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Giving up the V-card

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It’s been a year since my most successful experiment. I had given up animal-derived foods to find out what it did for my health. After 30 years of indiscriminate eating, I finally gave the ethical issue surrounding animal food some honest thought, and ended up going vegan completely.

It’s been the best year of my life, and I’m convinced veganism is a large part of that. I won’t gush about the details but I’ll say that I felt altogether better physically and emotionally and I’m never going back to the way I used to live.

However, I don’t want to call myself a vegan any more. I’m giving up my V-card.

I’m still off meat and dairy and eggs, I still won’t buy wool or leather, I still won’t use animals for my entertainment, and I wish others would do the same. But my philosophy on it is quite different than it was a year ago and I don’t want to call myself the V-word. I’ll tell you why.

The first thing you notice when you go vegan is that everyone is mad, and they tell you you’re mad. You voluntarily enter the moral Twilight Zone. You discover a grotesque inconsistency between the beliefs people express and their behavior. You realize that we’re all highly irrational, and that it’s emotion that rules culture, and culture rules the behavior of individuals. No matter how much harm it causes, nothing we do needs to be justified as long as it’s popular enough.

Ask ten people on the street if they think it’s wrong to injure or kill animals for one’s amusement or pleasure, and nine or ten will say yes, of course. Chances are all ten of those people freely consume animal products, simply because they like to and they’re used to doing it.

A new vegan also encounters a bizarre compulsion in many otherwise friendly people to talk as loudly to you as possible about how delicious and juicy steak is. A certain contempt for you emerges seemingly from nowhere, and the most polite person can be overtaken by an urge to reiterate to you that they could never give up meat, because they just “love a good steak!”, presumably the way Michael Vick once loved a good dogfight.

For the recently converted, this inexplicable pseudo-hostility from everyday people can be alarming and it often triggers the kind of inadvertently sarcastic tone you saw in the last few paragraphs [Sorry! -D]. The effect is draining and alienating, and it’s hard not to feel a vague resentment for (or at least disappointment in) the ninety-nine percent of people who have no hesitation about exploiting animals if there is something enjoyable to be found in it. 

Tearing down the wall

Sometime last year I was listening to a vegan podcast in which the host announced that after months of examining her philosophies and liefstyle as a vegan activist, she realized she just couldn’t bring herself to dine with non-vegans anymore.

I understood where she was coming from, not that I’d ever do it. Imagine that everyone around you is indulging in something you think is horrible and unnecessary, and you’re supposed to be content to merely abstain from doing it yourself, and enjoy what you can about the surrounding social experience. Imagine realizing you’ll have to do this on a regular basis for the rest of your life. I can understand wanting no part of it.

But it didn’t seem right. Is this where veganism, as a personal commitment, inevitably leads — to a definite social divide between vegans and non-vegans? If so, the only hope for resolution is to nurture the vegan population to grow from the sub-one-per-cent level it is at now, to becoming as normal as being a non-smoker is today.

For most of the last year I felt that divide, not just between me and the omnivores, but the vegetarians too, who abstain from only one kind of animal exploitation. And not just the vegetarians, but the “vegans” who eat fish occasionally, or the ones who eat vegan but wear wool peacoats.

I even felt it between me and other vegans. I was an abolitionist, which basically means zero tolerance for any avoidable use of animals. But on the other side of the fence there were also welfarist vegans, who spent their time campaigning to improve conditions for food animals, encouraging vegetarianism or Meatless Mondays or other “partway” measures that make abolitionists cringe.

This alienation is real and I doubt there’s a single vegan (or vegetarian) reading this who doesn’t experience it. Right from the start it was always the hardest part of being vegan. It wasn’t the food cravings, it wasn’t the reduced clothing selection, it was the social weirdness that emerges when people learn you’re “one of those.”

In social situations — barbecues, parties and dinners out — people are generally polite and accepting, but they still can’t help but treat me as a special case with my special-case food. They probably can’t quite see me as a full participant. They make it clear that they have absolutely no desire to become a special case themselves, who isn’t “allowed” to do what normal people do. They are usually trying to be kind, but it still creates weirdness on both sides of the wall.

Now it’s clear to me that it’s the label that’s the problem. Not the labeling of food, or shoes, but of people. I think it creates animosity on both sides, it defines the wall itself, and that prevents that wall from moving much. It seems that generally, vegans love their label, and love to deny it to non-vegans. If you were to tell a group of vegans that you’re a vegan who enjoys a tiny cube of cheese once every leap year they’ll say, “Oh so you’re not vegan then.” And technically they’re right.

I think how we broach the issue with members of the omnivorous majority is extremely delicate, and most of the time it’s done badly. The word vegan has extremist connotations to most, and no matter how much the vegans think that’s undeserved, it is ultimately the omnivores who decide how quickly veganism is going to grow.

The end of us and them

So I tossed the label. I haven’t changed much about how I live, but I won’t call myself a vegan any more. It’s a handy label for classifying recipes, cookbooks, how certain products were made, but I won’t wear the badge any longer. Technically I don’t reach the bar anyway (as 99.5% of people don’t) because I ate two slices of pizza when I went to New York last month.

There are two main differences in how my new philosophy affects my behavior. They’ve made life so much easier on me, and have made me a better ambassador for the cause of moving away from using animal products.

1) I am careful not to harbor or express disgust for non-vegan food. When you learn about where meat, dairy and eggs come from, it’s hard not to feel disgust, even if you don’t change how you live in response. Most vegans feel some of this disgust whenever they look at those foods. Many won’t even acknowledge that it’s food.

I now see this disgust as a hindrance to the spread of animal-free living. The net effect of that disgust, more than anything, is that omnivores feel judged or dismissed by vegans, and begin to resent them. Staunch vegans might say “Who cares if they’re offended man, I’m doing what’s right.” — forgetting that souring people to veganism who might otherwise have become vegans is effectively erasing all the good they have ever done, and more.

A fellow blogger who calls himself Speciesist Vegan wrote a great piece here on why it’s so important for vegans to get over their disgust for non-vegan food, if they want veganism to grow.

2) I make the occasional exception when it comes to food and I don’t hide it from the omnivores in my life. There are three reasons I do this now. First, it demonstrates to them that I don’t think they’re disgusting or immoral, and that my philosophy on life is not categorically different than theirs. Second, by deliberately indulging in the odd act of exploitation, it eliminates the feeling of being permanently “outside” the world of normal people, by being someone who will die without ever eating ice cream again. And third, it shows them that how I live isn’t difficult, isn’t all or nothing, and is something they might actually do themselves.

I fully understand there are people who want absolutely nothing to do with having an animal food in their mouth again, and see no need to alleviate the social alienation by eating the odd non-vegan item, but I’m no longer one of them and I believe what I do does far more good than harm.

