Not Vegan Enough

Friday, September 18, 2009

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?


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.

32 comments:

aliciawag said...

By definition, a vegan does not consume or otherwise use any animal product whatsoever. If a person eats a vegan diet 99.99% of the time, they cannot, by definition, call themselves vegan. They can say they eat a mostly vegan diet, but it's not the same thing. There is a difference between eating a vegan diet & being an ethical vegan; neither consumes animal products, but the ethical vegan chooses not to exploit animals, for the animals' sake. That's why we (yes, I am one) get so upset with people who use the term "vegan" so loosely. It gives the general public the wrong idea about us. Yeah, it's great that you eat a mostly vegan diet - but you're either vegan or you're not. Don't appropriate a term for your own use if you don't fall under the definition. And if you enjoy being part of the vegan community so much, then BE VEGAN.

trktos said...

Keep in mind there's a difference between a label and a definition.

"Label" has a negative, elitist connotation but in fact, people who self-identify as vegan but don't adhere to the definition of vegan are the ones who want the label without bothering with all those nit-picky details.

Someone who will consume easily avoidable animal products/by-products follows a diet that at times is void of animal products. And that definitely has an impact on how much cruelty they support, how much damage they inflict on the environment, etc. But there's a difference between "abstaining from most animal products, most of the time" and veganism. By definition.

Most of the day, I'm not eating or drinking anything - does that make me a breatharian?

It's really no different than the countless "vegetarians" who eat fish or chicken. They can self-identify forever, waiting for a fish to turn into a tomato but it'll never happen.

And yes, it is a big deal, when we water down words and muddy definitions - if words have no standard meanings, how do we communicate?

Ryan said...

First of all, as one of those "abolitionist" friends of yours, let me say that I agree with 99.99% (!) of this post.

The recent Twitter (among other places) flame wars between some vocal abolitionists versus some vocal walfarists has been discouraging to me.

No vegan is 100% pure. No vegan is even 100% vegan. It isn't possible, and when vegans start advocating one form of purity or another, we're screwed. I own a bicycle. Tires are not vegan. Am I vegan?

That said, I will respectfully disagree with you about Virtually Vegan. This, to me, is different.

Being vegan is about making the choice to avoid the consumption of animals whenever reasonably possible. That doesn't mean a vegan can't make a mistake (buying something with casein by accident), or make a decision from time to time where we value our own needs above the needs of non-humans (me buying a bike with non-vegan tires).

But! Virtually Vegan makes a very different case. That site seems to suggest that you can habitually eat animals and their secretions and still have a claim to the word "vegan." By their standard, a steak with vegan barbeque sauce is "virtually vegan". Except for the steak, it is!

If you want to be vegan, be vegan, even if you're imperfect in your veganism (which we all are). "Virtually Vegan" is an insult to the attempt at compassion and conscious living.

Crazy Vegan Mom said...

I know some people find us judgemental, etc. but this is how it all happened with vegetarianism. Vegetarian originally meant someone who avoids all animal products, then people who called themselves vegetarian starting eating dairy, eggs, etc. and the lifestyle was "tainted" now people are calling themselves vegan, but eating dairy and saying lactovegan, or sometimes eating fish or wearing leather, etc. We don't want this happening again. We are not vegan to be part of a club or to be cool or whatever, this is a huge passion, our belief that animals should never be used for our eating pleasure, entertainment, etc. Our passion is real and it upsets us to see that other people see it as a fad or something cool and want to be part of it to be cool.
I do applaud anyone who makes the effort to eat 99% vegan, give up leather, etc. but if you are not 100% vegan, then don't say you are vegan, it is demeaning to our belief.

Adam Kochanowicz said...

Sharon

I am very hurt you have made verifiably untrue accusations of me. Here is the actual conversation

After mentioning my vegan directory you stated:

Sharon "Hmm... I suppose there's room for two vegan restaurant directories... http://veg-table.net"

I looked at your wiki since you gave me the link and I explained the difference between yours and mine.

Adam: It appears your wiki lists vegetarian restaurants as well. Vegan.FM rejects the use of animals for any purpose.
Nice page though, good luck with your project.

Sharon: Mainly to be inclusive, reach a broader audience. Sometimes I dine with omnis (like parents) who will eat vegetarian but not vegan.

Adam: So you find the exploitation of animals morally justifiable in the case of dairy/egg production?

Right here, this is a question. I am asking you for your position on the use of secondary animal products because I don't know you and I'm not going to make assumptions about you.

Yet this is what you posted: "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."

Nevertheless, can you explain to me how creating a directory which lists non-vegan restaurants in order to help certain individuals to find those places and eat non-vegan meals there is not an encouragement of animal exploitation?

You stated "no" when I asked you "So you find the exploitation of animals morally justifiable in the case of dairy/egg production?" this is public, anyone can see this in your timeline.

I'm just asking you questions here, Sharon. Yet I am being accused by others of "attacking" you.

This could have been a nice, calm discussion.

Adam Kochanowicz said...

