I mentioned Sarma Melngailis' brilliant blog post, I'm Not a Vegetarian, briefly before, but wanted to devote a proper post to an important topic: absolutism, and how nearly impossible it is to achieve, even when trying.
When I started on a vegan path, I was not expecting to encounter a bullying force that brought me back to the fifth grade playground: the label police.
Who and who cannot call themself 'vegan' is a slippery slope. When you start factoring in vegan sugar, wine and beer, and clothes and other items you owned pre-vegan but don't want to give away, almost no one's going to be able to call themself a vegan. I have a down couch from IKEA I bought a decade ago for my first apartment. Am I not a vegan because I still sit on it?
Alicia Silverstone said of her husband, Christopher Jarecki, "He's a vegan who flirts with fish. Sometimes he gets naughty and has a little fish here or there." Some would start griping over "he's not really a vegan then but a pescatarian" and his intentions are misunderstood and dilutes the term. I love Alicia's friendly, accessible approach at promoting a vegan lifestyle, and the way she phrased it.
I consider myself a vegan who flirts with cheese, among other indulgences. I no longer want the weight of being the ambassador to veganism 24/7. If I want a piece of my dad's non-vegan birthday cake, a cookie at a picnic in the park, or other occasional treats, I don't feel like I owe anyone an explanation, nor do others. This is the vegan good life - not the vegan perfect life. Anyone's path is riddled with challenges, temptations and imperfections, as is mine. I still strive for and embrace the vegan life as much as possible.
One blog commenter on another site stated "Molly [Katzen, author of the Moosewood Cookbook]...said...she ate "vegan 95% of the time for 15 years." Well if she was eating dairy, beef, chicken and fish for the other 5%, then she wasn't vegan or vegetarian!" Note the exclamation point. I think 95% is pretty astounding! Exclamation point. Most people I know won't even consider a vegetarian option for a single meal! Exclamation point.
I read a fairly ludicrous post criticizing PETA's I Can't Believe It's Vegan site for listing products that are a mere 99.99% vegan. Much like people who tune in regularly to MTV's Jersey Shore, I thought, "Don't people have better things to do than waste energy on that?"
One reader, Brad, chimed in, and there are millions of Brads out there. "These comments are actually my greatest enemy in my attempt to be vegan...If there is a term for a person who avoids animal products as much as he can but doesn't look for trace ingredients or throw out the leather gloves he bought before he became vegan, let me know. For me, veganism (or whatever I am, you can have your word) is about working to minimize suffering by your lifestyle choices."
Brad is a smart man. The person who immediately took it upon themself to label Brad an omnivore and lecture him is not. I am so disheartened by the people the label police alienate. How can you tell people 'all or nothing'? Isn't this encouraging failure? People are hesitant to explore veganism for that very reason - because of restrictive rules they don't want to live up to. So eat mostly vegan, then.
Our society often roots for failure. Instead of celebrating the growing numbers of those identifying with the vegan lifestyle, purists want to jump on any slip anyone has. Food is emotional, and what's easy for you isn't easy for someone else. This is not a competition to out-vegan each other.
Rights movements have powers in numbers, and millions of people embracing a vegan and vegetarian lifestyle the best they can is more formidable a force to legislators and marketers than thousands of strict practicing vegans. So I'm standing up the the label fanatics once and for all. I'm with Sarma. Let's skip the labels, and rally on in our beautiful, if not flawed, journey.
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2 years ago