I also don’t go to great lengths to ensure a meal is vegan before I order it in a restaurant anymore. I will eat the free bread, with no investigation. Much more effective, I think, than nitpicking my way around every sprinkle of parmesan and every stick of egg-white-brushed complimentary bread, is to demonstrate that you can be a normal participant in everyday social activities while still avoiding animal products almost all the time.

A new vegan should realize relatively quickly that the vast majority of people alive today have zero interest in veganism and will never do it no matter what you say to them. The single notion of “no more ice cream, ever” is, I’m sure, an utter dealbreaker for the majority of people. Only a small proportion could potentially become strict vegans, and I think our energy is better invested in trying to get the larger proportion to experiment part-time with vegan options, rather than trying to get people to completely defect to the as-yet-tiny “other team.”

Looking at the endless internet banter whenever the issue comes up, what most vegans seem to forget is that for somebody to go vegan, it means an omnivore has to see veganism as something more appealing than what they already do. Yet they insist on driving home how uncompromising and all-or-nothing it must be. If you don’t believe me, go post “I avoid all animal products but honey and silk” on a vegan message board and look at the responses.

I indulged in this smug partisanship too. There is an abolitionist blog I once really enjoyed, even though it consisted almost entirely of ripping into celebrity vegans who go back to eating eggs occasionally.

I believe that in the current social climate there are probably twenty times more people out there who would potentially go 90% of the way to veganism, given the health, environmental and ethical incentives, than there are people who would ever arrive at a day when they declare they’ve had their last ever Ben & Jerry’s. There’s way more ground to be made — which represents many more animals to be spared — influencing the former group than the latter.

Between my abolitionist days and today, the difference in the volume of animal products I consume is pretty small. A few more of my dollars do go to paying people for exploting animals. These changes may represent the difference between say, 99.8% of my total buying power, and 99%. (Despite what some vegans may tell you, it is unlikely anybody is able to live 100% vegan, but you can get really close.)

But if my more relaxed, undogmatic lifestyle convinces even one person that they could live without animal products, even 50% of the time, I’ve already prevented more many times more harm than I’ve caused.

What I want is for the world to move away from using animals for their pleasure or convenience. I no longer believe that growing a small but intense group of zero-tolerance advocates is going to do that. It is easier and mathematically more effective to convince several times the people to go even just halfway.

But more importantly, it invites a culture where a large proportion of people have taken some action to reduce animal use, and have been exposed to the reasons why it might be a good idea. Right now, most people don’t honestly believe it’s possible to even have a delicious vegetarian meal that doesn’t seem like a compromise. I think encouraging them to cook their first enjoyable animal-free meal is more effective than posting abused pigs on their Facebook wall.

The biggest change I want to influence people to make is to find a personal philosophy that resonates with them most, rather than interviewing the various camps and joining one. [This perspective is often cited in positive reviews of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals — an anti-eating-animals book that’s ripped on as often by strict vegans as it is by anti-vegan omnivores. The reviews, generally, are glowing. Foer is not vegan.]

I think we’re better off easing the general population into no-pressure experimentation with animal-free food and clothing than we are insisting you’re either carrying the V-card, or you’re part of the problem.

Vegans, non-vegans, in-betweeners, what do you think?


Vegan Tikka Masala pic by miikkahoo

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Harold L. Thafth April 6, 2012 at 3:09 am

Wow!! Super cool!!! Love it!! You are such an inspiration!!For sure this is very healthy!

Felix van Driem April 6, 2012 at 8:47 am

Dear David you answered my question with the following :

Human beings are capable of understanding the suffering they cause.

Does this mean that I must not correct someone who has done me wrong simply because I can feel their pain? Does this mean that I must suffer so that someone else does not? Should I not correct a child? I am sure you don’t mean that and if you re-read Jackie’s response you will see that she goes out of her way and very literally ‘gives her life’ daily to ensure that the animals she cares for do not suffer. You also say,

It is not immoral for animals to kill for food because they don’t have the capacity for morality that we have.

This is a version of the “humans are exceptional argument” that has been used to exploit the planet for thousands of years. We are no more exceptional than any other animal. Our capacity for morality is a tenuous argument at best and in no way justifies removing ourselves from the web of life. You say elsewhere,

If anything that’s natural and ancient is justifiable, then so is rape, extortion, killing for territory or any other atrocity that humans have eventually learned to condemn.

Any behavior or action is neither moral nor amoral by itself. It is context that makes it moral or immoral from a human perspective only. Killing is the definitive example. Most people believe that killing ‘in cold blood’ is amoral. What about self-defense, defending someone weak, euthanasia, abortion, punishment or war? I put them specifically in a more or less descending order of acceptance because to different people, in different times, in different contexts these things are moral or not. We humans have invented morality and it changes with person, time or place. Something as slippery as morality has even been used to justify genocide. You also say in response to Ray’s comment about people eating animals for nutrients,

I don’t really believe that, and I think most people realize it’s not true. People do not eat bacon, ice cream, cheese or milkshakes for nutrients. They eat them because it is pleasurable and because they’re used to doing it. Even the ADA admits that well-planned plant-based diets are perfectly fine for people at any age.

I don’t realize that it’s true. And the majority of the world is full of meat eating people that don’t realize it either. The ADA is expressing an opinion just like everyone here. The fact is that humans cannot digest cellulose like ruminants and even they need specialized bacteria in their multiple stomachs to do so. If the cell walls are not broken down by endless chewing, or cooking (which destroys many nutrients) or the symbiotic bacteria that we do not have, then humans cannot get at those nutrients. Hydrochloric acid is produced by the human digestive system the moment meat arrives in the stomach. It starts to be broken down before it even reaches the intestines. I think the panda is probably the best natural example of an omnivore that is starving itself to extinction by a (nearly) vegetarian diet. Only thirty percent of the nutrients they ingest are absorbed. Vegetarians are not notoriously thin because of lack of fat in their diets (just think of all that cheese) it is because of a lack of complete and enough protein causing muscle wastage. But as someone else already posted we could spend all day beating each other up with nutritional information. What I think the most telling aspect of what you said is about the ‘well-planned plant based’ diets. As an omnivore I don’t really need to plan much about my diet except what time I’m going to eat.

What I still want to know is why I should remove myself from my natural place in the web of life? Hasn’t humankind been doing that long enough and destroying the planet in the process? Isn’t it better to be what we are and do that responsibly?

L Price April 7, 2012 at 11:02 am

I can assure you some of the reaction you’re getting is not reserved for veganism. 
I primarily eat nothing but meat. While I admit my eating habits are not normal, the reactions are equally annoying. 
I have a theory. When in comes to what people put inside them;  (pick a hole, any hole), other people find it impossible not to cross the boundaries of civility in ways they wouldn’t otherwise, to comment, moralize, prognosticate, aggressively question, get defensive without provocation, etc. 