You can't really put a percentage figure in front of "vegan" There is no 25%, 50%, or 99% vegan. This is for the same reason people are either married or not married, murderers or non-murders, the definition of veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude as far as practical and possible the use of animals for any purpose.

I mean, can I call myself a non-murderer if 99.99% of the time I am not murdering people?

"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?"

YES! Do you not think it is a big deal to represent veganism as a diet which allows for the consumption of dead fish or the secretions of animals who are tortured and raped? That's not a big deal? Am I being a purist?

Sharon Troy said...

Thanks everyone for your comments. In all sincerity, I appreciate the dissenting views and discussion and hope I'm not coming off as attacking. Some specific points though:

@aliciawag I'm not sure if you're using "you" in the general sense or to refer to me specifically, but I am vegan. I did not in fact eat my mom's lasagne back in 2005 or any year since then.

@Ryan I agree about the purity issue. Regarding Virtually Vegan I see your point, but to be fair, they're not claiming to actually be vegan. Would you object to it if it was "Not Quite Vegan" or does any use of the word vegan offend you?

@ everyone in general... I'm still not sure why it is offensive or insulting that someone would want to identify as vegan even if they for whatever reason do not live the lifestyle 100% of time time. Is it that you feel you work harder at it than them, and therefore they shouldn't get the privilege of calling themselves vegan?

The way I see it, there are plenty of people with a lot of bad things to say about vegans. PLenty of vegetarians who are quick to distance themselves from us extremists. So if somebody wants to identify with my lifestyle, I see that as flattering. And if they aren't able to commit to it right away I prefer encouragement to help them get there over telling them that they're doing something wrong.

Sharon Troy said...

@Adam You claim to not be attacking me, yet you linked to this post, calling me a "seriously confused welfarist." For one, I don't identify as welfarist per se. Frankly, I think both camps are valid and necessary and don't want to pit one against the other.

Secondly, perhaps Twitter is just an ineffective means of having a discussion, but to me it felt like an attack. I apologize if that was not your intent, but I wrote this post to expand and clarify my views on the subject and I do value the ensuing debate. I think this still can be a nice calm discussion.

Now to that... I've made a few more points in my previous comment here about identifying as vegan.

To your question, "Do you not think it is a big deal to represent veganism as a diet which allows for the consumption of dead fish or the secretions of animals who are tortured and raped?"

Frankly, no. Here's what I care about: my own actions. If people are confused by my vegan views or behaviors I'm happy to clarify for them. Confusion is pretty easily fixed. I'm far more concerned with making veganism appealing, which I think is often the more difficult task. You have every right to feel insulted or offended if that's how it makes you feel, but ultimately I'm more concerned with helping people take positive action over nit-picking about purity. Like Ryan said, none of us can guarantee that we're 100% perfect vegans all the time.

trktos said...

for me, it's nothing about privilege or feeling i work harder than anyone else ... it's about correctness. people knowingly misidentifying as vegan gets on my nerves the same way as anyone who claims to be anything they aren't gets on my nerves. doesn't that bother you? if you had a user-friend who claimed to everyone else she was always there for you, wouldn't that bother you, simply because it wasn't true?

people claiming to be vegan, who aren't, bother me in a similar way that PeTA bothers me - i have to explain to people that no, not all animal rights advocates are extremists like PeTA ... people misidentifying as vegan or vegetarian causes us all, frankly, to spend time discussing exactly what we're discussing now - because people have so screwed up a simple definition, we "have" to spend time talking about "what does it REALLY mean".

it also does demean veganism in general, in a way. is veganism about what is right .all.the.time. or what is right, only when it's convenient? (sure we could talk about %'s or mistakes or bike tires, but i'd hope everyone, here, has a general idea of what 'vegan' means - see, again, so unsure of a definition that's been meddled with! =)

sure, absolutely - be encouraging, be positive but that doesn't mean a compromise of definition or ethics is necessary or a good thing.

and i think it's crucial to make veganism appealing. so long as one doesn't change it from its very 'veganism' to make it easier, more popular, etc.

Tim Moore said...

I've been vegan for thirteen years. I'm not saying this to boast, I'm just saying it to head off any criticism up front.

In that time, I've known a lot of other people who called themselves vegan. I can't think of any cases where those people, during the time they called themselves vegan, "cheated" or otherwise intentionally consumed animal products. Very few of them lasted more than a handful of years, though. Most of them went back to eating dairy first, and many went on to eat meat again. What a shame.

I've also known a number of other people who never called themselves vegan, but did recognize the environmental, health, and ethical problems with factory farming and the use of animals in general. Most of these people did still consume animal products from time to time, but avoided them more often than not. Most of them have been doing this for ten or more years.

The difference I've seen between these two groups of people is that the first group saw veganism as something you either are, or you aren't. As soon as they felt they couldn't handle, for whatever reason, being vegan 100% of the time, they felt they had to reject the entire idea, and become vegan 0% of the time. If they weren't part of the vegan group, the whole philosophy must be pointless. A lot of them are even pretty condescending about it, "oh yeah... I was a vegan, in college, but then I got over it."

