Veganism: Being Inclusive Versus Exclusive

Tobias of The Vegan Strategist wrote a response piece at the beginning of February, regarding whom should and should not be allowed to call themselves a vegan.

I felt I needed to write a response to an article on Ecorazzi called “If you are on a plant based diet, stop calling yourself vegan!

The title, and especially the exclamation mark, made me almost physically unwell (I’m only exaggerating a little bit here). As far as titles go, it kind of says it all. Probably the author has the best intentions (though they may be unpure, like with all of us), but this way of thinking and communicating is so unproductive and so damaging, I just don’t know where to start.

For what it’s worth, I loathe the vegan “purity contest” that many herbivores seem to revel in.  Don’t we just adore having a bunch of good reasons to look down on others?  To condemn them for not being “as vegan” as us?  For instance, because they leash their dogs?  They shouldn’t even have dogs, or ANY pets, according to others.  There are entire online communities devoted to dissecting even the tiniest aspect of our lives, ad nauseam, and declaring it “vegan” or condemning it as “not vegan”.  Things that are NOT VEGAN, according to purists, include:

  • Having pets
  • Using leashes, collars, any devices deemed as “controlling” or “exploitive”
  • Driving a car
  • Eating palm oil
  • Eating any produce that is pollinated by commercially kept bees (popular crops include almonds, apples, many berries…)
  • Wearing second-hand leather, fur, wool (or wearing items made of animal products that you owned before you transitioned)
  • Talking to meat-eaters
  • Dating anyone who isn’t also a vegan
  • Breathing
  • Looking at animal products
  • Buying vegan foods from stores or companies that also carry/manufacture animal products

Ok some of those are fabrications, but seriously, veganism is more competitive than the olympics.  But I digress.

I did read the article that Tobias was responding to, and while it was cause for much eye-rolling, I was delighted to see at least SOME rational humans in the comments section (a rarity to be sure):

Stop. Right now: Stop. If you have any interest at all in actually eliminating (or even reducing) animal suffering, sit down and stop talking. While you are being quiet, ask yourself whether arrogant articles like this might be why many vegans of color elect to use the term plant-based instead. Ask yourself whether being snarky to people who don’t talk or think exactly as you do is the way to build the diverse and inclusive plant-powered movement nonhuman animals need us to forge.

I’m serious: THINK. What will it take to reshape the world agriculture system and economy as well as the cultural attitudes of people toward animals? Narrow-minded diatribes against people who, in your view, are misusing a made-up word — “You can’t be in my club unless you do everything I say right away”?

Or, would it be better to make an open-hearted effort to seize on, work with, and build upon any empathy for animals, or repugnance for animal products — “I’m so glad you refuse to to wear fur because you feel empathy for foxes and minks. Me too! I feel the same way about calves. Did you hear what happens to them on dairy farms?”

Remember, cognitive research has proved again and again that people who make a change for one reason are eager to hear other reasons why what they have decided to do is right. So, people who have quit meat, eggs, and dairy for health reasons are our BEST prospects for learning about the ethical and environmental problems with those products… and maybe becoming animal liberationists themselves. But not if they encounter attitudes like this.

Thank GODS for vegans who engage their brains before they start typing!

The word “diet” does not exclusively mean a weight loss regimen, as you seem to imply. “Diet” is defined as “the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.” So, yes, a person who is vegan eats a plant-based diet that excludes all animal-derived products. Any food(s) that a person habitually eats is his or her diet. You eat a vegan diet.

Also, if you live in a first world country and you think that because you’re vegan you don’t infringe upon the rights of animals or cause them harm, you’re out of touch with reality. Millions of small animals like frogs, mice, voles, rabbits, etc., etc., are killed in the agricultural production of “vegan” foods. Insects are killed by the millions, even by organic farmers. Just because you won’t eat a chicken nugget that doesn’t mean you don’t also have animal blood on your hands. Is a chicken worth more than a bee or a mouse? You say, “it’s not right to use animals for any purpose on any day.” But it’s okay if they just happened to get in the way of the threshing machine, right? As long as I don’t actually EAT the mouse, I’m vegan, right?? I’m not saying go out and eat the chicken–and yes, I understand that animal agriculture not only harms the animals that are being raised for food, but other animals as well–just pointing out the logical fallacy inherent in this kind of argument.

While being vegan is a worthy goal, it isn’t the be-all, end-all of morality. It’s not the standard by which all other things should be judged; there is no such thing as a “pure” diet. Distinctions between your way of eating and that of a person who eats a “plant-based” diet comes down to semantics and nothing more. I’d encourage you to stop patting yourself on the back long enough to do as [the commenter above] says. THINK. It would also be nice if vegans like you extended your kindness and compassion to human animals.

If one of the few studies ever done regarding such things is to be believed, statistically 43% of ex-vegetarians/vegans said they found it too difficult to be “pure” with their diet.  This means that people become SO frightened of eating the wrong thing, of slipping up, of being judged by the rest of the sanctimonious vegan community, that they literally CAN’T EVEN and start eating animal products again.  What the actual fuck are we doing to our fellow tribemates, people?  Driving them away, because they can’t stand the pressure of having to be perfect?  Making it so difficult for them to fit in with their OWN PEER GROUP that they dissent and run back to the carnists, only reinforcing the idea that veganism is unrealistic and unsustainable over a persons lifetime.  Awesome.  And now some assholes want to FURTHER exclude people from the special vegan club, because they are just “plant-based” and not truuuuuuuuuuue vegans.  For shame.

Purity and exclusionary language may not seem related, except that the original piece basically said “Must be this pure to call yourself a vegan”.

My wonderful life-partner, for example, would not fit the criteria assigned by the author.  He’s a very strict vegan, but his primary reasons for becoming “plant-based” are because of his concerns for the environment and for his health.  He actually doesn’t care very much about animal rights, mostly because he doesn’t really like animals all that much.  I mean he cares for our own pets, but those feelings don’t extend beyond the critters he knows personally.  And that’s ok.  He’s still doing WAY more to reduce the suffering of animals everywhere, by not consuming any of their products.  I call him a vegan all the time because saying “plant-based” is cumbersome, confusing, and silly.  Most people don’t even know what a vegan is!  Let alone what “plant-based” is.  Let’s not overwhelm the general public with all of our arbitrary labeling rules.

I will get into my own story on becoming vegan some other time, but to be clear, my initial motivations had nothing to do with animal welfare.  I watched Earthlings like three years before going vegan, and it had almost no impact on me because I grew up on a farm and slaughtering animals was normal.  Some vegans would feel that makes me a horrible person, but I sleep just fine at night knowing that I’m doing my best and that’s all anyone can ask of me.

Personally I think that exclusionary language, and being so rigid about who gets to be a vegan and who doesn’t, actually hurts veganism more than it helps.  People already view us as crazy extremists.  I know, we should show them how hostile and angry we get towards OTHER VEGANS, because that will definitely encourage them to become part of our club!

Do you think a pig cares if you call yourself a vegan or plant-based?  Do you think a veal calf would tell a plant-based eater to GTFO because not eating animals isn’t enough?  Why don’t you poll the next load of chickens you see going to slaughter and ask them if they are offended that some vegans aren’t really pure enough?  I’m pretty sure if animals could talk they would tell us to stop being so bloody stupid, and just work on encouraging people NOT TO EAT THEM, regardless of what sort of labels are involved.

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