I reckon any success is better than not even trying.
I offered the ex-vegan’s blog entry simply to show that some people need to move away from, or perhaps even not even go to, veganism/vegan diet, for the sake of their own health and wellbeing. I support such people.
If you don’t mind an ex-vegan saying so, I also support your choices. Good luck and best wishes.
I think that if you believe in the black and white mentality of only two distinct categories where you are either 100% vegan or 100% non-vegan shows that you have neither fully understood the social psychology and sociology of veganism nor carnism.
Veganism and carnism are social justice issues just like racism, homophobia, sexism, serophobia etc…
And to take racism as an example: There is NO person that can claim to be 100% free of racism. We are all born into a society that contains racist beliefs to some extent. They are passed onto us by socialization without us realizing it. They are invisible. They need to be invisible. Because if they weren’t we wouldn’t have them. Because they clash with our human values and compassion. So they are socialized onto every individual in a society. And by that they are also internalized by the psyche of every single one of those individuals.
It is our job to become aware of those internalized beliefs one by one. But because there are so many and because they are so well hidden we can never be 100% sure that we are 100% free of racism. Racism and anti-racism are therefor a continuum and not two distinct black and white categories. Some people are more racist than others. But nobody is 100% racist or 100% non-racist. We are all racist to some degree. What’s important is therefor not in which category we are, and not even where we fall on the continuum. But what’s important is into which direction we are heading and if we are open enough to have our own racism be exposed.
Now it’s the same with carnism and veganism. Veganism and carnism are more than diets. They are ideologies, belief systems. And as such they have something to do with socialization. We are all born into a carnist society and therefor internalize carnist and speciesist beliefs. It is our job therefor to become aware of those beliefs. Now just like with racism we can never be 100% sure that we are completely free of carnist beliefs – even if we are on a vegan diet and don’t wear or consume any products made from animals. How could we be sure of that when all those beliefs are hidden deep in our psyche where we don’t see them?
So just like with racism (or homophobia, sexism, etc) we can never say we are a 100% vegan and others are 100% NOT vegans. This would just show that one hasn’t understood how the sociology and psychology of such belief systems work. Again it’s not about categories but about a continuum and it’s not about where we are but in which direction we are heading.
We can have hidden carnist beliefs even though we don’t wear, eat or consume any products from animals. And therefor we are not 100% vegans. Just as we can have hidden racist beliefs even though we don’t support slavery.
And therefore I would never call myself a 100% vegan just because I don’t eat or consume any animal products. Just as I would never call myself a 100% anti-homophobe just because I am openly gay myself or a 100% anti-racist. I know perfectly well that I still might have some internalized carnist, racist or homophobic beliefs that I am not aware of.
And as a result I can also not call anybody else a 100% non-vegan and put somebody who eats a piece of non-vegan cake once a year in the same category as somebody who eats meat three times a day.
The categorization into black and white is the root of many violent and oppressive systems such as racism (black vs. white, ignoring all different shades of colors), sexism (male vs. female, ignoring intersex* and trans* people), heterosexism (heterosexuality vs. homosexuality, ignoring all different types and shades of sexuality in between and beyond), speciesism (humans vs. animals, ignoring the fact that humans are animals), or carnism (edible vs. non-edible animals, ignoring the fact that these animal categories are human made and differ from culture to culture and even from individual to individual). So if we wanna stop violence we can’t do it with the same methods that caused the problems. Black and white thinking and categorization are at the psychological root of violence. So if we wanna stop that violence we need to step out of our socialized way of thinking in two distinct categories that causes that violence. If we don’t we will just recreate this violence in other forms.
But if we don’t wanna go with what sociology and psychology tell us we can also see it differently:
Being an animal activist means for me not doing what my personal beliefs are but doing what proves to be most effective to stop as much suffering as possible. That may not always fit my personal beliefs. I may believe that there is indeed an all or nothing mentality, that you are either 100% vegan or you are simply not. But when this stands counter to what is most effective for reducing and stopping animal suffering I have to make a choice: Will I do what helps animals most? Or will I stick to my beliefs? How far will I go in acting against my beliefs to help as many animals as possible? And if I rather chose to stick with my beliefs than with what helps animals most am I then really acting out of compassion? Or am I doing just what my ego tells me to?