The second group, on the other hand, maintains their acceptance of the ideals of veganism and the truth of the facts that justify it while acknowledging their own personal flaws and limited ability to live up to those ideals. Most of them become "more vegan" over time, on average.

It's an extremely small group of people that can sustain full veganism, 100% of the time, for an extended length of time. If you're part of that group, good for you! Gold star. Treat yourself to a pint of soy delicious. You deserve it.

What's going to do more good in the end, though? Patting each other on the back for our dedication to the cause, or trying to accept new members into the fold? If you maintain that veganism is something that you either are or you aren't, most people will conclude, "well, then I'm not," and call it a day. By scolding people who are interested in veganism but not fully committed, you will only turn them away. What does that help, other than your own sense of self-satisfaction?

Sharon Troy said...

@trktos I guess what it comes down to is that I'm just not as concerned about absolutes, about following dictionary definitions to the letter. I don't like the idea that you're one of us or you're not. When it comes to veganism or anything -- politics, religion, etc.

I'm off to, ahem, enjoy some Soy Delicious and call it a night. I may not be available to respond to comments over the weekend, but promise to respond no later than Monday.

Adam Kochanowicz said...

"@ everyone in general... I'm still not sure why it is offensive or insulting that someone would want to identify as vegan even if they for whatever reason do not live the lifestyle 100% of time time. Is it that you feel you work harder at it than them, and therefore they shouldn't get the privilege of calling themselves vegan?"

No. It is not because we think we "work harder," I want you to understand this has nothing to do with us as people at all. We are doing this for the animals. Someone is saying the consumption of exploited murdered animals is 'virtually vegan'. This is a serious problem.

Look up the word "virtually" it is not synonymous with "not quite".

Am I virtually a non-rapist because I do not always follow the practices of a non-rapist 100% of the time?

Am I virtually a non-racist because I only make racist remarks or commit hate crimes on christmas and thanksgiving?

This is not to say non-vegans are like rapists are like racists, but it clearly shows there are somethings you cannot be percentages of.

Adam Kochanowicz said...

"@trktos I guess what it comes down to is that I'm just not as concerned about absolutes, about following dictionary definitions to the letter. I don't like the idea that you're one of us or you're not. When it comes to veganism or anything -- politics, religion, etc. "

Absolutes? Labels? Isn't it pretty clear the consumption of a dead fish or the secretions of a raped, exploited animals is not vegan? I don't think it is fair for you to put this into a nitpicky category or say that one is being absolutist to regard this as non-vegan. It simply isn't, period.

Adam Kochanowicz said...

I just want to repeat this. I asked you if it was a big deal "to represent veganism as a diet which allows for the consumption of dead fish or the secretions of animals who are tortured and raped?"

You replied "frankly not". I just don't know where I can go from here if you acknowledge these atrocities are morally insignificant.

James Crump said...

The confusion among the public about veganism and animal rights is the direct result of the obfuscation of those concepts by new welfarist. Instead of using the terms veganism and animal rights in conformity with the prevailing notions, welfarists use them in sophistical and even contradictory ways.

Some welfarists, who by their own admission sometimes consume animal products, nevertheless also claims that they are vegans most of the time. Thus welfarists let in propositions like: “I am a vegan for part of the day“ and “I am a vegan most of the time." But just someone who tells racist jokes is not an anti-racist most of the time, so someone who sometimes consumes animal products is not a vegan most of the time; on the contrary, he or she is not a vegan at all, for a vegan is someone who does not consume any animal products. In fact the proposition: “I am a vegan most of the time” means “I consume animal products and I do not consume animal products”, which is a contradiction.

Moreover, the abolition vs. welfare debate cannot be reductively construed as a “squabble” or “infighting” between factions who agree on the fundamentals but disagree on how to implement them. And this is so because there are serious theoretical (as well as practical) differences between abolitionism and new welfarism which resist such a reduction. For example, if person x and person y both claim that they want to abolish animal use, but x claims it's okay to promote violence against animals in the short term for “strategic reasons” whereas person y is categorically opposed to any and all violence against animals, then it would be morally coarse (to say the least) to claim that x and y merely disagree on “strategy”.

And, finally, as for the claim that the abolition vs. welfare debate can be assimilated to a contrast between those who want to label people (i.e. supposedly the abolitionists) and those who do not (i.e. supposedly the welfarists), that can only be sustained at the cost of ignoring the fact that, as Adam points out, these “labels” make importantly difference concepts. A vegan is someone who does not consume any animal products whereas a “flexi-vegan” (i.e. an omnivore) is someone who does consume animal products. In other words the difference between a vegan and a “flexi-vegan” is the difference between someone who kills animals and someone who does not.

James Crump said...

I just don't know where I can go from here if you acknowledge these atrocities are morally insignificant

Indeed. Abolitionists regard promoting violence against animals, even if it is supposedly as a "step on the road" to abolition, as morally wrong. Welfarists do not regard promoting violence against animals (in the forms of welfarist regulation, vegetarianism, and even "humane" meat), at least in the short term, as morally wrong; they construe it as merely a matter of "strategy." This in itself shows that the abolition vs. welfare debate cannot be assimilated to an empirical distpute between strategies.

