There seems to be a stigma about veganism that needs to be addressed. There are some within the vegan community and oodles of non-vegans that have a misconception. A lot of people feel that veganism is a quest for perfectionism. And that stigma keeps a lot of people closed off to the idea of even learning more about it!
As far back as the early 1800s, folks were using the term vegetarian. It simply referred to someone who lived on vegetation. It implied 100% plant-based diet. In 1944, in response to a growing population of vegetarians consuming products made from cow’s milk, Donald Watson coined the term vegan. It was quite literally, the beginning and the end of vegetarian!
Today, the Oxford English Dictionary defines vegan as “a person who does not eat or use animal products.” Sounds simple enough! But when you talk with a lot of people, you’d need three pages to define veganism! The definition hasn’t gotten any more complicated or difficult or exclusive. What’s changed is the exorbitant abundance of animal products and our perceived dependence upon them. We’ve gotten so good at finding ways to create and use animal products that they truly are everywhere. It’s often so behind the scenes that you don’t even think about it until you really think about it!
There’s milk, eggs, and butter in nearly every muffin, cookie, cake, or traditional dessert. There’s cheese on nearly every sandwich, salad, or pasta on every menu. There’s even butter in many vegetable dishes. There’s yogurt on gyro’s and milk in granola bars. There’s milk in milk chocolate which means there’s dairy in at least 75% of the items at the checkout counter at every grocery store in this country. If you really stop to think about it, you might even think the dairy industry has a stake in every food manufacturer that exists. (That’s a whole other blog).
But it doesn’t stop there. We use animal products to make leather furniture, bags, shoes, belts, and boots, wool sweaters, and silk scarves. We feed our dogs pig snouts, hooves, and ears. We give them beef bones and knuckles. We even use the bull’s penis to give pet dogs a tough chewy treat more commonly known as bully sticks or pizzles.
There are animals involved in the making of honey, bee pollen, and even white sugar (made white by processing with charred bones). Wine and beer are commonly filtered with fish bladders. Most personal care products are not only tested on but made with animal by-products.
So in this quest for perfection… it’s a very slippery climb! To be a ‘real’ vegan and to explain it all to someone else, one would practically have to have to have a PhD in chemistry, cosmetology, culinary arts, botany, animal science, human anatomy, biology, cardiology, environmentalism, activism, advocacy, and politics.
If you don’t have time to go back to school for 25 years, just do the best you can! Veganism is NOT about being perfect! Whether you’re vegan or not, please stop yourself if you feel the urge to call someone out on some inconsistency. If you see a vegan slap a mosquito or squish an ant, let it go. If you see a vegan have a bite of wedding cake or a peanut butter cup on Halloween, let it go! Absolutely no one is perfect, and no one needs to be!
If you’re thinking about becoming vegan and are worried about how challenging it might be, I have good news! Whether you’re doing it for your health, for the animals, for the planet, or to be a role model for your children, the end result is the same – a reduction in consumption of animal products. Last time I checked, the animals don’t care why we stop eating them.
You don’t have to be a perfect vegan to get in the club. There are animal products hiding everywhere. Making an effort to consume or use less of them is a good thing! If you’re going to live on this blue-green planet and wish to make it a better place, you can do that. Just start somewhere. Every effort makes a difference.
For now, let’s just redefine the term vegan to describe someone who does the least amount of harm possible. So much of veganism is dietary in focus because that’s where you can make the biggest difference. Separating yourself from the violence involved with eating cows, chickens, turkeys, pigs, chickens’ eggs, and cows milk makes a world of difference (to over 300 animals every second)! If you feel like you can do all of that but need to hang on to something like m&m’s – go for it! Please don’t use the reason, “There’s no way I can be perfect” to stop yourself from trying and improving.
None of us are perfect. We just do the best we can to minimize violence against animals and to maximize our health in the process.
Do what you can, from where you are, with what you have. Teddy Roosevelt.