Is it about altruism or egoism?
These questions can become pretty uncomfortable because they sometimes tell us that what we might think is the most ethical answer might not always be the one that really helps reducing suffering. I the best case it’s simply not as effective as other methods. In worst case they can even be counterproductive.
As I am active in several social justice movements I also see this problem in many other movements. It’s the same in the fight against HIV/AIDS or against drug abuse.
Some HIV activists for example may think – based on their ethics – that one should always tell people to always use condoms and eventually everybody will always use condoms and HIV and AIDS will be stopped. Well research tells us that this is not the case. Some people for many different reasons do not always use condoms. For example because of allergic reactions or because they simply don’t like the feeling. This is why some activists started to alter their safer sex messages to include other forms of safer sex in their prevention kit like Treatment as Prevention, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis and regular testing. Research showed us that combining this with condom outreach is more effective than just telling people to only use condoms. But this runs counter to some activists ethics: They believe that one should still only tell people to only use condoms. The result has been incredibly counterproductive. We have research that shows that this method made some people even more interested in sex without condoms because it they were told it was something forbidden, something dangerous. And as every sexual scientist can tell: Demonizing and moralizing something is a perfect way of making it sexually even more arousing. So we are faced with a choice: Do we run counter to our ethical beliefs to really reduce suffering and new HIV infections? Or do we stick to our beliefs risking that we are not only ineffective but actually counterproductive?
It’s the same with the fight against drugs. We know now that the so called war on drugs is one of the biggest failures of recent policies. We know today that the war on drugs has not only been ineffective but actually counterproductive. One’s ethic views may tell us that we just have to forbid drugs because they are harmful. And yes they can indeed be very harmful. But we know today that our war on drugs has lead to more people taking drugs, more illegal drug trafficking and more deaths. Because drug trafficking and drug use has been crowded out into social circles that are very hard to control or even get access to. So instead of helping to control or fight drugs the war on drugs has actually helped to make it even worse. We can of course stick to our ethical ego because it might be “the right thing to do.” While taking to account that we are actually contributing to what we actually wanna fight.
We are all constantly faced with choices. And sometimes these choices can be very uncomfortable when we realize that what might be most effective might actually run counter to our ethical beliefs. So the question is: Are we ready to revise and adapt our beliefs – our ego – to help and reduce suffering? Or do we stick to our beliefs – our ego – and risking that we are not as effective as we could be or maybe even counterproductive?
I really enjoyed your comment, Jeff! I’m curious if you have any views/input regarding how to best identify the anti-carnist movement. I originally liked the term vegan because it was positive (or at least I thought it was!). I’m beginning to question that a little now.
Like many here, I’m interested in an effective animal rights movement, not preaching to the choir about their perceived faults. If purists are plan to keep going on the offensive whenever they notice infractions, it’s a distraction from real activism.
On the other hand, I can’t really think of a fitting term for anti-carnists. This morning I was thinking about “plant-based”, but that doesn’t seem to cover it, since it has nothing to do with eliminating suffering beyond our plates (in the clothing and entertainment industries, for example). I’m curious if Tobias has any thoughts on this as well.
i havent given up on the term vegan yet. it’s here, and i suggest we help make sure most vegans are good ambassadors for veganism, rather than giving the monopoly over the word to the blackandwhiters 🙂
First of all, I’ll admit that I just couldn’t drag my ass all the way through that long comment.
However, one point. First veganism is described as a social justice issue (compared to racism). Then it is described as an ideology, belief system. Which is it? Saying veganism is a social justice issue can’t be correct – it is a response to an issue.