There are in fact two different movements which are radically different in kind, one of which works for regulation (i.e., the welfarist movement) and one of which works for abolition (i.e., the abolitionist movement). The activity of the welfarist movement is not complementary with that of the abolitionist movement (although the abolitionist movement, by convining people to go vegan, can and does help the welfarist movement to reduce animal suffering): welfarist regulation makes exploitation more efficient (by increasing industry's production efficiency; see PeTA's report on CAK and HSUS's report on group housing for sows) and makes people feel better about consuming animal products.

Moreover, people do not go vegan as a result of vegetarian outreach. On the contrary, they go vegan in spite of it, when they realize that veganism - and not vegetarianism or "humane" animal products - is the baseline of taking animals seriously.

In sum, vegan outreach is casually linked with creating vegans. Welfarist outreach is causally linked with creating "happy" meat eaters. Those of us who want abolition should support veganism and only veganism, not because we are interested in "labels" or because we like "infighting", but rather because vegan outreach is the only thing that creates new vegans and, thereby, incrementally erodes animal exploitation (whereas welfarism reinforces it by creating "happy" meat eaters and vegetarianism who want, not abolition, but rather more regulation).

Sharon Troy said...

Ok, there's a lot to tackle here and I'm not sure where to start... A few points:

I'm not arguing the definition of vegan. Anyone can pull up a dictionary and tell you what it means. My point is rather that there are not always black and white situations. For example, let's say you order food to be delivered and they mess up and bring you something that has cheese. Are you vegan if you eat it? Would it be more ethical to throw it away or give it to someone else? Personally, I think it's a gray area.

Another example: is it any more ethical to wear non-leather shoes that were made by oppressed factory workers? Sometimes there are other factors to be taken account besides animal rights.

I can think of dozens of other examples of situations like this where it's not always so cut and dry. As I said, I do not believe in moral absolutes, that something is either right or wrong. When someone asks me if I believe eating meat is unethical, I typically say that I think it is less ethical than eating vegetables. And I feel people should always strive to make the more ethical decisions.

So do I think it is "right" for people to call themselves vegan, but then eat eggs. No, I would say that is not ethically ideal. But the point I'm trying to get to with all if this is that I'm far more a pragmatist than anything. While I believe that ethically, it would be ideal if nobody consumed animal products or enslaved animals for their own benefit, I also keep in mind the framework I have to work within.

This comment to be continued...

Sharon Troy said...

We live in a society where animal product consumption is rampant and vegans make up an extremely small minority. I've seen the term "happy meat" tossed around a lot on the comments here, but even looking at the big picture, the group of people who justify their animal consumption with ideas like free-range and grass-fed are still in the minority.

The vast majority of people have neither the knowledge or concern about where their food comes from. They just care that it tastes good. So of course I do not think that banning battery cages is the end solution for chickens. But if it means that the chickens my parents (who will NEVER go vegan) eat are suffering a little less in the mean time, while we work towards better solutions, then that is good. If anything I'd call my stance "harm reduction" to borrow from public health policy.

Harm Reductionists, when it comes to matters of drugs and sex for example, base their advocacy on evidence of its benefits. Now granted, I have not done extensive research on this, so feel free to prove me wrong, but I could not find any research-based studies that showed which types of tactics are helping us progress more quickly towards a shared ultimate objective.

So the only thing I have to base my opinion on is my own experience and anecdotal evidence. And here is what I have observed.

I've never know anyone who told me that their reasons for not being vegan were that they were confused about what it means. I have known plenty of people who have told me they would never be vegan because they think we're an obnoxious group of extremists. I've even known people to go so far as to say they they like to try to "convert" vegans back to eating meat because they hate our self-righteousness.

Omnivorous friends of mine who read my blog have been asking me "what's with the nut jobs commenting?" I don't say this to be rude (or to say that it reflects my own opinions), but to say that I'm not sure a movement can gain momentum or make progress by alienating the people we're trying to make our points to.

In the grand scheme of things, which does more good: arguing with someone over whether or not they're actually vegan because one time in five years they cheated and ate a non-vegan cookie? Or encouraging people to incorporate more vegan meals into their diet, if they otherwise would not?

Again, I'm not trying to bash the Abolitionist viewpoint. I'm saying that the tactics can have ramifications that counter-productive to your goals if you don't consider the realistic circumstances we have to deal with.

joylangtry said...

This combination of post and comments has been an extremely thought provoking read. I'd like to make 3 points.

First: @adam, one of the many reasons I stay vegan is to feel good about how I am treating the animals of the world, and to avoid the thoughts and images that go along with cruelty. So when you reference rape in your comments, you are creating violent images which are unnecessary and not particularly helpful in the context of this discussion. Remember that we humans are animals, too. In your efforts to end violence and cruelty to any species, please consider the energy that is created by your own choice of words.