Strange how the choices (the ‘holes’) most removed from effecting others are the ones with which they become the most twisted. 

MK April 7, 2012 at 11:12 am

Very helpful. My dads a veg, its been 15 years now. Awesome article got an inside view of a vegan!

Ben April 7, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Excellent post! The rise of the ‘plant-based diet’ and ‘flexitarian’ labels show that maybe we’re moving in the right direction, breaking the cultural rule that a meal isn’t complete unless it included meat.

Risa Rosenberg April 9, 2012 at 9:52 am

I am a new vegan, slowly making the transition to a place where I am most comfortable. I look at veganism as a long term shared lifestyle more than just what I choose day in and day out. I would like to see a day where we vegans are incorporating a small portion of animal products into our diet, to maximize our best physical health. However, I would there to be a day where we get these products from animals who do not suffer and who enjoy beautiful, social and healthy lives. I would also like to see the day where we, as a species, give back each time we take. I believe that veganism is consciousness and I am all for feeling a deep sense of gratitude for any living being that has given it’s life to nourish me. Stay kind, loving and compassionate Vegans. Lead with your heart. We are leaders. If we falter now and then, let’s use that to communicate to others that being Vegan can be difficult, but that each and every one of us is just trying to create a better world. We know that our happiness and health depends on ridding the world of needless suffering and that our evolution hinges upon taking care of those around us. Veganism is about raising consciousness. Thanks to every one of you who is living this change.

Abby April 10, 2012 at 9:48 am

there are a lot of comments already, and i haven’t read them all, but i want to thank you for this post. i am actually right now mulling over my eating habits and how much i’m willing to limit the animal products i eat. i could pretty easily eat much less of them than i do, but i’ve never met any vegans who seem very flexible about it, and i’m unwilling to *never* have eggs or some really good cheese again, or be more difficult than necessary when i eat out. thank you for being a considered example for me in this process.

EkoChef April 10, 2012 at 12:40 pm

The 80/10/10 Diet by Douglas.N.Graham is all I have to say to that…

Eat right, live strong and prosper…


Keith April 10, 2012 at 3:22 pm

I think it all comes back to leading by example. Instead of telling other people how they should “do,” just focus on improving yourself. People are surprisingly smart and if given the chance, they might just follow your lead! Great article man.

Divinne Grace April 10, 2012 at 8:00 pm

Hi…This post really serve as an inspiration to us…But the food in the photo is really delicious! Anyway, thanks for this…

Anonymous April 11, 2012 at 2:53 am

Please excuse the anonymous posting, but I’m about to describe crucial health information about myself, and I don’t want to broadcast my personal info along with my health status.

For some reason which I cannot fathom, even though I was an enthusiastic tofu eater for many years, my body now won’t tolerate soy. Same goes for gluten, the main ingredient in seitan which is the main alternative to tofu.

I buy organic whenever I can. I get eggs from a local farmer who raises chickens 19th-century style. They cost more than supermarket eggs but are worth it. Organic meat OTOH is far too expensive and hard to get. I hate eating meat knowing how livestock is treated, but my budget and body chemistry have left me little choice. I hate eating chemical-laden veggies (though I stick to frozen ones; canned veggies are basically sludge to me), but the organic frozen ones are yuppie-priced and its too early in the year for more reasonably-priced fresh ones.

Jazmine April 11, 2012 at 10:03 pm

VCards, a type of electronic business card, are more than an easy way to help people remember who you are and how to get in touch with you. They also give you a handy way to add the person who sent it to you to your contacts list without manually having to type in the person’s name, email address, telephone number and other information. Microsoft Outlook Express lets you import a vCard directly into your contact list..

Caroline April 14, 2012 at 9:23 pm

I just ended 8 years of vegetarianism, one of which was spent being a vegan. I had a few friends who were going the paleo route and the science and theory behind it were really convincing*, so i decided to try it – particularly after a friend pointed out that grains and legumes are essentially “slave food” which can’t be produced on a large enough scale without slaves or industrial agriculture (even if it’s organic). So i started a meat eating experiment, following the basic ideas of the paleo method – my meals are roughly 3/4 vegetables and 1/4 pasture-raised local meat, and i snack on nuts, seeds, and fruit; i have occasional milk and cheese.

*i won’t go into them here – google will find it all for you!

I didn’t really want it to feel good – but it does. Oh my stars, i feel AMAZING. And i realized that when i went vegetarian, i also stopped eating fast food and cut way down on processed food, so i felt better. But now that i’ve cut out processed food, as well as most sugars and unnecessary starches, and added healthy meats back in, oh my. Oh. my. My overall caloric intake has gone down by about a third, and the most significant thing for me is that it has stabilized my blood sugar, where previously i was having a lot of trouble with it fluctuating wildly up and down. My sleep patterns have been a lot more normal, too.

I’ve worked in a dairy, on the same farm where we raised beef cattle and egg and meat chickens. I LOVE cows, so much so that i will lay down on the ground and snuggle them if they’ll let me. After that experience i think dairy can be fine, eggs can be fine, if done correctly – and for me that involves not separating the calves from their mothers, which is undeniably cruel for everyone involved.

As my spirituality has evolved, i have come to see less and less separation between me and a rock and a tree and a carrot and a cow and a stream. I’ve also come to recognize that life feeds on death, and that the energy of life comes and goes in waves and i no longer feel like killing an animal to eat it is wrong. I have really been bowled over by the sheer intimacy and the power of taking another being’s body into my own.

I also try to follow an 80% model – i eat paleo 80% of the time. This keeps me from going crazy and allows me to still be reasonably social at meal-centered events. My time spent being a vegan was definitely more about the expression of some disordered eating habits and less about the ethics. I became a vegetarian because of the social and environmental impacts of factory farming, and of course the abject cruelty of those practices. I still would never ever spend money on or put into my body any factory farmed meat (there’s nutritional benefits, too), but i think that eating a locally, lovingly raised animal is actually pretty sacred. I’ll also never eat veal, lamb, or foie gras.

And, if i buy wool or leather i only do so second-hand, or humanely/sustainably produced (but that’s soooo expensive). I also don’t think that petroleum based vegan substitutes are any better – not to mention the industrial farming required to produce enough cotton/flax/hemp/whatever – and bamboo fabric is great, but it goes through an intensely chemical process in order to be as soft and silky as it is.

And it is stupid expensive, but for me it’s worth it. I make cuts in other areas to make sure i can afford the food that i believe is the best for me and the planet. I believe that my dollar is the only vote i have that actually counts so i try to cast it carefully.

I guess for me it ultimately comes down to that all beings are here for each other. My use of animal protein goes to fuel my love and care for other beings, and eventually my body will go back to the earth – no steel box for me – and it will provide nutrients for the growth of plants, which will provide nutrients for the growth of other animals, which will be eaten by something that will die… and i find that all very beautiful.