What are the historical-political origins of carnism (in the same sense that we can account for racism)? We would have to investigate the earliest era of our species’ existence on this planet (as there is no argument about the omnivore character of our species in terms of diet). Actually, we would have to go back to the archaic humans from whom we evolved (probably Homo heidelbergensis), who there is no reason to believe were not also omnivores, so that we can understand how omnivory was transferred. Also we would have to deal with the fact that all human societies have been omnivorous, which may well hinder identifying the discrete historical-political factors for carnism (in the simple sense of animal foods being consumed).
Obviously the point I am trying to make is that you can not talk about omnivory as an ideology like racism when the omnivore character of our species is a behaviour just the same as any species’ feeding behaviour. You can talk about the value, etc, different human societies have placed on animal foods (and, in this limited regard, you could label that as carnism). This allows a discussion of how different humans societies have thought about eating animals, and can identify the historical-political reasons why vegetarianism and veganism arose as diets and as ideologies. But basic omnivory just is.
if i get it right, carnism is the ideology sustaining “omnivory” – not in earlier times, when it was normal etc, but today, when we could know better.
Who is the “we” knowing better? And how is that knowing constructed? We are NOT talking about all people, all societies and all cultures.
Also when the number of vegan is so small, omnivory remains “normal”, it is the norm. It also remains the feeding behaviour of our species in that, as animals, we have the capabilities to obtain both animal and plant food, and physiologically we can digest both types of food.
Yes….exactly. I think the whole “carnism” thing is a big category mistake……our dietary practices and how we interact with other animals is a matter of our culture and biology….its not an “ideology” or “belief system” and trying to brand it as such is fundamentally unhelpful.
I would add, there seems to be no appetite in the vegan community to come to any reasoned understanding of why humans have historically eaten meat, why modern societies utilize the animals they use, etc……..you’d think understanding this would be fundamental to a movement that seeks to change it. When I first picked up “Why we love dogs, eat pigs and wear cows” thought it would be such an attempt……but it was really just vegan rhetoric. There is an anthropological text, “Cows, Pigs, war and witches” that creates a framework to think about such questions.
Good point. There’s much talk about “compassion”, but not actually practicing that and trying to understand why humans have historically eaten meat at all.
And I say that as somebody that follows a plant-based diet for health and environmental reasons (I believe “animal rights”, OTOH, is incoherent philosophically).
You’ve also made the point more succinctly and clearly than my attempt!
And thanks, Mr Toad, that’s really helpful – sharpened up biology and culture.
I’ve read through this now – it is sooooo full of debatable and fallacious points that I would need to write a response three times as long to address them. I just can’t be bothered to expend that amount of time and labour. And what would the point anyway?
Just say – it helps confirm my being post-vegan (you would say ex-vegan).
Thank you for this article – I do not believe that anyone can truly be completely, utterly, vegan.
– Your computer. Your electricity. They are made from, or are powered by, crude oil. Which is made from the bodies of squished sea creatures.
– If you visit a hotel, for example, and give them money, how do you know they used cleaning products etc without animal products? You use a clean towel – you might well be using animal products, if animal products were used to clean that towel.
– If you hold onto the handrail whilst on public transport, how do you know the last person who held that handrail didn’t eat a Big Mac – and now you’re eating small amounts of beef/pork grease when you grab your sandwich from your bag?
– And finally, genuine mistakes. I’ve known someone (friend of a friend) who picked up a tofu wrap and started eating it. She said it was nice tofu. Luckily some meat-eating friends were with her, who looked at the wrap and realised it was actually chicken!!! Someone had put either the wrap in the wrong section, or the wrong filling in the wrap, or both. Is the tofu/chicken wrap eater still a vegan?
– And I haven’t come across this (at least, I don’t think!), but what if you order food, and ask if it’s vegan, and someone says yes – but it’s actually not, either because they’re thinking, ‘it’s only a bit of egg, they won’t notice’ or ‘I’m not cooking something separately for them. They should have some butter in this anyway’. How would you know?