Second, in reference to the value of helping vegans find restaurants that will serve both vegan and omni dishes: every time I go to the Olive Garden with my mother-in-law, she orders the Eggplant Parmigiana instead of the Veal Parmigiana. Yes, it's a small victory, but one that I do feel good about. If a number of people each day, all over the world were to make such choices as the result of dining with a vegan in an omni restaurant, it would ultimately *have to* make an impact on the demand for this "commodity".

Finally, I would point out this blog post: http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2009/09/modern-day-nazis/
and the resulting discussion: http://www.stevepavlina.com/forums/steve-pavlina/36675-modern-day-nazis-blog.html
For anyone without the time to read or watch the video, Steve Pavlina pointed out that eating eggs when knowing of the practices of the egg industry was analogous to having the consciousness of a Nazi. While there were a number of people who responded to say that this was the turning point for them to finally stop eating eggs or to become vegan, there were many who stated that the outrage they felt over this stance just made them want to go eat a big plate of eggs.

Showing love for all of earth's creatures, including the foolish humans who cause so much pain, is a valid way to promote the vegan cause. I know for sure that simply exhibiting my love for plant foods while sharing a meal with an omni friend or relative has prevented more plates of meat in my presence than any of the cow-pus/your-plate-is-a-coffin rants I indulged in during my early days of being a vegan b*tch.

aliciawag said...

Sharon said:
"I'm not arguing the definition of vegan. Anyone can pull up a dictionary and tell you what it means. My point is rather that there are not always black and white situations. For example, let's say you order food to be delivered and they mess up and bring you something that has cheese. Are you vegan if you eat it? Would it be more ethical to throw it away or give it to someone else? Personally, I think it's a gray area."
~But you ARE arguing the definition of the word vegan. Vegan is to not use any animal products in any way whatsoever. Whether eating something that accidentally came with cheese is ethical or not is another question; but if you ate it, you would NOT be vegan.

Sharon also said:
"Another example: is it any more ethical to wear non-leather shoes that were made by oppressed factory workers? Sometimes there are other factors to be taken account besides animal rights."
~No one's arguing that. The two moral questions are not mutually exclusive, and all of the ethical vegans that I know are just as concerned about the plight of the human animal as well as the non-human animal.

Sharon also said:
"I can think of dozens of other examples of situations like this where it's not always so cut and dry. As I said, I do not believe in moral absolutes, that something is either right or wrong. So do I think it is "right" for people to call themselves vegan, but then eat eggs."

~At this point it doesn't seem like we're debating what is and is not ethical; we're debating the definition of the word vegan. You yourself said that anyone can open a dictionary & tell you what it means, yet you seem to be confused. You CANNOT call yourself vegan if you eat eggs. A vegan never intentionally uses any animal product, ever. Yes, mistakes are made (such as when my neighbor insisted there were no animal products in the vegan meatballs at his BBQ, & then I later found out there was milk, although he didn't know it), but an ethical vegan would send back that plate of food with cheese on it & ask for a fresh one (I've done it myself). It is not the fault of the vegan that the waiter or cook didn't listen to the order, & the ethical dilemma falls on the shoulder of the one who made the mistake.

Joy said:
"One of the many reasons I stay vegan is to feel good about how I am treating the animals of the world, and to avoid the thoughts and images that go along with cruelty. So when you reference rape in your comments, you are creating violent images which are unnecessary and not particularly helpful in the context of this discussion. Remember that we humans are animals, too. In your efforts to end violence and cruelty to any species, please consider the energy that is created by your own choice of words."
~Non-vegans need to hear/read those words, in order to understand the horrors to which they're contributing.

Joy also said:
"For anyone without the time to read or watch the video, Steve Pavlina pointed out that eating eggs when knowing of the practices of the egg industry was analogous to having the consciousness of a Nazi. While there were a number of people who responded to say that this was the turning point for them to finally stop eating eggs or to become vegan, there were many who stated that the outrage they felt over this stance just made them want to go eat a big plate of eggs."
~Those who felt outrage over that stance would never have gone vegan to begin with. Those of us who ARE ethical vegans don't have a problem with the comparison, because it's the truth.

-Alicia

Sharon Troy said...

@Alicia

I have NOT at any point argued the definition of vegan. I have never said that vegans are people who eat eggs. My point in simply that the definition doesn't matter. Being "allowed to" call yourself vegan (by whom - the vegan police??) doesn't matter. What matters is the actions one takes. I feel like we're going around in circles on this.

But for example, let's say after 6 months of being vegan I had opted to eat my mom's lasagne to avoid the family fight, but then returned to my vegan diet. At what point am I "allowed" to call myself vegan again? Was I only vegan for 6 months and then I'm not allowed back in the club? I assume that nobody on this thread has been vegan since birth, so can any of us call ourselves vegan?

Chastising the people who occasionally slip up or haven't committed and telling them, "Nope, you can't call yourself vegan; you broke the rules!" only serves to alienate them.