There was actually a pretty pivotal experience for me when i was working in the dairy, where it became clear that my favorite cow, Loblolly, was going to have to become beef far earlier than normal due to some congenital problems with her feet. I was heartbroken. I was still a vegetarian at that time and i though to myself, “Well, what would be the most respectful thing to do with her body? Stick it in the ground?” That didn’t seem right. That was probably the turning point for me in regards to meat.

(i want to note that i haven’t read the other comments, so i apologize if i’m being redundant, but i just wanted to respond to your initial post without getting into a big debate)

Love and respect :)

Nea | Self Improvement Saga April 14, 2012 at 10:05 pm

Wow…this was a very interesting read. Thanks for sharing so openly. This post actually got my thinking about a larger issue which has nothing to do with veganism. It’s more about the human ego.

I think we all have a hard time accepting anything that looks very different from what we feel strongly about. It’s not good enough to change how we do things…we want everyone else on board. Those who aren’t on board are outsiders who need to be educated and somehow converted to what is “right.” I think every war, or even disagreement, comes back to this need to have others see the light, which really means to see OUR light.

I don’t just see this in veganism. I see it in the religious person who wants to convert you to praising their god, the homeschoolers and unschoolers, the person who wants you to support their political party, the parents who believe you should or shouldn’t spank children, those who want everyone to stop using fuel, those who support or oppose immigration, those who do or don’t believe in vaccinations.

As I always say, every journey begins within. It’s challenging to be accepting of others while fully committed to your own choice. It’s challenging to watch people do something that you’re strongly opposed to. It’s even more challenging to do something other than pretending to be okay with it. It seems like they just don’t get it—and that we do get it and the others are just stupid or blind. But it all comes back to self.

The challenge is always to be our best self, to figure out the ways we personally are meant to make an impact in this world, to live in the ways that are right for us, and to remember that there is a bigger picture. Everyone’s means of coloring the bigger picture aren’t the same and that’s okay. If we’re a shining example of our own purpose or cause… those who are meant to share in it with us, will do so. To get caught up (obsessively) in the need to change (or even judge) those who don’t fit the bill is a waste of life.

Sorry for writing a whole article, but I was really seeing the connection between this subject and a general tendency amongst human beings.

Marnie April 15, 2012 at 5:54 am

It´s a interesting post. This post really serve as an inspiration to us. thanks for sharing and this delicious photo!

Kazzsandra April 16, 2012 at 2:05 am

I am not familiar with vcard even before maybe only because of this post I got to know more about it.. And through this comment section, I have as well learned a lot..

Partha April 19, 2012 at 1:21 pm

I find the discussion your precise position on this just a tad excessively detailed, but you’ve hit the nail when you talk of the apparent insanity of the flesh-eaters. If they eat it they eat it, and it’s fine (or at least, it isn’t quite fine, but at least it’s what they do). But on the one hand when, in a movie for instance, when you tickle a cat or a dog you put these huge disclaimers saying the dogs or cats weren’t harmed by the tickling; and then the folks who had that written and the folks who go read it on screen all go stuff themselves with killed (I mean, actually KILLED, as in SLAUGHTERED) (THINK of that, killed, slaughtered, butchered) pigs or cows or goats or sheep or fish or whatever, that surely, surely is so excessively hypocritical as to literally border on the psychotic.

I myself feel that eating the flesh of animals and fish is just one small degree removed from membership in H. Lecter’s gourmet club. If you can enjoy killing a six-month-old calf (or at least, if not killing it, eating it), what stops you (apart from the law I mean) from doing the same to a six-month-old juicy little boy or girl? Did I hear the word Monster coming to mind? Yes, Monster is right!

Good for you, D., to bring this up so forcefully. I think it’s just a question of awareness. As you say, most are agreed on the moral wrongness of this whole thing; if through repeated highlighting people are denied the opportunity of somehow slipping out of this, if they’re forced to awareness of what exactly they’re doing when they eat goats, pigs, cows and fish, then most will stop doing it.

Although I must say I find your justification of your “giving up the V card” a bit wishy-washy. Still, it’s far better to kill just two men, one woman and three children in one whole year than to kill two of each every week (I love mathematics, don’t you?); and I suppose it’s far far better to eat (and be the cause of the slaughter of) one or two sheep or fish or whatever than one hundred or one thousand or ten thousand, no doubt of that at all.

Partha April 19, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Incidentally I find supremely ironic, positively hilarious in its total hypocrisy, that priceless series of “be positive” books that are minting millions peddling feel-good stories. I refer of course to the “Chicken Soup” series. I mean how blunt, how dense, how thick-skinned, can people be — does not even being hit hard on the head with a hammer make the slightest impact? What priceless hilarity, the whole concept — Chicken Soup for the Soul! — think of it, you won’t be able to stop laughing!

——- (Just to drive home the point to any of the dense folk reading this: Would you like to subscribe to this brilliant series of lectures on holistic and successful living and positive thinking that Dr. Hannibal Lecter is offering next week, over a delicious gourmet dinner consisiting of freshly chopped and stewed six-month-old boys and girls?)

kitschculture April 19, 2012 at 6:07 pm

I like to consider myself an open-minded person but I’ll admit to having a negative reaction to when someone tells me they are a vegan. I never thought about it until now, but I think there are some labels that I do not sympathize with even if I support the goals of the movement. I’ll also admit to having these feelings towards people who label themselves feminists, even though from a belief standpoint I agree with them on 90+% of issues. The reason probably stems from abrasive behavior that people who have carried this label displayed towards me in the past despite my sympathy. I think you’re pretty much spot on with that.

One thing though that I think vegans miss, and especially the abolitionist types, is their resistance to what is essentially one type of exploitation and believing in it militantly. All the while they’re sporting iPhones made in Chinese factories that shamelessly exploit their workforce. I think what this shows is that the preference is not necessarily about just an opposition to exploitation but about being a part of an in-group (however small that group is). If vegans, feminists, etc truly opposed exploitation they’d be communist – but so long as you’re choosing only to focus on one type of exploitation I think you lose some of that higher moral ground. You’re really not in a position to judge people who don’t make the same choices that you unless you’re consistent in your beliefs.

Willie R. April 22, 2012 at 6:42 am

Q: When does a vegan become enlightened?

A. When he or she realizes that being a vegan confers absolutely zero advantage over the omnivorous population.

A non-enlightened Vegan April 23, 2012 at 4:20 am

Another Q: When does an honest person become enlightened?
A.: When he or she realizes that not stealing confers absolutely zero advantage over the thieving population.

Yet another Q: When does a non-violent person become enlightened?
A.: When he or she realizes that non-violence confers absolutely zero advantage over the violent population.