Most people could care less about the food that others consumes, that includes vegans. Where the problem arises is when people believe they are morally superior and think that their way of life needs to be practised by everyone. The problem with a lot of vegans is this black and white outlook. Many vegans believe that non vegans are either less informed or murders. That’s a huge problem that will automatically make people downgrade veganism. When people look at the lives of others with this perception it inspires the self righteous attitude that makes some vegans think that they know what is best for everyone.
Another problem with vegans (not necessarily veganism) is the flawed perception that veganism is for everyone. It is not for four reasons.
1.Not everyone can afford it. Not everyone has the same kind of spending power. Some wouldn’t be able to feed themselves without the help of the government. Some people visit food pantries on a regular basis. There are families that have a food budget of about $300 a month. There are people who still hunt to feed themselves. It is easy to say that a diet that consists mostly of fruit and veggies will be less expensive. But you have to factor in the substitutes that are costly and the specialty stores that supply these products are never in poor neighborhoods.
2. It is not healthy for everyone. Vegans seem to be under the belief that people who get sick or have intense cravings while on a vegan diet did something wrong. Everyone’s body does not run the same way. What works for one person may not work for others. I had a hindu roommate who believed it was wrong to eat meat or fish but she consumed cheese and milk because she could not get the vitamins she needed. I was pescatarian my senior year of high school and that went well. My freshman year of college I tried veganism (not for moral reason) and I had intense cravings for meat and cheese. I was always moody and concentration was difficult. To continue to promote this idea that one diet fits all is dangerous.
3. It ignores good animal husbandry and sustainable farming techniques. The mass production of and slaughtering is done in a disgusting and inhumane way. Many people becomes vegans on seeing these conditions alone. However, not everyone raises livestock like this and there are many sustainable ways to raising livestock. I wonder why the ire of vegans is not directed at the mass production of fruit and vegetables that can also be harmful.
4. Most people don’t believe that eating meat is morally wrong. People are generally compassionate and want to relieve the unnecessary suffering of animals but most won’t ever think that animals have equal rights as humans. As a result veganism won’t be viable unless they feel it would be best for their health.
Very entertaining but do not have enough time. I suppose labeling oneself as something takes commitment to follow rules . Being human we are not perfect nor should we want to choose to give up our freedoms or rights more so than we have to already. It might be just as cruel to set cows or chickens free. They would not have a clue. We have bred them farmed them for a purpose. Maybe you want a pet cow ?
Maybe – semantically speaking – one is only vegan if the commitment is absolute. Semantics shift, of course, and popular interpretation of definitions govern what our words mean. So maybe veganism is an all-or-nothing concept, given that vegetarianism also exists. Or maybe not!
For me though, the point is “so what?” Why must we have all-or-nothing, 100% commitment? Why bother with a label? What does it achieve, other than potential for failure to commit to somebody else’s definition of acceptability?
We are ultimately only beholden to ourselves in this regard, so our commitment is to our own contentment with our own behaviour. If we eat a broadly plant-based diet but then fancy something of animal origin occasionally, we haven’t ‘failed’. We’ve pulled ourselves clear of the widespread notion that as biological omnivores we should be regularly eating meat. That awareness is important, and I imagine it’s easier to turn into something widespread if it’s not inextricably linked to 100% abstinence.
The forbidden becomes desirable. Ex-smokers crave cigarettes, recovering alcoholics wish for booze. Whether you believe or not, the story of Adam and Eve’s temptation rings with human truth. But if nothing is forbidden and everything feels like a free choice, the desire to break the rules doesn’t get in the way of responsible choices. The other man’s grass isn’t greener if there IS no other man’s grass…so you stay put, contentedly eating your own grass.
If the world at large thinks veganism has to be absolute, it will be off-putting – partly because it feels like sacrificing enjoyment, partly because it feels like dictatorial preaching. A majority population of not-quite-vegans is surely easier to achieve than total conversion…and is still a pretty decent result!