5. Being Vegan
Okay, I didn’t forget to finish my post title. This one is actually about how to be vegan. I know all the people who read this are awesome, totally down vegans, but, well, maybe you know someone who doesn’t have all their facts straight or calls themselves vegan despite their nasty chicken wing habit… I’m not out to be the vegan police here, but I’m often surprised by the wide-ranging ideas people have about what vegan actually is and what it actually means, so I’m going to take it all right back to square one here and talk about how to be vegan. Okay? Good.
Veganism, generally, is defined as a lifestyle where one abstains from animal products. People go vegan for a bunch of reasons. Some people go vegan for the health benefits (though if they continue to purchase leather or other animal goods in the form of clothing or household items they’re not really vegan; they’re strict vegetarians – in my book, anyway); some people go vegan for the environment; and many people go vegan for the animals. There’s no right reason to go vegan (though there is a wrong one – if you’re thinking about going vegan to severely restrict your caloric intake or to hide your eating disorder, please, please don’t. See a doctor and get well!), and while there are many annoying theoretical debates about why it’s better to go vegan out of a deep commitment to the principles of abolitionism than to go vegan because you’re a non-hypocritical environmentalist, every person who goes vegan is doing a huge service to the animals and the planet (and themselves).
The thing is, apparently, it’s harder than I thought to go vegan. Okay, well, not really, but sort of. I notice a lot of people calling themselves vegan while they eat chicken or drink milk sometimes or eat eggs or whatever. I’m not here to pass judgment on anyone for whatever they eat (though if you eat meat or drink milk or eat eggs you are a bad person, just sayin’), but as someone who believes that veganism has more impact when it’s something that’s consistent and coherent, I am here to tell you how to be vegan, period.
1. Don’t eat meat. Seriously, just don’t do it!
2. Don’t eat dairy. There are a lot of people who have a hard time kicking the ol’ cheese habit. It makes sense, since cheese contains a chemical that acts a lot like opium and can be actually, physically addictive, but if you eat cheese, even once in a while, you’re not being vegan. My suggestion for those of you who struggle with dairy is to make a deal with yourself to not eat it AT ALL for three weeks and then allow yourself to re-evaluate. I know that for me, it was easier to start out as a vegan by telling myself that I’d give it a good, honest try, but that if it really sucked, I could stop after I’d honestly tried it. If after three weeks of absolutely no dairy, period, you’re still really craving it, then you can take a different route, and I’ll eat my hat.
3. Don’t eat eggs. I’ve heard people call themselves vegan who have had their own chickens whose eggs they have eaten. I don’t know if that’s really all that unethical, but it sure as shit ain’t vegan. For me, I figure that 1) a chicken can’t consent to giving me its eggs, and 2) I really don’t need them, so I don’t want and don’t need those gross little mucous pods.
4. Don’t eat any other animal products. I know it can be a pain in the ass to avoid all the animal byproducts out there. I know I’ve been nearly reduced to tears a couple of times when I’ve been stranded in a small town and unable to find anything but a jar of peanut butter and a banana to eat, and that sucks, but you know what? It also builds character (or I like to think so, anyway). Eating products that contain byproducts of animal agriculture supports the meat, dairy, and egg industries just the same as buying meat, dairy, and eggs does. Don’t do it!
5. Don’t buy leather, wool, silk, or any of that other crap. I’ve heard people say that the best way to “honor” animals is to just not eat them, which apparently means that it’s okay to buy leather, since the cow has been properly honored by just being skinned, but not eaten and can go on to cow nirvana with its cow dignity intact… or something. The jury is out on whether it’s a good idea to buy second-hand animal products, and while I’m often sorely tempted by biker jackets or boots (no, really), I just can’t bring myself to do it. I don’t think it’s really a bad thing to buy second-hand leather, but I also don’t think it’s vegan, so you can make up your own mind about that one.
6. Give it your best shot. Really, this post could be reduced to two sentences: “Stop consuming animals and animal products”; and “Give it your honest best shot.” Really, it’s impossible to be 100% vegan. There are animal products in damn near everything, from computers to bike tires to roads, to plant fertilizers. The animal agriculture industry has done a great job of thoroughly embedding itself in almost every area of manufacturing and consumption, and that can be a mighty depressing thing to contemplate, because even the most dedicated of us will never be able to become completely free of animal products. But don’t despair! Every person who goes vegan and stays vegan and acts as a positive vegan advocate gets us a tiny, tiny step closer to a world where there aren’t animal products in every damn thing. It’s a big job, yes, but it’s one that needs doing, and it’s one we can all do.
7. Don’t beat yourself up. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone is the victim of mistakes or carelessness sometimes. You’re bound to have the odd bit of meat or dairy or egg slip into your food every once in a while, and while it sucks, it’s not the end of the world or your veganism. These unpleasant experiences offer an opportunity to get grossed out, suck it up, and renew our resolve to let it never happen again. Sometimes we can even slip some positive vegan outreach in when we accidentally get served the real chicken instead of the fake chicken. Take the time to talk to managers or staff about veganism and why it’s important to you, and turn a gross situation into a (still gross) positive one!
8. Be proud! I guess you don’t actually have to be proud to be vegan, but it sure helps. I’ve heard a lot of people attack the vegan “label” in my time as a vegan, and while I understand where they’re coming from, I wholeheartedly disagree. To me, being and calling myself a vegan gives me something to strive for every day. Every day that I don’t eat animal products and live up to my vegan label is a good day for me, the animals, and the environment. It’s not that I think anyone is a bad person because they eat some home-harvested eggs or have some fish or whatever; it’s that I think we can all do better. I guess it’s kind of like voting or like showing up at a protest. Yes, you can do many positive things without ever aligning yourself with a cause or speaking up for a specific ideology, but for me, aligning myself with veganism as a movement gives me inspiration and makes my voice louder and more impactful than if I were to refuse the label. Being vegan means joining a movement to make the world a better place for the animals and for ourselves, and that’s a label I can live with.