Last Q.: When does a tetotal, absolutely-no-drugs person become enlightened?
A.: When he or she realizes that not drinking or not doing drugs confers zero advantage over the alocohol- and drugs- dependent population.

———–When you’re enlightened, I suppose you’re beyond the pale of mundane do-this-do-that-don’t-do-this-don’t-do-that guidelines. Till then, I think it’s best to not steal, not rob, not beat up your weaker fellows, not become an alcoholic, not become a junkie … and yes, not kill (or cause to be killed) live fish and animals just to satisfy your taste buds (or even your yen for good health).

Stuart B. April 27, 2012 at 7:05 am

I do not think anything that occurs in nature can be considered immoral. Animals eat one another to survive–therefore I do not see anything wrong with eating animals. My cat depends on me for his own health, and cats are strictly carnivores. If I was vegan, I would assume buying animal-based foods for my cat would be just as frowned upon as buying them for myself, but if I were to do so my cat would absolutely suffer, as it simply does not have a digestive system suited for handling anything other than meats. Sure, people do it, but they end up with unhealthy and often obese, diabetic cats.

If the vegan stance is a moral one, then it seems hypocritical to me that the extreme moral righteousness of their position does not apply to the rest of their lives. They are against anything that harms animals, but yet I’m sure they live in houses, drive cars and use electronics just like the rest of us, all of which harms the earth and the creatures that live here.

We are all animals on this planet, civilized or not. We are meant to compete with each other for survival. Just as other animals kill and displace other populations for their own survival, we are permitted–indeed intended–to do the same. As presumably enlightened, moral beings we can choose to do so in a way that minimizes the negative impact on the planet, but to swear off one and only one thing and hold it up as moral righteousness while continuing to rape the planet in other ways seems a bit too holier-than-thou to take seriously, in my opinion.

Granted, people do enjoy being vegan, and there is nothing wrong with being vegan for the enjoyment of it. However, when I see a vegan making statements such as, “No matter how much harm it causes, nothing we do needs to be justified as long as it’s popular enough,” I roll my eyes at the hypocrisy. Be vegan if you like being vegan, but don’t fool yourself into thinking–or try to convince others–that it is immoral not to be vegan. If it is, then it is just as immoral to live in houses, drive cars, use electronics, etc.

If everyone on the planet were to become vegan, it would simply shift the ways in which we rape the planet from direct slaughter of animals to destroying the landscape with farmlands, overpolluting with fertilizer, tractor exhaust, etc. The human population of our planet has already reached levels that are absolutely unsustainable by nature alone. If the entire planet decided to go organic as well as vegan, much of the human population would necessarily die from starvation.

If you are truly wanting to have zero impact on animals and the planet as the whole, the way I see it you have one of two choices: First, as humorous and flippant as it may sound (I have seen T-shirts printed with this), you can save the planet by killing yourself. Barring that, the only other option I can see is to become a feral human being, so that whatever impact you have will be exactly as nature intended. But should you become feral, chances are you will eat meat.

Until then, you may fool yourself into thinking that being vegan is the moral high ground, and you may negatively judge others who do not choose to be vegan but profess to love animals and hate animal cruelty as hypocrites. But it is merely something you do for your own enjoyment, and by judging non-vegans it makes you the hypocrite.

An irritated Vegain May 7, 2012 at 9:14 am

Stuart, do you really not see where you’re getting this wrong? I’m a Vegan, and hey, I am NOT some prissy sanctimonious busybody who makes moral judgements on other people. THE ONLY REASON I HAVE SPOKEN OUT ON THIS COLUMN IS BECAUSE WE ARE DISCUSSING THIS SPECIFIC SUBJECT HERE. Otherwise, hey, I’d like it if others stopped butchering animals, but I recognize it’s their choice. Why on earth would that make me a hypocrite? I REALIZE I CANNOT STOP HARMING NATURE AND ANIMALS IN SOME WAYS; BUT SURE THAT DOES NOT MEAN I WILL NOT DO WHAT I CAN? The exact analogy is this: think for a minute with an open mind: if in your state, cannibalism were made legal: would you then eat other humans, either for health or for the taste? I think that’s an exact analogy. And that nature-is-harmful argument is purely juvenile: yes, animals do kill, lions do kill, even birds do kill: but we have the capacity not to, so surely we should exercise it? A dog will, I suppose, attack other dogs who stand in the way of its preferred bitch (or bitches), and I suppose animals like lions actually kill rival lions, but does that mean you also should kill other men who find your wife or girlfriend desirable? You know what I’m saying? You’re not a dog or a lion, are you? (And again, lest you misunderstand again, I’m saying this only because we’re actually discussing this topic. Otherwise, normally I don’t go lecture my friends and acquaintances either on eating meat or on avoiding taxes or, for that matter, on getting drunk or drugs-dependent. I recognize their right to do what they want, as long as they don’t break the law, and even if they break the law I don’t generally butt in, I tend to mind my own business.)

Another Vegan May 12, 2012 at 8:53 am

I fully agree with my friend P.’s comments. This don’t-be-sanctimonious-don’t-be-holier-than-thou position is a total cop-out. Many people do employ this when attempting the impossible task of defending their meat-eating ways (unless they were to take the one honest and acceptable position, which is, hey, I do it, it’s my business, leave me be — with which position I have no argument). Yes, I myself find chronic whiners and inveterate evangelists extremely irritating, no matter what cause they espouse, but if you do enter a discussion, you cannot weasel out of it by accusing your opponent of being prissy.

—–I’m writing in to offer my full support, for what it is worth, to my friend P.’s position, since he seems to be the only one here espousing that particular point of view.

—–Stuart, let me ask you something if I may. Suppose I have a dog which can only be healthy if it eats cats. (Humor me, will you, and go along with the train of thought.) Now suppose your cat were lost, stripped of its tag. Now also suppose that we are in a place where no one can be legally faulted for killing a stray animal. (I know of many such places.) I suppose you see well enough, already, where I am going with this, but let me spell it out nevertheless: If I were to take your position, then you yourself would encourage me to kill your cat and feed it to my dog, wouldn’t you? (Incidentally, there are places where cat meat is a delicacy. It’s supposed to be delicious, although I haven’t tried it myself.) What do you say to that: would you like to try it out? Would you have any qualms to others trying it out? (Surely now you see the absurdity of both your arguments, friend?)

SusieR April 28, 2012 at 10:26 am

Loved reading this article. Terrific food for thought on a subject I have long been intrigued about. Once again, many thanks for a great read!

jandy May 2, 2012 at 10:00 am

GO PALEO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Nick May 3, 2012 at 1:57 pm

I am in my second week of going vegan lifestyle. I really appreciate what you said in this article. Thank you for the sound advice.

Ryan Andrews May 15, 2012 at 9:26 pm

Really great article. Thanks for posting.

Donna B. May 20, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Great article that I’ve bookmarked.