Going back to the point Joy made regarding the blog comparing meat-eaters to Nazis and the ensuing backlash. You say that these people never would have been convinced to go vegan. Perhaps I am misunderstanding here, but isn't the goal of Abolitionist vegans to eventually convince everyone to be vegan?

Now, I concur that there are many people who will never choose to be vegan. But some of these people may be convinced to eat less meat and consume more vegan meals. They may not respond to tactics telling them they are doing something wrong, but may instead respond to fact, reason. More selfish concerns, like health or less expensive meals. The point is we need a variety of tactics.

Perhaps brutal images and language work on some people. Perhaps that will turn some people away. Perhaps you need to approach it from the environmental angle. Some people are more swayed and science and research than emotions. I tend to find that Abolitionism is so focused on the end goal that it misses the opportunities for incremental change that will help us get there.

And that's why if someone wants to say that they're "vegan except for this..." or "mostly vegan" or just wants to incorporate more vegan meals into their diets instead of focusing on what they're doing wrong - that they're not vegan enough - I encourage the changes they're making and do what I can to help them along the way.

Tim Moore said...

Some people are convinced by brutal imagery, when presented in a matter-of-fact way. Presenting someone with the blunt truth of what goes on in the animal agriculture industry can be quite a shock, and can jolt people into making choices they might not have otherwise considered. It worked for me.

I have never, though, seen anyone convinced of anything through personal attacks on their character and name calling. That's a pretty important distinction to understand. When someone feels attacked, they stop listening to the facts of the debate and take a defensive posture. At that point, they are no longer trying to do what's right, they're trying to win the conflict. It's human nature. Putting someone in that position will only make them antagonize you and what you stand for.

I would be very surprised if that tactic is ever effective at all, and would be willing to bet that it is counterproductive overall.

aliciawag said...

Sharon said:
"I have NOT at any point argued the definition of vegan. I have never said that vegans are people who eat eggs."
~Of course you have! You said the other day, "So do I think it is "right" for people to call themselves vegan, but then eat eggs." If you say that someone eats an animal product, then you call that person vegan, you are wrong, plain and simple. I take no pleasure in calling anyone wrong, but as an ethical vegan, it infuriates me when someone dilutes & tarnishes the meaning of the word.

Sharon said:
"My point in simply that the definition doesn't matter. Being "allowed to" call yourself vegan (by whom - the vegan police??) doesn't matter. What matters is the actions one takes. I feel like we're going around in circles on this."
~You're right, we are going around in circles on this, because you insist that a) the definition of the word vegan doesn't matter and that b) a vegan will sometimes purposely eat animal products. It's not a matter of being "allowed" to call yourself vegan; it's a matter of either being vegan or not being vegan.

Sharon said:
"But for example, let's say after 6 months of being vegan I had opted to eat my mom's lasagne to avoid the family fight, but then returned to my vegan diet. At what point am I "allowed" to call myself vegan again? Was I only vegan for 6 months and then I'm not allowed back in the club? I assume that nobody on this thread has been vegan since birth, so can any of us call ourselves vegan?"
~If you ate your mom's lasagne in order to avoid a fight, then for the rest of your life ate a vegan diet, I, personally, would not consider you vegan. There is a difference between being an ethical vegan, & a eating a vegan diet. Putting the desire to avoid a fight above the life of an animal is not an ethical thing to do. As far a being vegan from birth - there are people who are, but for those of us that weren't raised vegan, it's the same as converting to a certain religion. If my mom converted to Catholicism at age 7, she calls herself a Catholic. I became vegan at 24; I am a vegan. If I had been vegan since birth, I suppose I'd say I was a life-long vegan. I wish I were...

Sharon said:
"Chastising the people who occasionally slip up or haven't committed and telling them, "Nope, you can't call yourself vegan; you broke the rules!" only serves to alienate them."
~There is a difference between accidentally consuming something non-vegan (such as the case of my neighbor's BBQ veggie meatballs) & purposely consuming something non-vegan for any reason. I don't normally go around telling people they can't call themselves vegan, but unless I'm mistaken, that's what this blog post was all about. However, in real life, if someone came up to me & said they were vegan, then ate something non-vegan, you'd better believe I would - very nicely - inform them that they are, indeed, NOT vegan.

aliciawag said...

Sharon said:
"Going back to the point Joy made regarding the blog comparing meat-eaters to Nazis and the ensuing backlash. You say that these people never would have been convinced to go vegan. Perhaps I am misunderstanding here, but isn't the goal of Abolitionist vegans to eventually convince everyone to be vegan?"
~Of course, & it would be great if it happened; the only thing we can do is try. While I do think that there are some people who will never go vegan, nothing will stop me from trying to convince them.

Sharon said:
"I tend to find that Abolitionism is so focused on the end goal that it misses the opportunities for incremental change that will help us get there."
~That's welfarist talk right there.

