99% Vegan

It’s not easy being vegan. But maybe it should be. Or at least easier.

A vegan, generally, is a person who excludes the use of animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose. Maybe you are a vegan, wish you were one, or know someone who is. If so, then you most likely know one who is labeled by James McWilliams as a “gotcha vegan.” Gotchas may also be known as the “vegan police,” those who scour the sphere for vegan slip-ups, trying to find aspiring vegans eating something that contains hidden meat or dairy products.

Even the Happy Herbivore became a target after she ate cotton candy at a baseball game and had not “sourced” the sugar. Over half of the cane refineries in the United States use bone char, a charcoal made from animal bones, to finally refine cane sugar, but it is so far removed from its animal source that it is “kosher pareve,” meaning it contains no meat or milk in any form as an ingredient, according to Jewish dietary laws. It was enough, however, for the vegan police to strip the Happy Herbivore of the “true vegan” label.

In defensive desperation, some of us have adopted the phrase “imperfect vegan.” That is, we admit to have occasionally fallen off the vegan wagon. Not anything as obvious as meat, of course, but we’ve been known to use creamer with sodium caseinate in our coffee or a dollop of lanolin in borrowed hand lotion. As a less-than-perfect vegan, my goal is to lead others to the health, compassion and peace of mind offered by a vegan diet. A great way to lead is by personal example, and that’s something we all can do.  But insisting on perfection, in myself and others, is more likely to scare people away than bring them to the truth.

Nick Cooney’s excellent book, Change of Heart, What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change, explains that most people shy away from change they perceive as too difficult.  It is not enough to create awareness; we must make the path attainable for almost everyone. In “Vegan Enough for Enough Vegans,” the Eccentric Vegan explains that “vegan enough” is about avoiding the biggies (meat, dairy, and eggs) and not sweating the small stuff (trace ingredients).  Vegan enough is being vegan “conspicuously” enough to influence non-vegans to go vegan.

In that vein, I believe ten 90% vegan converts are better than converting one 100% vegan. Why? Because each of us affects others around us, and our 10 converts will reach a lot more people than our one perfect vegan, unless he or she happens to be a Martin Luther King or Ingrid Newkirk.  More animals will be saved and humans will become healthier.

Now, we can rant and rail at those who can’t make and stick to difficult choices, or we can accept the reality and work with it.  The gotcha’ vegans create an aura of impossibility that makes it intimidating for even the most dedicated to succeed. By falling short of perfection, we will be more attractive to those we want to lead.  Being a vegan will appear to be easier.

Another factor will make veganism less difficult. Twenty years ago, when I first became a vegetarian, it was impossible to find a veggie burger in Dallas.  In restaurants, our options were a baked potato and salad, or what I came to call the “burger experience.” It consisted of ordering, for example, the “mushroom burger, hold the meat.” In those days, this order caused a considerable amount of confusion for the wait staff. We wanted everything you would normally get on a hamburger; we just didn’t want the meat. “Hold the meat” sounds like a simple concept, but it really threw them for a loop.

Now, not only are veggie burgers plentiful, but come in a wide variety of flavors. In addition, there are dozens of meat and dairy alternatives that are delicious and healthy. Most decent-sized cities offer several vegetarian restaurants or ones with vegetarian options, while a few vegan dining establishments are springing up in many locations.  The market catches up with demand. As more and more people demand vegan alternatives, becoming (and staying) a vegan will become even easier.

And that’s good news for the less-than-perfect among us.

About the author:
Paige Singleton says “I was raised in a small Texas town where ranching was the biggest business, animal husbandry a constant reality.  I was surrounded by the misery of “food” animals. Although I accepted it for a long time, it never felt right. I was miserable, but didn’t know any better. I finally began to seriously question the things I’d been taught all my life. I became a vegetarian first and finally a vegan. My novel and my website were created in the hopes of helping animals, and by saving animals, we will help people as well!” Singleton blogs at http://www.diaryofadietingmadhouse.com

7 Responses to 99% Vegan

  1. Appreciate this reminder to cultivate compassion vs. enforce essentialism

  2. I agree completely! Well, at least ninety to ninety-nine percent. ;)

  3. These perfectionist vegans do far more harm to the causes that they espouse than ten times their number in carnivores.

    Veganism is a lifestyle choice and belief system. It is not a religion. Some of us practice it for health. Some for philophical reasons. All help the planet, ourselves and animals. That should be enough for the perfectionists.

  4. I couldn’t have said it better myself! Bravo!

  5. Thank you, Paige! I’d been 90% vegetarian for one third of my life (eating occasional tuna and other fish), then full on vegetarian, and now, over the past few years, leaning way over to vegan. Imperfect vegan perfectly describes my current goal and mission.

    I have a question. For many, the “imperfect” part may come from hidden or trace ingredients, but what about those moments like visiting your family and mom makes her signature eggplant parm? Or your dad wants to split a (dairy/egg full) cookie at a bakery? Are you going to say no? Or just eat these things? My family knows my thoughts on these foods, but when I visit, the occasional food pops up and I decided to have it “because I’m visiting” and “for old time’s sake.” Especially that last one. I can’t imagine NOT splitting a dessert with my dad. I know, that probably sounds really lame and in a few years I’LL probably also think this “convenient excuse” is ridiculous. But does anyone else feel this way/know what I mean?

    Overall, I’m so pleased with my vegan sea-change. It’s revolutionized my health and life, and made me truer to myself. :)

  6. Addendum: I don’t make excuses when visiting friends, going out, etc. i.e. “for old time’s sake, let me have an ice cream.” It’s just around my family that this feeling comes up.

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