I stopped reading most of the comments here, however – so many seemed to be defensive! I eat fish & dairy and have NO defense, just guilt. I have to try harder to get more substitute foods. I think a lot of us admire vegans & vegetarians so much, and some of our questions, that you and others get daily, it sounds like, are sincere, wondering if we could give up certain things, and asking how you did it, and what it feels like.

I was particularly grossed out by the first commenter who said s/he raises beef now and has no feelings about it! And the person who talked about breeding pets…now that’s ignorance, right there. Hundreds of thousands killed, tortured, etc. And something I find almost no one knows about, even though it’s right out in public, in spreadsheets – is the over 3 million wild animals killed by our own govt EACH YEAR – the USDA, which was started to protect “farmers”, btw. This doesn’t count hunters. This is our own govt, gassing, trapping, shooting, “dispersing” (they don’t explain that one when I call) any animal they feel like.

Honestly, even though I find most farms disgusting, the USDA is far worse, and no one is aware of this. Ooh, found it – hope I’m allowed to link here: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/wildlife_damage/prog_data/2010_prog_data/PDR_G/Basic_Tables_PDR_G/Table%20G_ShortReport.pdf It shows how they kill each species.

Jackie @ Auburn Meadow Farm May 22, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Hi Donna B.
“I was particularly grossed out by the first commenter who said s/he raises beef now and has no feelings about it!”

Is that really what I said? I think you read what you wanted to believe. I have many, many feelings about it which is exactly my point. I am striving to honestly acknowledge and not shirk the impact my life has on the world around me. And I feel that if I’m going to eat it, I should own the sadness and complexity that attends the whole experience.

I try not to judge things before I experience them because I’ve learned that so many opinions I firmly held proved to be absolutely misinformed once I had hands on experience. Particularly true where farming and nature are concerned.

I never disrespect anyone’s vegan choice but I do expect you to look beyond your own righteousness and understand the cost your monocropped soy is having on nature.

And industrial dairy offers animals some of the most inhumane and uncaring lives of all. If you are eating commercial store-bought dairy products, you are absolutely supporting the worst practices in the meat industry. The two are completely intertwined.

So, while I may gross you out, because I am willing to be present, my animals enjoy dignity and kindness and joy that your dairy cows will never have a chance to receive. And guess what? The cows who made your milk will be retired into burgerdom at an average of 4 years old.

This is not nearly as simple a topic as we would like to make it. Turn these animals loose and they first suffer (and spread) disease and starvation, and then they die anyway. I feel it is better to remove worry and suffering from their lives and ensure that their death is as humane as possible.

Nature does not offer quick easy deaths very often.

Discordian Player June 4, 2012 at 4:05 am

I stopped calling myself a vegetarian and now (only when asked) say that I don’t eat meat. It’s much less pressure than having a label. Being a capital-V Vegetarian (or Vegan) sounds like a profession.
I have three rules:
1. Never ever try to argue or convince anyone and that includes bearing no disdain for other people’s choices.
2. Never insult anyone by refusing their meatiest speciality or delicacy.
3. Never pass up a chance to try a novel food – even if it means that it is something a Vegetarian wouldn’t normally eat.

Libby June 7, 2012 at 12:48 pm

I’m a vegan newbie and I have to say I respectfully disagree with a lot of what you are saying in your article. Applying the same philosophy you use in your article, Muslims shouldn’t say they are Muslims, in fear of people thinking they are terrorists, and gays shouldn’t say they are gays in fear of people discriminating against them. I believe we should be trying to end oppression and discrimination everywhere by fighting for justice, rather than silencing the identity of the oppressed.
I do, however, agree with you that it is important for vegans to make sure they do not harbor and/or express any resentments towards non-vegans and/or the food non-vegans eat. If vegans do hold these resentments, they are also being prejudice.

David June 8, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Hi Libby. Obviously I don’t expect any vegans to agree with me here. But thank you for disagreeing respectfully :)

Your analogy is not really appropriate. I’m not advocating “closet veganism” and I’m not attempting to placate those who discriminate against other groups. What I’m trying to do is make the idea of reducing or eliminating animal products into something that appeals to non-vegans. Compared to vegans, non-vegans have 100 to 200 times the influence on what gets bought or eaten and what doesn’t. Partway measures can catch on in a big way across hundreds of millions of people, veganism cannot, at least at this point. I want to influence those who will probably never go all the way to veganism, rather than try to slowly grow the population of vegans.

The world will change much faster, in terms of how socially acceptable it is to exploit animals, if rather than attempt to convert people to a different ideological group, we just demonstrate that you can make huge changes to your health, your conscience, and your environmental footprint without joining a different “team.” Part-way lifestyle changes among the general population account for many times more suffering prevented than all vegans combined. I would rather try to influence the general population to make partway changes, than to self-identify with the vegan label while trying to get the occasional person to do the same. The vast majority of people dismiss veganism right off the bat — because for many it is an offensive indictment of their morals — and therefore in the same motion they feel justified to continue their unmitigated use of animal products. Right or wrong, this is reality at this point in time.

Animal exploitation is a serious issue. Vegans take an ideological approach to the issue, and I’m taking what I think is a pragmatic one. For a clearer explanation about why I changed my approach, check out this interview I did with Rhys Southan:


Libby June 12, 2012 at 10:54 am

I’m all for part-way measures. I realize that not every one can be vegan or even vegetarian. I love Meatless Monday and I am very happy that it has “taken off” in many areas in the country. I encourage people to take part in this, not become vegans. You can still call yourself a vegan and advocate for Meatless Monday or flexitarianism rather than a vegan diet.
I read your “let them eat meat” interview, and I still respectfully disagree with you. I don’t think vegans are “manifesting alienation”. I think vegans are alienated by society, not because they choose to label themselves, but because of ignorance and discrimination. I think people will still judge you even if you say ” I avoid meat, milk, and dairy”. You still aren’t going to eat what they serve you for dinner and they are not going to understand what you eat and why you choose to eat this way and could judge you for this. The ignorance and intolerance is still there, I think, even if you don’t use the label.