Sharon said:
"And that's why if someone wants to say that they're "vegan except for this..." or "mostly vegan" or just wants to incorporate more vegan meals into their diets instead of focusing on what they're doing wrong - that they're not vegan enough - I encourage the changes they're making and do what I can to help them along the way."
~I would absolutely encourage them to make whatever changes they're making, but at the same time, I would ask them to not appropriate the term "vegan" for their own use when they clearly do not fit the definition. It sullies the name, and the definition, for those of us who ARE vegan. What's the point of language if we can't agree on meanings of words? My sister insists that vegetarians eat fish & fowl. Why? Because, even though I've proven her wrong using her own dictionary, some people who DO eat fish & fowl insist on calling themselves vegetarians. It dilutes the meaning of the word. The same thing happens to "vegan" when people who clearly are NOT vegan use that term to describe themselves. The term "vegan" means to not (purposely) use any animal product, for any reason, EVER.

Sharon Troy said...

aliciawag said:

"If you ate your mom's lasagne in order to avoid a fight, then for the rest of your life ate a vegan diet, I, personally, would not consider you vegan"
"...it's the same as converting to a certain religion. If my mom converted to Catholicism at age 7, she calls herself a Catholic. "

Seeing as how you're invoking religion as an analogy I feel it's worth it to point out that Catholicism, like most major religions, acknowledges the infallibility of its members. In Catholicism if a person sins, they repent. They don't get told that they're not allowed to call themselves Catholic anymore. In fact, unquestionable dogma and the pressure to remain infallible are characteristics that are associated with cults.

It troubles me to even link veganism with cult-like behavior in this comparison but I bring it up to again point out that sometimes our actions and attitudes as vegans can have the opposite of the desired effect - alienation and stigma.

For someone who seems to place such an emphasis on language, I think it's important to focus on not just the denotation of words, but the connotation. Some people hear "vegan" and think "cult" or think "crazy" or any number of unfortunate stereotypes and that creates huge road blocks in helping them change their views and actions.

None of your arguments have focused on change or persuasion of others. It would seem that encouraging veganism is secondary to maintaining your integrity in being as "pure" as possible. That is something you will not be able to change my mind on, so perhaps we have reached a stalemate in this debate.

aliciawag said...

Sharon said:
"Seeing as how you're invoking religion as an analogy I feel it's worth it to point out that Catholicism, like most major religions, acknowledges the infallibility of its members. In Catholicism if a person sins, they repent. They don't get told that they're not allowed to call themselves Catholic anymore. In fact, unquestionable dogma and the pressure to remain infallible are characteristics that are associated with cults."
~Good point; however, I wasn't bringing up religion to say that no one is infallible (whether Catholics, vegans, or both). I was bringing it up to point out that veganism is akin to a religion (any religion!) in that it is often something one converts to after having been something else. The thought that a Catholic could commit a sin, then repent, then go out & do the same thing over & over... they can "repent" as many times as they like, but if they keep committing the sin, in my eyes, they're not Catholic/Christian/whatever. If they ACCIDENTALLY committed a sin, it's a different story. Same thing with vegans; if you ACCIDENTALLY consume something non-vegan (BBQ veggie meatballs) it's one thing; to purposely consume something non-vegan is another matter entirely.

Sharon said:
"It troubles me to even link veganism with cult-like behavior in this comparison but I bring it up to again point out that sometimes our actions and attitudes as vegans can have the opposite of the desired effect - alienation and stigma."
~It doesn't bother me that much, because I have to act upon my beliefs. Having the desired effect, but bringing it about in the wrong way, doesn't sit well with me. I am not ashamed to be a vegan, and I will not apologize for it; nor will I dilute the meaning of the word.

Sharon said:
"For someone who seems to place such an emphasis on language,"
~I don't seem to - I *do*. Language is very important to me.

Sharon said:
"I think it's important to focus on not just the denotation of words, but the connotation. Some people hear "vegan" and think "cult" or think "crazy" or any number of unfortunate stereotypes and that creates huge road blocks in helping them change their views and actions."
~If someone gets the wrong idea from hearing the word "vegan", they obviously need to be educated on what a vegan is. I'm not going to apologize to anyone for being a vegan, believing what I believe, especially when I do not (contrary to what you might think from my posts here) force my beliefs on others. In "real life", I *never* bring up the subject of veganism at, say, the dinner table when I'm eating with non-vegans. They frequently apologize to ME for their choice of meal, at which point I tell them not to apologize to me, but instead to think of what the animal they're about to consume went through to be on their plate. But if they don't say anything, neither do I.

Sharon said:
"None of your arguments have focused on change or persuasion of others. It would seem that encouraging veganism is secondary to maintaining your integrity in being as "pure" as possible. That is something you will not be able to change my mind on, so perhaps we have reached a stalemate in this debate."
~I can't begin to focus on change or persuasion of others (here) until we can all agree that to be vegan means to NEVER (intentionally) use any animal products for any reason, whether it's convenient for me or not. That said, encouraging veganism is secondary to nothing to me, and it has nothing to do with my integrity, purity, or anything else having to do with me. The integrity of the word vegan is important to me, not because I am one as such, but because how can anyone take us (and therefore our beliefs) seriously if we can't even agree on what the word means?

