I will always remember in 2005 when I was first considering going vegan and trying it as an "experiment." I posted on a vegan forum to find out how long it would take to build up a lactose intolerance. I wanted to make the commitment to veganism but was worried it would create too much of a rift at family dinners, so if I ate my mom's Christmas Lasagne in six months, would I get sick?
Friday, September 18, 2009
Most people were supportive and offered helpful information but one user immediately lashed into me saying that my parents are awful people if they don't support my veganism and wondering how I'll live with myself if I contribute to the evil dairy industry, and much more importantly, informing me that I won't be able to call myself a vegan.
And there it is. The label. I constantly hear people from within the vegan community telling other people "Well, you're NOT REALLY VEGAN if you..." (do this, eat that, support this, don't do something else.) On one of my favorite blogs, Vegansuaurus! I noticed a recent comment thread devolving into this argument. Similarly, I know a lot of vegans, including personal friends of mine recently were upset about a website called Virtually Vegan because the writer includes recipes that occasionally use dairy and fish. Others were attacking Bryant Terry, writer of Vegan Soul Kitchen for not being fully vegan. And recently I was accused by another vegan, via Twitter of encouraging the exploitation of animals because Veg Table promotes restaurants that are not exclusively vegan.
What is this all about?? I understand the Abolitionist viewpoint that we must work to end all suffering. But how does attacking people who are FAR more aligned with you than average advance the cause? Some may say that they confuse people about veganism and what "real vegans" do and do not consume. Is that really such a big deal? If anything it opens up a conversation and creates a chance to explain why you eschew eggs or leather, or whatever the offending item is.
And frankly the people who are vegan in diet alone, but still wear animal products are probably a lot more likely to be convinced not to. The people who are cooking mostly vegan meals but occasionally eat fish are more likely to eventually go vegan someday. As I mentioned earlier, I was vegetarian for five years before I decided to go vegan. But when I started being attacked by someone with an absolutist view, I'll admit, my instinct was to recoil and say "Well, if I'm going to be kicked out of the club because I'm only vegan for 99.99 percent of my meals then why should I try to be vegan at all?"
I came to realize of course that I wasn't considering veganism because I wanted the label. Veganism, in my opinion, is about making choices. It's not about putting yourself in a box, where everything outside of it is suddenly intolerable. When people say, "I could never go vegan because I like cheese too much" I say "Ok, then give up everything but cheese." And I guess some vegans would say that this makes me a bad person. That I'm then supporting the dairy industry and that instead I should show that person videos of what happens to dairy cows.
To use a non-vegan metaphor though, I believe that you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. If I can get people on board with making some amount of change, even if it's not "all the way" then I consider that a success.
I use the label "vegan" to describe myself because I enjoy being a part of the vegan community. I like my vegan friends and I like that we're reasonable enough that we can disagree on the finer points but still realize we're on the same team. And yes, our team sometimes includes shrill voices, judgmental members, and straight up whack jobs. What group or ideology doesn't? It's just important to remember why we made this choice. I imagine few, if any of us, did it for the label.