Also, I personally feel that “vegan” is part of who I am and I do not want to silence my identity. It’s not the only thing I am, but it’s definitely a part of who I am that should not be muted or “watered down”. I personally think we should be trying to teach others the reasons why people are vegan and to respect others for their differences, so that we don’t have to enter the “twilight zone” state you mentioned earlier. So, while I respect your opinion, I think it’s best to agree to disagree on this issue.

a June 10, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Eat what you want. Do whatever suits you best emotionally, psychologically and physiologically. That being said…
The only issue I take with any vegan I encounter is that there is an unwillingness to believe that my opinion, and ethical conclusions, are not based on blatant, self-serving ignorance.
Sure, I disapprove of industrial farming. No matter what they are growing. It’s all wasteful and sad. That doesn’t mean I disapprove of killing animals for food. My lack of guilt doesn’t mean I don’t understand who’s on my plate, and it doesn’t preclude me from having feelings for the lives I choose to sustain mine.

ellen June 11, 2012 at 1:41 pm

hi david, thank you for your post. i call myself vegan (to explain my food and lifestyle choices) but the main point is that the label does not define me. i think many vegans reify themselves to some code, which in itself is not bad but we (vegans and non-vegans alike) need to understand that veganism is a process and not a code of perfection.

ellen June 11, 2012 at 1:50 pm

i don’t see why we shouldn’t call ourselves vegan however (not challenging you, you have a right not to use the label, of course). not all vegans are judgmental and/or ‘angry vegans’. it is others who are misjudging us and it is up to them to change their ways.

i am a vegan who does not harrass or police other vegans on whether they are pure enough or not. it is not my place.

veganism is an ethical process, not a code of perfection. this is the wall we need to break – the label is NOT the problem.

i don’t harrass or give non-vegans a hard time either. i have not forgotten that i, too ate meat/dairy/eggs/etc. for most of my life.

point is, not all vegans are angry vegans. i wish people would stop homogenizing vegans as though we are all the same.

Susan June 19, 2012 at 7:57 am

David: if you’re no longer self-identifying as a vegan, but you’re still avoiding animal products and are educating others about the impact of our consumption on the lives of non-humans (which you clearly are), you’re still accomplishing the most important work. I appreciate the measured, informative replies you’ve made in this comment section, and I would like to see them identified as coming from a vegan. I want the idea of veganism to become less marginalized, not more. However, your words retain their value on their own merits. To be honest, they will be more openly considered because they are NOT made by a vegan.

One stereotype I wish you’d help dispel is that of the vegan who is oblivious to the negative environmental and/or social impact of her/his choices. I don’t know any vegans who think they can avoid animal exploitation completely. But for the most part, we try our best. We look for organic, fair-trade, non-GMO, minimally processed foods. We look for CSAs. Want to see a vegan’s face light up? Announce that you’ve found a farmers’ market that is accessible on foot, bike, or public transportation. Seriously, folks, this is what gives us joy! We also work for human social justice causes. I think that veganism is just one facet of a deeply considered life, but it is the most obvious, most comprehensive one.

My personal view is that, in the long run, the most good will come from having more people who look to veganism as their ideal, even if they don’t achieve it. In the short run, perhaps just having a great number of people simply reducing their consumption of animal products will have the most impact. But that doesn’t require a major shift in attitude. I don’t think we’ll be well on our way until more people recognize that the lives of other animals matter to them, and that we should respect their integrity.

Susan June 19, 2012 at 8:00 am

Jackie: I agree that there are parts of human/non-human interactions that are positive for non-humans. I’d love to find ways to have those relationships w/o having them in the context of such an unequal power dynamic. And I don’t doubt that if you were to set them free, they’d stick around anyway. But I don’t think that your conception of “setting them free” is meaningful for them. They don’t know of any option other than what you’ve given them in the past, and they don’t know the price of their staying. If we could be sure that they understood that they could choose between staying there (to be well-fed, sheltered, but then butchered) and leaving, with the actual possibility that they might survive somewhere else, then perhaps such an experiment would have some meaning.

I appreciate your frankness in dealing with ambivalence. May I ask about your reservations in working with horses?

Also, vegans are not responsible for monocrops of soy. Most soy, esp. cheap soy, is fed to animals in industrial agriculture. Therefore, the typical omnivore is responsible for soy monocrops. You’re a thoughtful commenter, so I’d appreciate having your help in dispelling the false notion that vegans are the driving force behind industrial grain production. W/more vegans, we could support the use of more heritage grains, more varied crops of all sorts.

Whoever wrote about bees and pollination: limiting the pollination of crops to captive honeybees is actually harmful to the environment. We should be supporting more natural pollination syndromes, which would safeguard systems from collapsing so easily.

One stereotype I wish you’d help dispel is that of the vegan who is oblivious to the negative environmental and/or social impact of her/his choices. I don’t know any vegans who think they can avoid animal exploitation completely. But for the most part, we try our best. We look for organic, fair-trade, non-GMO, minimally processed foods. We look for CSAs. Want to see a vegan’s face light up? Announce that you’ve found a farmers’ market that is accessible on foot, bike, or public transportation. Seriously, folks, this is what gives us joy! We also work for human social justice causes. I think that veganism is just one facet of a deeply considered life, but it is the most obvious, most comprehensive one.

My personal view is that, in the long run, the most good will come from having more people who look to veganism as their ideal, even if they don’t achieve it. In the short run, perhaps just having a great number of people simply reducing their consumption of animal products will have the most impact. But that doesn’t require a major shift in attitude. I don’t think we’ll be well on our way until more people recognize that the lives of other animals matter to them, and that we should respect their integrity.

Vonnie July 9, 2012 at 8:48 am

Hello to everyone who has made comments on this blog and I hope I’m not too late joining in. I never usually participate in blogs but I do find this topic particularly interesting and have enjoyed reading the comments/thoughts provided. So, many thanks to David who started the whole thing running – you must be delighted at how successful this has been.
I’ve been a vegetarian for approximately 1 1/2 years now. I had a short stint of about 6 months a few years back and then resumed eating meat. This time I’ve been quite determined to change my eating practices. I’ve been a vegetarian for various reasons: I really do love animals – I come from a family of complete carnivores let alone omnivores! So, my decision has been viewed with much apprehension and worry, as to my welfare, by both family and friends! I’ve viewed some PETA footage and was just horrified at what was reported. I understand that this is not always the treatment that animals received in the majority of cases but to think that it is practiced at all makes me very sad indeed. I watched ‘Kill it, cook it, eat it’ where the viewing audience sat behind a glass viewing screen and watched the meat element of their meal being killed in front of them, then cooked before they ate it – a part of the process that we don’t usually see when reaching for our cellophaned future Sunday roast. Although the killing of the animals was very controlled and clinical (viewed by many as a humane slaughter) I still found it difficult to get my head around……..I always stop on my country walks to observe the cows and sheep in the surrounding fields and always feel so privileged when they approach and let me interact with them. A friend of mine has been a vegetarian and on-off vegan for many, many years and was very helpful at answering all my basic questions and opened my eyes to an alternative in my eating practices. I’ve also been diagnosed with Haemochromatosis, where your body absorbs too much heme iron and causes complications in your major organs, if not caught in time or controlled. I would have venesections every week for a while where a pint of blood was removed each time, then it was every couple of weeks and then monthly. Since I have been vegetarian the venesections have been reduced to once every six months and my readings are very much under control! I never thought that would ever happen! It’s great! So, being a vegetarian is a suitable way of eating for this sort of blood disease.