Tim Moore said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim Moore said...

Alicia,

Do you ever eat honey? Or bread with diglycerides? Or refined sugar? Do you drink wine? Or ever take any medication? As Ryan pointed out, do you ever ride vehicles with rubber tires? Or use any other products containing vulcanized rubber or steel? Do you ever visit aquariums or zoos?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then congratulations! By some people's standards, and certainly by the strict definition you propose, you're not vegan either. Why don't you join the rest of us not-really-vegans in putting aside this stupid semantic argument and focus on doing things that actually help animals.

(FWIW, I think the Wikipedia definition is pretty good: "Veganism is a diet and lifestyle that seeks to exclude the use of animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose. Vegans endeavor not to use or consume animal products of any kind." Key words are "seeks to" and "endeavor".)

joylangtry said...

@alicia;
You said, "Non-vegans need to hear/read those words, in order to understand the horrors to which they're contributing."
I completely agree that there is a time and place for these things - I was referencing, specifically, the context of this discussion, which involves a bunch of (alleged?) vegans debating semantics. So, in this context, it's really unnecessary, IMO.

@Sharon:
Nice blog - I like your content - thanks for your efforts.

@Tim:
Well said. I think Wikipedia got it right.

aliciawag said...

Tim said:

Alicia,

Do you ever eat honey?
~Never.

Or bread with diglycerides? Or refined sugar? Do you drink wine?
~No, no and no.

Or ever take any medication?
~Not if it's made from or tested on animals.

As Ryan pointed out, do you ever ride vehicles with rubber tires? Or use any other products containing vulcanized rubber or steel?
~To be honest with you, I didn't know about those things, and will have to research them.

Do you ever visit aquariums or zoos?
~Only if they're rescue/rehab/conservation zoos, helping animals. I never support places that steal animals from their parents or from the wild simply to use them for human pleasure. If a zoo has rescued an animal that can't be put back into the wild for some reason, I will support that zoo, because it directly supports that animal, as well as helping more of its kind.

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then congratulations! By some people's standards, and certainly by the strict definition you propose, you're not vegan either.
~I disagree with you; I said that a vegan never intentionally uses an animal product. If I find that anything I use DOES contain an animal product, I will discontinue using it.

Why don't you join the rest of us not-really-vegans in putting aside this stupid semantic argument and focus on doing things that actually help animals.
~Because I don't think that semantics are stupid, and I think that properly defining "vegan" is an important step in helping animals. Not to mention, arguing semantics doesn't prevent me from doing other things, AND being "Not Vegan Enough" is what this blog post was all about. What better place to argue the semantics of the word "vegan"?

(FWIW, I think the Wikipedia definition is pretty good: "Veganism is a diet and lifestyle that seeks to exclude the use of animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose. Vegans endeavor not to use or consume animal products of any kind." Key words are "seeks to" and "endeavor".)
~My point exactly; vegans don't intentionally use anything containing an animal product. The important thing to remember is that an ethical vegan, upon finding out that something they're using is not vegan, will discontinue using it, even when it's not convenient for them to do so.

Joy said:
You said, "Non-vegans need to hear/read those words, in order to understand the horrors to which they're contributing."
I completely agree that there is a time and place for these things - I was referencing, specifically, the context of this discussion, which involves a bunch of (alleged?) vegans debating semantics. So, in this context, it's really unnecessary, IMO.
~I disagree. Rereading Adam's words, I see that part of what he was speaking of was indeed in reference to semantics; if you only rape 1% of the time, you're still a rapist. If you only eat animal flesh 1% of the time, you're still NOT a vegan.

Tim Moore said...

Alicia,

Admirable, but if the point is that helping animals requires giving up nearly all food and beverages that you don't make yourself, medication of any kind (because it's all tested on animals), riding vehicles, etc. then all you will accomplish is convincing people that it is practically impossible for most people to be vegan, so why even bother?

If you goal is to convince people to do things to help animals, then this fails completely. If your goal is to make people think of vegans as an exclusive club that only the most committed should even try to enter, then mission accomplished. Understand, though, that this does more to hurt animals than your individual consumption choices do to help them.

Veg is Sexy said...

Sharon, I think your blog is fantastic and I agree with your ideals.

My veganism is based in compassion, not perfection. I commend those who consider themselves to be so, but for me, I strive to live a peaceful life that is helpful and understanding to all living creatures. It is all about making choices, decisions, and compromises. And if I eat a single non-vegan cookie with 1/20th of an egg white, well I think I've done a pretty damn good job. As Ryan said, no one is 100% anything. But I'm doing my best.

I am proud to be a vegan because to me it means compassion in life, style, and diet. To hear people argue over logistics is really painful and hurtful to read. Do I buy meat, eggs, and dairy? No. Will I throw a hissy fit if I find out butter is involved in my friend's recipe after I have been served? No. I do what I feel is most peaceful and most compassionate while remaining inside my moral and dietary values. And most of all, I use infinite respect for other people's opinions and values.