I know that, for me, the change to vegetarian eating occured with information and knowledge. I’ve so much still to learn about a ‘good’ vegetarian diet and any advice or suggestions in that area are very welcome. It’s when you become informed as to the process involved in your ‘steak’, ‘chop’, ‘fillet’, or ‘mince’ being on your plate for a meal, that the big questions start flow. They are words so removed from defining that they were ever animals: cows, calves, pigs, lambs and so on. Thus when the revelation sinks in, you feel somewhat misled through your younger ‘conditioning’ years. I’ve always had a great love for animals from I was very little, always rescuing any sick animal to help make it better and loved our pets beyond measure (more than some relatives….ooops!). I didn’t realise all those times that Mum or Dad served up dinner consisting of meat, spud and two veg that there was an ‘animal’ element there. I don’t think it would have changed my eating habits back then anyhow, as you did what you were told and didn’t leave the table until the plate was cleared…..so to object back then, had I wanted to, would have probably led to much dissension! OK, so for many years I’ve ‘cooked it’ and ‘eaten it’ but could I ‘kill them’? – absolutely not on your nelly!!!! Simply because I just don’t see ‘them’ as ‘its’.

I’ve not made the transition to vegan as yet, however I do try to purchase products that don’t contain any animal element or are a result of any testing ie footwear and body products or make-up. You definitely venture into a different way of living when you start to research for yourself. It’s a daily learning situation if you open up your mind to other options – it’s not the ‘norm’ or indeed always readily accessible (eg restaurants) but life takes on an interesting slant as you really start to think about what you’re going to consume in order to provide the necessary fuel for your body.

So, that’s my contribution to this blog – just adding my personal opinion and experience. I just hope I’ve not missed the boat on this discussion as I’d love to read more regarding same.



Jess July 10, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Hey, thanks for this! I’ve recently decided to trade in the v-card, too. It’s been a few years, and I don’t plan on going back to eating meat, but it’s beginning to feel so stiflingly absolutist. I felt like I have to choose between my ethics and the label, as my ethics are a lot less rigid and might, as you mentioned, include the very occasional slice of pizza or some fish. It’s really refreshing to see someone who feels the same way!

Brad July 25, 2012 at 1:03 pm

I avoid meat and can relate to the strange attitudes of omnivores – especially the weird compulsion to brag about how much they love steak (really, what are they bragging about???). But I’m very relaxed about it.

Helen White December 29, 2012 at 5:42 am

Great article and, two weeks into vegetarianism and with a toe poised over veganism, just what I needed to hear… as it pretty much echoes what my subconscious was already telling me about how to handle it and ‘balance’ it! Have had relatively few interactions with other people since I made the change but already feel on the defensive in anticipation of their reactions (and because of mine to their continued meat-eating) and am conscious I want to encourage them, to lead them, not to alienate them by me taking ‘a stance’. Already, family members are coming a little part of the way along the road with me….and that wouldn’t a happen if I became a militant vegan or made it look like an all-or-nothing kind of lifestyle where all the good stuff gets sacrificed. Thanks for a very timely article on this, love your blog and have subscribed.

Sophia February 4, 2013 at 7:48 am

You’re one or two steps ahead of me David – I’ve been thinking these issues over for some time. I too dislike what the label does to you. As I mentioned in my blog post on the topic ( http://www.sophiagubb.com/the-vegan-label/ if you’re interested – hope the plug isn’t too forward of me) I think the writer Jonathan Safran Foer is successful with his speeches and writing on the topic because he doesn’t identify as a vegan or even a vegetarian. The reason for this is seemingly because his willpower isn’t strong enough even though he thinks such a diet is best, but the result is that he doesn’t alienate anyone with his writing.

I haven’t given up the vegan label yet. So far, I’ve thought that the convenience of having a word that describes your lifestyle right off the bat outweighed the problems of the label. But, I have had tiny amounts of non vegan items, sometimes in front of omnivores, and once in the last year I had a moderate amount of non vegan food in one sitting.

That is, eggs and milk – somehow I couldn’t bring myself to put the flesh of someone else into my mouth, not even gelatin. That’s one thing I can’t deal with.

I do manage to ignore animal foods when other people are eating them though. I think not thinking about something is easier than some vegans imagine. After all, it’s how most omnivores manage it 8) so I just don’t think about where the animal foods my friends are eating come from, and it works.

I am walking now the thin line of trying to find a form of activism which doesn’t alienate people or make them feel judged. A while back I made a breakthrough with this approach – two people wrote to me about starting a vegan diet after I had made some very considered posts to Facebook about the matter. A lot of people want to hear you out, so long as they don’t feel judged.

It’s something I’m still working out. I’m not sure if I’ll give up the vegan label in the future. I know that I’m in a process of learning to not use it much, in any case. Whenever possible I’d like to say “plant based diet” or talk about the actual conditions in factory farms and what we can do to help rather than leaning on the word “vegan”.

Sometimes, it seems, that word is a crutch for not having to explain ourselves. I’m vegan, deal with it – no wait, what if we actually helped people understand what that meant?


CD June 14, 2013 at 1:07 pm

I thought this article might be helpful to people at different stages of their journey in healthy eating.

My Experience With Vegetarianism — Updated With New Reflections
by Chris Masterjohn, PhD, published June 9, 2013


J July 12, 2013 at 3:37 pm

Just curious, David…(if you’re still reading comments on this post), when you attend a dinner at someone’s house, since you don’t identify yourself as “vegan,” do you still specify that you prefer to eat “non-animal derived foods”, or some other phrasing? That seems rather clunky, and may be a head-scratcher to people as to where you draw the line….hence, the label vegan does come in handy: for better or worse, it pretty much spells it all out.

Or, do you not say anything, and eat whatever the host is planning on serving?

I’ve gone back and forth about the same issues you raise in this post myself, and I’m curious how you, and/or other folks, handle the “being a guest at someone’s home” situation. It’s the main thing that makes me feel awkward and uncomfortable, even 1 year into being vegan. As you put it, it’s hard to feel like a full participant at social events when you’re the only one eating vastly differently than everyone else, even if the hosts and guests are as gracious and accepting as can be.

David July 14, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Hi J,

Today, when I am a guest I eat what they serve. At home I eat vegan. When I go to a restaurant I’ll order whatever I like. If there’s a good vegan option I might get that. I no longer want to support bad vegan food. I think it does more harm than good. When I was a card-carrying vegan I met a lot of vegans who had lowered their standards for food, making boring recipes and buying overpriced not-very-good vegan fare and I think that’s a mistake. All it does is contributes to the myth that vegan food must be second rate.

I’ve talked more about my transition here: http://letthemeatmeat.com/post/22646330085/david-cain-on-vegan-alienation-and-why-the

Nydia September 17, 2013 at 9:20 pm

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know such detailed about my trouble. You’re wonderful! Thanks!

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